The province of Ontario provides funding to families of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Recently, the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) has changed many times. To learn more, read Ontario Autism Program: a short history.
Who can get the OAP funding?
To access the funding your child must:
have a diagnosis of autism (given by a qualified professional)
Meanwhile, the current program is changing from a childhood budget model to a needs-based therapy model. Don’t worry, you do not have to register again for the OAP if you have registered before. The new program will hopefully begin in March 2021. So far, the province has not released any details of how the new program will work or who will determine each child’s therapy needs.
As the program continues to change, autistic kids fall into 4 categories:
Behaviour Plan Budget (Legacy funding)
Interim One-Time Funding.
Side by Side Therapy can help guide you through the uncertainty that comes with changes in funding. Also, we work with you to make the most of your child’s funding.
What can be purchased with Ontario Autism Program funding?
OAP funding can purchase: ABA services, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and respite services. Side by Side Therapy offers all of these services. OAP funds can be used to purchase materials and equipment that will benefit your child’s learning. In addition, families are able to purchase a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet/iPad or a smartphone to help their child.
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.
This by no means, should suggest, that these children understand less, but rather, they just have difficulty expressing what they understand. Speaking is one of the most effective ways of communicating and it allows us to successfully interact and navigate our way through life. However, for many ASDchildren, they do not have this option and sadly, therefore, have a greater challenge to having their needs and wants understood.
How can Speech Therapy help?
If you are a parent of an ASDchild that is non-verbal or struggles with communicating, this can be very stressful and overwhelming. It is important to know that there is help. To date, numerous tools and programs have been developed to aid in these communication and language development barriers. These are known as Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) systems.
AACis an alternative method of communicating, outside of traditional speech, that has been developed to assist children with communication and language developmental issues. These systems can be added to your child’s existing speech therapy programs, however, they can also introduce new and alternative ways of dealing with communication issues.
AAC is a way to provide your ASD child with the ability to relay their thoughts and needs through alternative ways that include the use of pictures, gestures, sign language, visual aids or speech-output devices such as an iPad or Tablet.
These AAC systems give your child access to their right to communicate and helps to ensure that their needs are being heard, taken into account and addressed. Every person deserves the right to share in the decisions surrounding their care and well being.
Sounds liberating, (not only for your child but for you, the parents and caregivers), doesn’t it? Taking the guesswork out of what your child is trying to communicate helps to reduce stress, for everyone, and opens up the opportunity to build stronger relationships between your child and the rest of their social and support network.
Here is a breakdown of the types of AAC – Unaided andAided & Low and High Tech
Unaided systems – These systems don’t require the use of any equipment. Gestures, facial expressions, body language and sign language are some examples of unaided systems used to communicate.
Aided systems – These systems use tools or materials and can be either low-tech or high-tech. Some examples of low-tech are symbol boards, choice cards, communication books, alphabet boards or cards. High-tech examples include speech-generating devices (SGD) or communication devices and AAC apps on mobile devices.
Below I will further elaborate on four of the aided systems that I feel may be helpful with your ASD child’s path to achieving successful communication.
Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS) – This program is a tool to aid in communication with non-verbal ASD children. PECS is a program where pictures of desired objects are exchanged (such as clothes or food) as a way of communicating. These pictures can be photographs, digitally created images or hand-drawn pictures.
When a child wants something, they would hand a picture of the desired item to their communication partner (the parent, peer or care-giver) in exchange for the desired object. PECS begins with a basic request which will be extended to include sentences and eventually comments as well.
As with most things that are of value and worthwhile, this program can take a long time (months) to become independent. It also requires special training and materials and is able to be supervised by anyone who has taken the PECS training (usually speech therapists or BCBAs).
While some children will be able to pair a vocalization with the exchange, PECS itself does not teach the use of vocal language. Creating a ‘verbal’ child is not the goal but rather creating a ‘communicative’ child is the end goal.
