Speech Therapy for Autism

What is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a severe disruption of normal developmental processes that occurs early in life. It usually shows up before age 3 years. It leads to impaired language, play, cognitive, social and adaptive functioning; causing children to fall farther and farther behind their peers of the same age. Autism may be linked with a wide range of traits that include; Repetitive activities, Extreme resistance to changes in daily routines, UN usual responses to things such as touch, Inability to interact with environment.

The causes of ASD are unknown, but evidence points to a genetic basis, with children with ASD having neurological differences in certain areas of the brain.

Although children with an ASD exhibit social communication deficits along with restricted/repetitive behaviors, there are tremendous differences among children in how these areas are displayed. Children with autism do not learn in the same way that children normally learn. However, what is most important to note is that – with the right type of intervention – children with ASD have an amazing ability to learn and grow.

People with autism may have major problems with both speech and nonverbal communication. They may also find it very hard to interact socially. For these reasons, speech therapy is a central part of treatment for autism. Speech therapy can address a wide range of communication problems for people with autism.


Autism can affect speech, language development, and social communication in many ways.

Speech problems

A person with autism may:

  • Not talk at all
  • Utter grunts, cries, shrieks, or throaty, harsh sounds
  • Hum or talk in a musical way
  • Babble with word-like sounds
  • Use foreign-sounding “words” or robotic-like speech
  • Parrot or often repeat what another person says (called echolalia)
  • Use the right phrases and sentences, but with an unexpressive tone of voice

About one out of three people with autism has trouble producing speech sounds to effectively communicate with others. The person’s language, if present, is simply too hard to understand.

Communication problems

A person with autism may have one or more of these communication challenges:

  • Trouble with conversational skills, which include eye contact and gestures
  • Trouble understanding the meaning of words outside the context where they were learned
  • Memorization of things heard without knowing what’s been said
  • Reliance on echolalia — the repeating of another’s words as they are being said — as the main way to communicate
  • Little understanding of the meaning of words or symbols
  • Lack of creative language

Because of these challenges, a child with autism must not only learn how to speak but also  how to use language to communicate. This includes knowing how to hold a conversation, tuning into both verbal and nonverbal cues from other people — such as facial expressions, tone of voice and body language.


Speech-language pathologists are therapists who specialize in treating language problems and speech disorders. They are a key part of the autism treatment team. With early screening and detection of people at risk, speech therapists often lead the way in helping with the diagnosis of autism and in making referrals to other specialists like Occupational therapists, Psychologist, Special needs teachers and alike.

Once autism is diagnosed, speech therapists assess the best ways to improve communication and enhance a person’s quality of life. Throughout therapy, the speech-language pathologist also works closely with Occupational therapists, the family, school, and other professionals. If someone with autism is nonverbal or has major trouble with speech, the speech therapist may introduce alternatives to speech.

Speech therapy techniques might include:

  • Electronic “talkers”
  • Signing or typing
  • Using picture boards with words, known as picture exchange communication systems that start out using pictures instead of words to help a child learn to communicate
  • Using sounds to which a person is over- or under-sensitive to expand and compress speech sounds
  • Improving articulation of speech by massaging or exercising lips or facial muscles
  • Having individuals sing songs composed to match the rhythm and flow of sentences

Some of these techniques are supported more by research than others. Be sure to discuss them thoroughly with the speech-language pathologist and your child’s pediatrician.


Speech therapy can improve overall communication. This makes it possible for people with autism to improve their ability to form relationships and function in day-to-day life.

Specific goals of speech therapy include helping the individual with autism:

  • Articulate words well
  • Communicate both verbally and nonverbally
  • Comprehend verbal and nonverbal communication, understanding others’ intentions in a range of settings
  • Initiate communication without prompting from others
  • Know the appropriate time and place to communicate something; for example, when to say “good morning”
  • Develop conversational skills
  • Exchange ideas
  • Communicate in ways to develop relationships
  • Enjoy communicating, playing, and interacting with peers
  • Learn self-regulation
A child (student) with autism singing a song then later addressing other students in his class


The earlier, the better! Autism is usually evident before age 3, and language delays can be recognized as early as 18 months of age. In some cases, autism can be identified as early as10 to 12 months of age. It is very important to start speech therapy as early as possible, when it can have the greatest impact. Intensive, individualized treatment can help lessen the disabling isolation that may result from this social communication disability.

With early identification and intervention, two out of three pre-school kids with autism improve communication skills and their grasp of spoken language. Research shows those who improve the most are often those who receive the most speech therapy.

To find a speech-language therapist/pathologist, visit us at our Centre or contact us by email or phone call. You may also ask your pediatrician doctor for suggestions.

Finding a Therapist

It’s important to make sure that the speech-language therapist has attained training from a credited institution. You can find a specialist by visiting our Centre (UMRC), contacting us using our contact address (email or phone call). You can also ask your child’s doctor or teacher for a referral to a speech therapist.


We offer evaluations and assessments for children and adults with neurological disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Stroke with speech and language difficulties.  Call now and book your child’s appointment! Tel: (+256) 0414 695 902 Mobile: (+256) 0702 684 466 0r 0774 320 522 Email:info@umrehabcentre.org