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High Functioning Autism & Speech Delay

Instructor: Lisa Millraney

Lisa has 27 years of experience treating speech, language, memory and swallowing disorders. She has a master's degree in speech pathology from Vanderbilt University.

In this lesson, you will learn some of the characteristics of delayed speech and language in people with high functioning autism, and how therapists, teachers, and families can help individuals with autism improve their communication skills.

High Functioning Autism and Communication

High functioning autism, or HFA, is a term for people at the upper end of the autism spectrum. It is often identified with Asperger's syndrome, although there is debate as to whether the two are the same diagnosis or two separate disorders.

One difference sometimes stated is that children with HFA usually have delayed communication skills, whereas children with Asperger's do not. However, some researchers have reported that as many as half of children diagnosed with Asperger's demonstrate delays in their communication skills. The term communication covers both speech (the elements of verbal production of sounds and words) and language (the meaning of words and how they are used). In this lesson, we will talk about those delays as seen through the eyes of a therapist working to help children with HFA.

Building Better Language

When Kelsie, a speech-language pathologist, or SLP, arrives at work each day, she knows her hours will be filled with adventure! She works at a clinic that specializes in serving children with HFA, and every child has their own set of challenges and needs their own individual approach to improvement.

For example, Taylor is twelve years old. His vocabulary is quite advanced, but he has a lot of trouble with semantics, or what words mean. He takes everything very literally. Kelsie works with him on abstract language, teaching him humor, sarcasm, and figures of speech. Taylor loves to read, so Kelsie reads with him and incorporates their lessons into the story. This week they are reading the book Animal Farm, and talking about how the animals in the story are used to represent elements of human society. Taylor is a very bright kid, and he finds all this 'fascinating', which he says often, with a lifted eyebrow like Mr. Spock.

Later in the morning, Kelsie sees Justin. He's eleven, and his vocabulary is large too, but he has difficulty with pragmatics, or the proper use of language. When Kelsie converses with him, he interrupts her, doesn't make eye contact, and wants to talk only about his favorite topic (hockey statistics). She is teaching him how to pay attention to the person he is talking to, praising him when he takes his turn and reminding him to be considerate of the other speaker.

Time for Speech

After lunch, one of Kelsie's most interesting students arrives. Julian is nine, and his language is good for his age. However, he has unusual prosody, the intonation of speech. Actually, he doesn't have much prosody at all; his speech is monotone. Kelsie uses the webcam on her laptop to video him, and works to help him learn to put more inflection and emotion into his speech. Julian is small for his age and very serious, so Kelsie uses funny filters on the webcam, and feels triumphant when he smiles.

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