Speech Generating Devices (SGDs) or Voice Output Devices – These are hand-held electronic devices that when a child presses a button or flips a switch, the device will play pre-recorded words or phrases. These SGDs allow non-verbal people to communicate electronically. Therefore, in its most basic form, if a child would like a banana, they would press a picture of a banana and the device would then say “banana”, “banana please”, “I want banana” or I would like a banana, please” (or some other variation) in a pre-recorded human voice.
Three examples of apps that can be paired with designated devices or used on tablets or iPads to become SGDs are:
TouchChat HD with WordPower – Although this is one of the most costly communication apps on the market, this program offers a range of options that far outweigh the competition. Utilizing Its voice recording capabilities allows you to touch individualized set-up cells and the program will then conveniently speak.
LINGGO – This is a mobile app used on an iPad or tablet that’s currently in beta testing. It was created by a team led by a behaviour analyst in Toronto. The app lists words that are most used and relevant to the child’s daily needs, preferences and social activities. Linggo learns the language patterns of its users through machine learning. Linggo also aims to enhance literacy by transitioning the learner from using picture based communication to written words and phrases.
Linggo also encourages vocal speech in the learner with the optional time delay feature to allow time for the learner to vocalize before the app. One of the most exciting parts of Linggo is that it gathers data on the learner’s independent vs prompted communications which will help the speech therapy team fine tune the teaching program to achieve maximum learning and communication.
LAMP Words for Life – This is an AAC app that is available for the iPad. It is based on the motor planning theory of language acquisition. It utilizes pre-designed vocabulary pages that do not require much individualization or adjusting. This allows the user to transition between pages without having to re-learn the positions of previously acquired words. There is evidence to suggest that children can become more proficient AAC users using motor planning because there is less searching for icons and specific phrases or sentences become almost rote.
Now that you know about some of the AAC systems, implementation may be another challenge. Finding professional help can be useful and will play a very important role in your child’s communication development. It is important to work closely with a Speech Therapy team to ensure that you are using the correct AAC systems.
Some AAC programs can be quite costly, you want to be sure they are worthwhile and effective for your child’s specific needs. A Speech Therapy teamwill often include a Speech-Language Pathologist, a communication disorder assistant or speech therapy assistant. The Speech Therapy team will take into consideration which AAC is appropriate and valuable for your child and will be able to address the many questions you will have. Furthermore, they will create and implement a program that will work with your child at their current stage of communication development and capabilities.
Some advantages of AAC as described by users include:
Improved ability to communicate
Stronger friendships and relationships
Increased ability for social interactions
Increased involvement in decision-making and autonomy regarding their lives
A feeling of being respected
Access to employment and volunteer opportunities
An improvement in physical and mental health.
AAC systems have proven to be tools that can open up doors for your ASD child by empowering them to communicate their needs and wishes. Through the set-up of a well-designed communication program with the help of a Speech Therapyteam, including the use of AAC tools and consistent practice, your child will find that a whole new world of opportunities can become available.
If you would like help developing your child’s communication skills using AAC or otherwise, please contact us to set up a no-charge consultation today.
Equality and equity are words that are often understood as being synonymous as they both have the implication of fairness, however, the two meanings are actually very different. Equality means to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Equity speaks to ensuring that everyone has the opportunities they need to be successful.
There have been many political movements that have espoused equal rights: women’s groups, minority groups, autism advocacy groups and other disability rights groups.
With equality, it is assumed that everyone has the same starting point and should be treated in exactly the same way. While with equity, the belief is that not all people start at the same point and for that reason, each person should receive (based on their distinct abilities) what they need to be successful. In understanding the difference between the two, we can conclude that fairness does not mean equality.
Modifications and Accommodations for Autism
While the idea behind equality is to treat everyone “fairly” and “equally”, it has sadly missed the mark when looking at fairness around Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Assuming that everyone is equal and is starting from the same place (which we know is not true, especially in autism) can actually create unintentional barriers. For instance, modifications are necessary for those with autism to be successful in their daily routines.
Making practical changes allows the starting point to truly become one of fairness. Simply put, modifications and adjustments are how we can promote fairness and ensure that all people are provided with the tools they need to achieve success.
