The Role of Speech Therapy in Autism Centers

Children with autism not only have trouble communicating socially, but may also have problems behaving. The goal of speech therapy is to improve all aspects of communication including auditory processing.

Speech therapy sessions will vary greatly depending upon the child and the therapist. For example, the Direct Instruction language program called Language for Learning may be helpful for teaching spoken language to school aged children with autism. This program is typically directed towards children aged 10-11 and includes daily 20 minute sessions. One study found that after just three months of this type of therapy, children with autism were able to correctly say words to identify certain objects.

Medical Autism Clinic in Alabama

Many scientific studies have demonstrated that most forms of speech therapy are able to improve the communication skills of children with autism and most autism centers offer some form of speech therapy. For example, the Medical Autism Clinic (MAC) affiliated with the University of Alabama, Birmingham, was created to be a roadmap for parents as they deal with the diagnosis of autism. MAC localizes specialists in genetics, nutrition, occupational therapy, speech therapy, rehabilitation, sleep disorders and audiology in to expedite the evaluation of children with autism. While all these areas are supported at MAC, special emphasis is given to feeding, sensory, motor, sleep, gastrointestinal and nutritional issues. MAC attempts to address these problems in a thorough and interdependent way. Parents and their children are referred to MAC by their pediatricians; first they complete a questionnaire, and then the children are evaluated by the staff at the autism center. Having all services under one roof allows the parents to leave the appointment at MAC with a therapy plan and a list of resources.

Vermont Rural Autism Project

A different model of an autism center can be found in Vermont. The Vermont Rural Autism Project uses applied family-centered practice during speech and language therapy. Applied family-centered practice is a specific intervention developed in the late 1980s that encourages therapists to include parents and families as part of the therapy program. Families are encouraged to participate and collaborate with therapists. The Vermont Rural Autism Project was a 3-year project that started as a family-centered program with specially-trained speech therapists. Working closely with families can be challenging for some speech therapists. Some families may be overly critical of the therapist and others may be unwilling to help in the therapy. Some therapists and families, however, are able to connect in special ways that are incredibly beneficial to the child.

Learning More about Speech Therapy

Autism is a condition covered under the United States’ Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004. The cost of speech therapy is often covered by the government through this act.

Please visit Healing Thresholds to learn more about speech therapy and other autism therapies.

Lara Pullen, PhD is the co-founder and CEO of []. Healing Thresholds Autism Therapy is a free website and email newsletter dedicated to healing the lives of families touched by autism. They provide comprehensive therapy fact sheets, daily updates of autism therapy research and news, and a global directory of autism-related therapists and services. A comprehensive fact sheet about speech therapy — plus research summaries, news, and comments — is available at [].


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