Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. The autism spectrum disorders also include related conditions such as Asperger syndrome that have milder signs and symptoms.
About a third to a half of individuals with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. Differences in communication may be present from the first year of life, and may include delayed onset of babbling, unusual gestures, diminished responsiveness, and vocal patterns that are not synchronized with the caregiver. In the second and third years, children with autism have less frequent and less diverse babbling, consonants, words, and word combinations; their gestures are less often integrated with words. These children are less likely to make requests or share experiences, and are more likely to simply repeat others' words (echolalia) or reverse pronouns. Joint attention seems to be necessary for functional speech, and deficits in joint attention seem to distinguish infants with autism: for example, they may look at a pointing hand instead of the pointed-at object, and they consistently fail to point at objects in order to comment on or share an experience. Children with autism may have difficulty with imaginative play and with developing symbols into language.
Social deficits distinguish autism and the related autism spectrum disorders from other developmental disorders. People with autism have social impairments and often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted. Infants with autism show less attention to social stimuli, smile and look at others less often, and respond less to their own name. Toddlers have more striking social deviance; for example, they have less eye contact and anticipatory postures and are more likely to communicate by manipulating another person's hand. Three- to five-year-old children with autism are less likely to exhibit social understanding, approach others spontaneously, imitate and respond to emotions, communicate nonverbally, and take turns with others.
Speech-Language Pathologists play a critical role in screening, diagnosing, and enhancing the social communication development and quality of life of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. This can be accomplished by focusing on the following:
-The initiation of spontaneous communication in functional activities;
-The comprehension of verbal and nonverbal communication;
-Communication for a range of social functions that are reciprocal and promote the development of friendships and social networks;
-Verbal and nonverbal means of communication, including natural gestures, speech, signs, pictures, written words, functional alternatives to challenging behaviors, and other augmentative and alternative communication systems;
-Access to literacy and academic instruction and curricular, extracurricular, and vocational activities.
Additionally, SLP’s form partnerships with families during the assessment and intervention process since effective therapy includes active family involvement. We provide counseling, education and training, coordination of services, and advocacy for families.
The following websites provide information and support for parents and individuals with autism:
Greater Akron Chapter of the Autism Society of America - 330-543-3955
Autism Society of Greater Cleveland - 216-556-4937
ASPIES Greater Akron - 330-745-5115