An example of these modifications put into action is an autism framework is that of a child who has sensory concerns or challenging behaviour and has trouble sitting in a circle on the floor with the rest of the class. Pressuring the child to join on the floor may create resistance or even a meltdown which affects not only the autistic child but the class as a whole. A small concession that a teacher may make is to allow the child to sit on a chair in the circle to help with engagement and integration.
Yes, this may seem to some degree “unfair” to the other children or “special treatment”, however with this minor adjustment being made to accommodate a child that has additional needs, the teacher has effectively created a more positive and successful learning environment not only for the autistic child but for the entire class as well.
We cannot and must not expect every child to fit into one box and hope that success will be the same across the board. We have to realize that accommodations and flexibility provided by parents, professionals and autism caregivers are not only kind but are actually essential to achieving true equity.
As these adjustments are necessary, we need to position them as being so. Instead of the modification being looked at as unfair, it rather should be seen as levelling the playing field to ensure fairness. If we don’t make a big deal about these accommodations than others (classmates, siblings etc.) won’t either. We need to keep in mind that it’s not only those with autism that are different, but we are also all different in our own way and therefore have different capabilities and needs.
In focussing too much on equality and fairness, we end up overlooking the wonderfulness of difference. Instead, we need to look at each person individually to ensure equity and flexibility are at the forefront. Then and only then we can indeed provide fairness in its truest form.
To further exemplify, here in Ontario, Canada all of the changes that are being proposed and made regarding the Ontario Autism Program’s funding is a prime example of the misunderstanding surrounding equality and equity. The province seems to be under the impression that allocating the same amount of funds for children who fall within provincially designated categories (age, etc). will provide equality across the board. However, where the mistake lies is that autism does not affect each person in the same ways.
Therefore, funding and resources should not be allocated based on provincially set rigid categories such as age, and should instead be provided and distributed based on individual need. As autism falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, one child who is nonverbal may require, for example, far more Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy or Speech Therapy, than a verbal autistic child. This example is just one of many reasons why “equality” in this case will just not work.
Below is a helpful example of a lesson that can be played with your children to help explain this confusing topic:
The One Size Fits All Band-Aid Lesson – Ask the children to share their most serious injury: some may say a broken arm, a dislocated shoulder or a cut on the forehead. Once the injuries have been acknowledged, explain to them that your solution to heal them is to provide them each with a band-aid.
This solution will most likely raise some confusion to the children, as how is a band-aid supposed to fix a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder? This unhelpful solution shows that there is not one solution to all situations and that each situation needs to be addressed in it’s own way. Even though using the same solution (the band-aid) may in theory seem fair, how can this “equal” method of treating three different injuries be acceptable? All that is accomplished is that only a small number of people actually get the help they need while the rest of the group suffers.
Once again, it is important to remember that there is a difference between equality and equity. Fairness can only truly be gained with compromises and modifications which ensure that all people are indeed given the tools they need to be successful. Would you not agree to a person with bad eyesight getting glasses or a non-english speaker having a translator at the hospital? It is a similar situation when making adjustments for autistic children and others with exceptionalities.
We know that not all people are born the same, and in keeping this in mind, we need to continue to work towards levelling the playing field to ensure actual fairness is received.
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Speech therapy is carried out by a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLPs). It addresses a number of speech and communication issues in both children and adults.
Why choose Side by Side?
Our SLPs will conduct a thorough assessment of your child’s speech and language abilities and will determine if they would benefit from intervention. If intervention is recommended, they will set goals and will discuss with you the best therapy schedule for your child.
Some common problems that an SLP can address are:
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Augmentative Communication Devices
Auditory Processing DisordeR
Fluency Therapy for stuttering
PECS – Picture Exchange Communication System
PROMPT – Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (for motor speech disorders)
Social Skills Training
Speech Sound Disorders
Our SLPs work as part of our transdisciplinary team, when necessary, to address all of your child’s needs in a comprehensive way. We will ensure that your child’s speech goals align with the rest of their treatment goals.
Our Speech-Language Pathologists are registered with the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario (CASLPO) and members of either Speech-Language & Audiology Canada (SAC) or the Ontario Speech-Language Association (OSLA).