Children with autism often have difficulty learning to communicate their wants and needs. They may struggle to express themselves and often do so through troublesome behavior. Finding the best course of action typically requires hours of various therapies, appointments, and research, which can seem impossible to tackle when your child is newly diagnosed. With the help of ABA therapy, in combination with additional services and tools, including speech-language therapy, interventions, and devices, your child can learn how to communicate their needs more efficiently.
Most of us use functional communication skills to express our wants, needs, preferences, and feelings without trouble. When your child is unable to achieve this, you may notice they become angry, exhibit frustration, meltdowns, and tantrums. Your child will benefit from combining applied behavior analysis (ABA) with speech therapy approaches.
What is ABA Therapy?
ABA therapy is a scientifically validated therapy providing an in-depth understanding of how your child’s environment may be affecting their behaviors. ABA therapy looks closely at how learning and behavior take place. It relies upon a reward system that individualizes the most meaningful reward to each child to replace unwanted behaviors with a desirable one. The use of positive reinforcement is a vital component in the replacement and strengthening of new behaviors and skills. By using consistency in all your child’s natural environments, positive reinforcements prove to be a powerful tool for professionals and family members working with children with autism. With these reinforcements, ABA therapy rids behaviors that may be harmful and hinder their health and ability to learn. ABA therapy relies on parent participation and real-life circumstances to help your child create the most successful and lasting changes. ABA therapy will help your child in many crucial developmental areas, including:
- Self-care skills
- Social skills
- School environment
- Home environment
What is Speech-Language Therapy?
Speech therapists offer therapy that addresses various challenges a child may have with language and communication. Speech therapists focus on improving your child’s verbal, nonverbal, and social communication skillset. The overall goal in speech-language therapy sessions is to help your child communicate in the most practical and functional ways possible. A speech therapist can provide the tools and skills necessary to thrive whether your child is unable to speak, experiences verbal difficulties holding conversations, or cannot read body language and facial cues others express. Additional concerns speech therapists often address, include:
- No speech
- Humming or speaking in a song-like way
- Parroting, or echolalia
- Expressionless tone
- Robotic-toned speech
- Shrieking or yelling
ABA Therapist and Speech Therapist Differences
While these two approaches can complement each other, there are distinct differences between the two. Speech therapists focus on individually treating language and communication skills, while ABA therapy helps a variety of behavioral, motor, and learning skills.
ABA therapists utilize positive reinforcement and strict techniques intending to teach children to engage in specific, positive behaviors. ABA therapists focus on measurable, observable, and modifiable aspects of all development, including language and communication. This successful method can lead to the adoption of lasting new skills and behavioral changes.
Speech therapists focus on helping your child develop helpful language and communication skills. Your child’s speech therapist will conduct their own evaluations to determine their challenges with communication, then create goals to work on in a one-on-one or group setting. Goals may include:
- strengthening of jaw muscles
- responding to social cues
- learning to use an electronic speech aid
Speech therapists incorporate the use of many creative tools, such as picture boards, songs, and games, to develop and enhance communication skills.
ABA Therapist and Speech Therapist Similarities
ABA and speech therapists work towards helping your child become autonomous and successful in their communication skills outside of therapy. This is why integrating their concepts can be highly successful.
Your child’s ABA therapists and speech therapists will work together to build comprehensive therapeutic strategies that aim to improve their verbal and non-verbal communication abilities. Speech therapists make an ideal member of your child’s ABA team, as they all have the common goal of providing efficient and effective approaches to acquiring language and communication skills.
Each child’s speech therapist often assists their ABA therapists in finding alternative forms of communication that work best during sessions. Speech therapists may recommend tools such as sign language, assistive technology, or the use of images to help develop a specific behavior. Speech therapists often work closely with ABA therapists to build and adjust strategies for treating behavioral challenges.
Conversely, ABA therapists can help speech therapists interpret data concerning particular behaviors and making quantitative decisions for enhancing expressive and receptive language skills. ABA therapists also assist speech therapists in reaching a clearer understanding of appropriate, effective stimuli when guiding particular behaviors involving your child’s communication struggles. As part of your child’s individualized ABA therapy plan, the entire team will determine language and communication methods that will make the most impact in the shortest amount of time.
General Goals During Sessions with Speech Therapists
While each child with autism has unique strengths and struggles, there are also many general goals that the speech therapist may address during their therapy sessions. To provide your child with the tools they need to communicate efficiently, their therapist may focus on areas including:
- The ability to exchange their thoughts, feelings, needs, and ideas
- Ability to communicate in various and meaningful ways
- Comprehend both verbal and nonverbal communication
- Understand others in a variety of settings with the least amount of cues
- Initiate communication without a need for prompting from therapists or others
- Recognizing the appropriate time and place to use verbal communication
- Developing appropriate conversational skills that can be understood by others
- Form relationships with others
- Enjoy communicating, playing, and interacting with others in their natural environments
- Learn the importance of self-regulation and how to achieve it
- The ability to articulate words
- Communicate effectively, verbally and nonverbally
Additional Concerns Speech Therapists Will Address
During your child’s ABA therapy and speech sessions, a variety of communication challenges that may be a focus include:
- Inability to comprehend the meaning of symbols
- Difficulties with receptive language
- Difficulties with memorization
- Relying on parroting to communicate
The Use of Play Therapy by ABA and Speech Therapists
ABA therapy strives to help your child more effectively express their feelings, ask for assistance, and engage in creating stronger bonds through multiple methods. One such method of highly trained ABA and speech therapists is play therapy. If you think of play as a form of language that most children understand, you’ll realize it’s a universal language they can relate to. Play therapy allows an opportunity for your child to learn and improve communication strategies and skills. Speech therapists use this method with children who are not yet efficient in engaging in play as well. Strengthening communications through non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and modeling, are strategic communication building tools and ideal to implement into their natural environments.
