Monday, December 13, 2010

Treatment Goals in Autism: The Power of Speech

One of the BEST parts of my job involves early intervention.

I love to be able to start with a two or three year old child who has limitless potential. No clinician will be able to accurately tell a family what he/she is capable of. While this may prove frustrating for the family, it is telling of the POTENTIAL his/her child contains. How he/she responds to the treatment goals is crucial. How a program responds to his/her individual needs is MUCH MUCH MORE crucial!

In my personal opinion, treatment goals for kiddos at risk or diagnosed with Autism need to be monitored closely and adapted frequently to insure they continue to best meet a family and child's needs. Data needs to be taken and charts need to be analyzed for progress. If progress is not being made strategies for achieving these goals need to be RE-ASSESSED.

The most frequent treatment goals for early intervention programs involve language. Language goals can be easily divided into TWO types:

1) Receptive (what a kiddo understands)
2) Expressive (what kiddo can express/say)

An increased understanding of and expression of language decreases frustration, helps improve behaviors and opens the door for understanding and achieving other academic and developmental skills. Giving a child a way to communicate is KEY for him to become an active participant in his/her life.

This week, I am going to focus on the development of Verbal Imitation skills (expressive language treatment goal)

Verbal imitation skills are the first step to learning the power of language (mainly through requests).

When a child catches onto verbal imitation, it is a HUGE step in his development and many clinicians feel he/she will do well with education and life. When a child has difficulty with imitating verbal sounds, some clinicians may mentally put him/her in another category of learning instead of VAMPING his treatment program protocol with parent training, sibling training, therapist training and alternative techniques which may work best with this child's learning style.

Not much frustrates me more than a Behavior Analyst who will spend weeks, months or even years leading a home Autism treatment program which is ineffective.

In an effort to support children who are struggling with mastering verbal imitation, I have done some research into effective techniques. TO REPEAT: This is to insure I am doing EVERYTHING possible to increase these kiddos' chances of success and recovery!

In the next few posts we will cover the following techniques from Dethorne and Johnson (2009):

1. Providing Access to Augementive and Alternative Communication
2. Minimizing Pressure to Speak
3. Imitating the Child
4. Utilize Exaggerated Intonation and Slowed Tempo
5. Augment Auditory, Visual, Tactile and Proprioceptive Feedback
6. Avoid Emphasis on Nonspeech-Like Articulator Movements: Focus on Function

These are things ANY parent and clinician can do and I will attempt to make them as easy to understand as anything.

***This article was written from general information I have learned through experience with treatment goals in in-home Autism programs. I drew from general knowledge I have obtained through various job-training experiences. Information specifically drawn from known sources will be credited in reference section.


Dethorne, L., Johnson, C., Walder, L., Mahurin-Smith, J. (2009). When "simon says" doesn't work: alternatives to imitation for facilitating early speech development, American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 18(2), 133-145.

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