How to Find a Speech Therapist

Boy works with speech therapist
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Traditionally, speech therapists have focused on supporting people as they improve their ability to physically form words. That may mean overcoming issues like stuttering or lisping -- or it may mean regaining speech skills after brain injury or stroke.

It's only relatively recently that speech therapists have focused at all on the critical issue of speech pragmatics -- the actual use of speech as a tool for communication and conversation.

But for many kids with autism, speech pragmatics is at the heart of many social, communication and learning issues. That means that quite a few professionally qualified speech language therapists (SLPs) really aren't fully qualified to work with your child with autism.

Speech Therapists for Children with Autism

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) notes on its website that there are recommended best practices for autism therapy. But while those recommendations are described in general, no specific focus for SLPs is included. Overall, the message is that therapists in general (and presumably SLPs in particular) should mold their therapy to needs of the individual child and should ensure that therapy focuses on the "core deficits" of autism (generally understood to be social and communication challenges). This type of advice is fairly vague, which may be why SLPs approach children with autism in so many different ways.

While some therapists incorporate play, daily activities or social groups into their sessions, others offer a much more traditional teaching approach.

Fern Sussman, program manager at More Than Words and TalkAbility at the Hanen Centre in Toronto, Canada, is an SLP who works with and writes about children with autism.

She recommends you start with a practitioner who is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). But in addition to that credential, here's her list of qualities to seek in an SLP who works with autistic children:

  • Your SLP should test for use of language (not just ability to speak words or sounds)
  • Your SLP should find out whether your child gets jokes, gets intonation, makes eye contact
  • Your SLP shouldn't work on eye contact by simply giving the command "look at me," but should engage your child to the point that she makes eye contact on her own
  • Your SLP should not be someone who specializes in articulation or stuttering issues. You want him always to use language naturally. You can do both at once -- work on correct pronunciations AND help a child to think about "Why is this joke funny?"
  • Your SLP should understand your child's special strengths, and work through their strengths. A visual kid should never be doing entirely auditory work.


Prelock, Patricia. "Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Role of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Service Delivery." 1997-2008 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Interview with Fern Sussman, SLP May 2008.

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