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Parents are often the first ones to notice that their child isn’t developing, especially in terms of communication. The lack of infant babble, the absence of eye contact and reduced interest in interaction are just a few of the features that cause one to question a potential diagnosis of autism. It is possible and often practical to begin speech therapy in Toronto before a formal diagnosis is given.
Autistic children might also present a limited range of facial expressions, being unable to comprehend language or show a regression (loss of words). The sooner Speech Therapy in Toronto is started, the better the outcomes are going to be. In this article, you will find a number of therapeutic strategies which might be of help.
Speech Therapy in Toronto Strategies:
#1 Using non-verbal communication
Interestingly, non-verbal communication accounts for 90% of all communication. Our body language, the gestures we make, along with eye contact, help us interact with other people and communicate our needs.
A good strategy is teaching the child, through imitation, gestures that can be used daily. You can begin with gestures that are easy to imitate such as: clapping the hands, waving, stomping feet or raising arms in the air.
#2 Oral Motor Exercises
For children who exhibit few or no facial expressions, this strategy might be quite useful. Performed regularly, it can strengthen the oral muscles, especially the ones around the mouth and jaw.
The exercises can be practiced with a mirror, so your child is able to see what their face looks like when they make the specific movements. You can get some ideas of exercises from this Youtube Channel: Speech Therapy Practice. They have a series of different videos depicting different exercises you can try with your child.
#3 Animal noises
A fun beginning step to teach vocal speech might be to try and have the child make animal noises, especially if the child is motivated by animals. Capitalizing on this motivation might be helpful in engaging your child in doing the difficult work of learning to make the sounds.
Various toys or books can be used to introduce the child to animal sounds. As his/her interest becomes visible, you can move to more complex games – perhaps you can create a toy barn or an animal train, having fun in the process. Be patient and have fun.
#4 Singing songs
Very few children dislike music. Singing can help the child to learn new vocabulary, rhythm and even new topics or ideas.
In choosing songs, it is important to take into account not only the current communication abilities of your child, but also their cognitive level. Nursery rhymes are a great place to start for younger children but older children can be introduced to all kinds of music.
#5 Technology as basis for communication
We are lucky to live in an age where technology is advanced, creating opportunities for us to help autistic children communicate. Augmentative and alternative communication represents an option for children with limited or no functional speech, allowing them to communicate desires, needs, preferences, dislikes and comment.
There are devices that contain recorded messages, which the child can use with the push of a button. As progress is made, these messages can become more complex. A low tech alternative is a picture exchange communication system. You can read more about Alternative and Augmentative Communication in this blog I wrote at the end of April.
#6 Learning how to sequence and tell a story
This is a strategy which is generally used in children with more advanced receptive language, allowing them to continue to develop their language. You would present them with images of the parts of a story, and ask them to put them in order.
For example, you might provide a picture of an empty glass with a carton of milk beside it, another picture with a full glass of milk and a third picture with half the glass of milk drank by a child in the picture.
In opting for this activity, you would choose to begin by presenting the stories or situations that your child has experienced. This makes it more concrete and is easier for the child. In time, he/she can do this activity alone, or even draw his/her own pictures to tell a story. Many children enjoy ‘authoring’ their own stories.
#7 Pretend play
Pretend play is a difficult skill for an autistic child to achieve but, with perseverance, it will help improve many aspects of the child’s development. On the plus side, it helps with social interaction, reinforcing communication again and again.
The strategy would be to choose some of the child’s favorite activities, expanding on their existing sounds, words or sentences. Once you’ve identified what your child is doing naturally, you want to encourage the next step.
For example, if your child is building towers with blocks, you might begin labeling the colours of the blocks or dividing the blocks into colour groups to make red buildings and blue buildings. You could also create a road (by laying the blocks side by side instead of on top of each other) to expand their play.
With expanded play comes the opportunity for you to model expanded language use. The more you speak to the child, the more likely it will be for new words to appear in his/her vocabulary.
These are some of the strategies that might be used in promoting speech and language development in autistic children. We offer speech therapy in Toronto, as well as a number of other useful therapies: Applied Behaviour Analysis, Occupational Therapy and Recreation Therapy – do not hesitate to contact us for a no charge consultation.