Strengthening Communication Skills
ABA and speech therapists also focus on strengthening your child’s ability to make requests to convey their needs. Through establishing eye contact and reducing typical avoidance and escaping behaviors, they can begin to better express themselves.
ABA therapy, in combination with their speech therapist’s techniques, can help your child learn to improve language through:
- Following instructions
- Complying with requests
- Vocal Imitation
- Motor imitation by copying the therapist’s motor movements
- Naming and identifying objects, events, or actions
- Reading written words
Similarly, the practices in ABA therapy sessions and those of speech therapists use their sessions to strengthen skills your child already exhibits, while introducing necessary skills they do not. The strengthening of these vital skills may include:
- Matching emotions with the correct facial expressions shown
- Understanding and correctly interpreting body language
- Strengthening the muscles in their mouth, jaw, and neck
- Developing more precise speech sounds and patterns
- Responding to questions
- Matching pictures with their correct meaning
- Using a variety of technology tools, such as speech apps
- Improving and strengthening the tone of their voice
Communication to Strengthen Social Skills
Speech therapists utilize ABA practices to strengthen overall social skills. The strengthening of social skills through speech-language therapy is a crucial focus for many children with autism, as it typically impairs their social communication and understanding of the general conversation. Speech therapists will introduce social skills therapy sessions to help your child focus on general social communication and desirable interactions while strengthening acceptable behaviors. Implementing ABA therapy practices to enhance these wanted interactions increases long-term results.
Benefits of Group Therapy Sessions
Social skills groups will allow your child to observe, learn, and strengthen their ability to read the facial expressions, gestures, and body language of their peers. ABA and speech therapists encourage them to engage in cooperative play to strengthen their social and communication skills. Through these group therapy sessions, your child can learn to create meaningful relationships, enhance eye contact, navigate conflict, and form new appropriate and acceptable social behaviors. ABA therapy skills your child learns during individual sessions help reinforce the use of new skills during group and in real-life situations. Just as with your child’s ABA therapy team, the speech-language pathologist will work closely with your family, their additional caregivers, school, and other professionals.
Why is Early Intervention Best?
ABA therapy and speech-language therapy offer the best, long-term outcomes when they can start at a younger age. With intensive therapy sessions, therapists are better able to address difficulties before too many undesirable behaviors become a natural routine.
Early identification and intervention studies show that two out of three preschoolers who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have made tremendous improvements. By introducing services early on, such as ABA therapy and speech-language pathology, younger children make improvements in their verbal and non-verbal communication skills and comprehension of spoken language. Research has even shown that children with autism who make the most improvements are those who spend the most time in speech therapy sessions.
What to Expect When Beginning Speech Therapy
Your child’s speech therapy will begin with an evaluation by a certified speech-language pathologist or SLP. The pathologist will be assessing your child’s communication strengths and areas of concern. This evaluation process will help the speech therapist create your child’s individual goals and plan of action for therapy. The speech therapist will meet with your child’s ABA therapy team to create an overall strategic course of action.
Your child’s plan may include goals towards making improvements in spoken language and learning various nonverbal skills to help them communicate more effectively. These skills may include:
- Sign language
- Basic gestures
- Utilizing alternative methods like
- ipads and other available technology
ABA therapy and working with speech therapists at a young age, ideally before reaching four years of age, shows higher success rates. Beginning therapy at an earlier age allows therapists to modify or correct behaviors before they have time to become repetitive and require replacement. Early intervention will also allow your child’s ABA and speech therapists time to begin introducing new and helpful self-care skills while building on them to strengthen their recurrence. With early intervention, therapy sessions may start in your home. Therapy in your child’s natural environments provide tremendous success and can benefit by replacing behaviors before your child reaches school age.
Early Intervention Provides School Readiness
Providing a head start with early intervention of therapy services allows your child’s therapists the opportunity to work on additional classroom readiness skills. Preparing your child before entering the school environment can significantly increase their success and ability to better adapt to their new environment when the time comes. Depending on age and length of therapy, this may include academics as well. Your child will work on a combination of language and life skills, including:
- Potty training
- Coping skills
- Social skills with adults and peers, including group settings
The Blossom Method
Here at the Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, the Blossom Method incorporates the expertise of speech therapists, occupational therapists, counselors, and ABA therapists to help develop the most comprehensive treatment plan for your child. Our highly-qualified team meets each week to discuss your child’s progress and address any challenges as they arise, to make sure they are progressing to their fullest potential. Contact us today to learn more about our all-encompassing approach to ABA therapy and how we can assist your family.