Speech / Language

The goal of speech therapy is to improve all aspects of communication. This includes comprehension, expression, sound production, and social use of language. Speech therapy may include sign language and the use of picture symbols. At its best, a specific speech therapy program is tailored to the specific weaknesses of the individual child. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to create a child-specific, evolving, long-term speech therapy plan.

In the United States, the National Research Council describes four aspects of beneficial speech therapy:

  • Speech therapy should begin early in a child’s life and be frequent
  • Therapy should be rooted in practical experience in the child’s life
  • Therapy should encourage spontaneous communication
  • Any communication skills learned during speech therapy should be generalizable to multiple situations

Thus, any speech therapy program should include practice in many different places with many different people. In order for speech therapy to be most successful, caregivers should practice speech exercises during normal daily routines in the home, school, and community. Speech therapists can give specific examples of how to best incorporate speech therapy throughout a child’s day.

Speech therapy sessions will vary greatly depending upon the child. If the child is younger than three years old, then the speech therapist will most likely come into the home for a one hour session. If the child is older than three, then therapy sessions will occur at school or in the therapist’s office. If the child is school age, expect that speech therapy will include one-on-one time with the child, classroom-based activities, and consultations between the speech therapist, teachers and parents.

The sessions should be designed to engage the child in communication. The therapist will engage the child through games and toys chosen specifically for the child. Several different speech therapy techniques and approaches can be used in a single session or throughout many sessions.

Children with autism not only have trouble communicating socially, but they often also have problems behaving. These behavioural problems are believed to be at least partially caused by the frustration associated with the inability to communicate. Speech therapy is intended not only to improve social communication skills, but also to teach the ability to use those communication skills as an alternative to unacceptable behaviour.

Many scientific studies demonstrate that speech therapy is able to improve the communication skills of children with autism. The most successful approaches to speech therapy include early identification, family involvement, and individualized treatment. There are many different approaches to speech therapy and most of them are effective. In most cases a speech therapist will use a combination of approaches in a program.

Speech-Language & Audiology Canada’s position statements on The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Our Position Statement on the role of S-LPs is available here in EN and FR.
Our Position Statement on the role of audiologists is here in EN and FR.


  • Goldstein, H. 2002. “Communication Intervention for Children with Autism: A Review of Treatment Efficacy.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders v32 n5 p373-96 Oct 2002.
  • Diehl, S.F. 2003. “The SLP’s Role in Collaborative Assessment and Intervention for Children with ASD.” Topics in Language Disorders v23 n2 p95-115 Apr-Jun 2003.
  • Lord, C. 2000. “Commentary: achievements and future directions for intervention research in communication and autism spectrum disorders.” J.Autism Dev.Disord. 30(5):393-398.
  • Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. 2001. “Educating Children with Autism.” Catherine Lord and James P. McGee Ed. The National Academies Press.
  • Koegel, L.K. 2000. “Interventions to facilitate communication in autism.” J.Autism Dev.Disord. 30(5):383-391.
  • Safran, S.P., et al. 2003. “Intervention ABCs for Children with Asperger Syndrome.” Topics in Language Disorders v23 n2 p154-65 Apr-Jun 2003.
  • Light, J.C., et al. 1998. “Augmentative and alternative communication to support receptive and expressive communication for people with autism.” J.Commun.Disord. 31(2):153-178.
  • Keen, D., et al. 2001. “Replacing prelinguistic behaviors with functional communication.” J.Autism Dev.Disord. 31(4):385-398.
  • Ross, D.E., and R.D. Greer. 2003. “Generalized imitation and the mand: inducing first instances of speech in young children with autism.” Res.Dev.Disabil. 24(1):58-74.

By Lara Pullen, PhD. The information from this page was reprinted with permission from Healing Thresholds. “Copyright (c) 2007, Healing Thresholds, Inc. All rights reserved”.


Autism Canada does not endorse treatments, interventions and therapies but lists them so people can make informed choice.  This site is for information purposes only and is a starting point for readers to look into options that may fit or resonate.  Remember, therapies for autism, like any condition, should be discussed with a trusted medical practitioner or certified therapist before use.

All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.

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