Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) are nationally certified by the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association (ASHA). To practice in the state of Texas, SLPs must also hold a Texas state license. Because autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a social communication disorder, children identified with autism require the service of an SLP. In its 2006 Principles for Speech-Language Pathologists in Diagnosis, Assessment, and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders across the Life Span [Technical Report], the ASHA stated, “Given the importance of social communication in the diagnosis of ASD, the SLP plays an important role in both screening and diagnosis” (p. 1). Therefore, SLPs should be specifically trained in areas that assist with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, including social communication, social interaction, restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
As a member of the multidisciplinary team, the SLP administers standardized assessment tools in the areas of speech and language functioning and should be skilled in providing informal assessments of social communication to determine a disability in the area of speech, language, or social communication. Social communication moves beyond words and grammatical correctness. It includes such skills as back-and-forth social interaction, pointing, sharing information, conversation, perspective-taking, and understanding social situations. Many children with ASD can regulate their caregiver’s behaviors by requesting or protesting; they may also label objects and events in the environment or talk in full sentences. Despite these peripheral linguistic skills, they fail to share information with others and communicate within a social context (Rollins, 2014). Some of these children can perform within normal limits on standardized tests of speech or language, particularly if the assessment only requires them to look at and respond to static pictures. Therefore, in the determination of a disability in the area of autism, standardized assessment tools are only a starting point and should be used in conjunction with parent and teacher interviews, observations in multiple context (e.g., 1:1 and group interactions with familiar and unfamiliar persons, interactions with adults and with peers), and informal communication and language samples. For example, an informal communication assessment could include the range of communicative intentions, cohesion, responsiveness to speech (i.e., the proportion of adult utterances to which the child responds), mean length of utterance (MLU), echolalia, pronoun use, discourse management (e.g., topic maintenance, turn taking, appropriate topic shifts), register variation (i.e., using appropriate language forms with different conversational partners and in varying situations), and presupposition (i.e., the understanding of what it is reasonable to assume the communication partner knows) (Paul, 2007). What is analyzed is determined by the student’s age and language abilities.
Language and communication assessment for young students with preverbal/prelinguistic skills should include an assessment of the prelinguistic predictors of language and communication. Prelingusitic predictors include the use of communicative gaze and gestures, quality of vocalizations, joint attention, vocabulary comprehension, and quality of play (Paul, 2007; Rollins, 2014). In addition, rate of communication, range of communicative functions expressed (i.e., behavior regulatory functions versus social functions), and responsiveness to speech and gestures can be measured, and an assessment for use of an augmentative communication device (AAC) can be performed.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2006). Principles for speech-language pathologists in diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders across the life span [Technical Report]. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
Bellon-Harn, M. L., & Harn W. E. (2006). Profiles of social communicative competence in middle school children with Asperger’s Syndrome: Two case studies. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 221), 1–26.
Diehl, S. F. (2003). The SLP’s role in collaborative assessment and intervention for children with ASD. Topics in Language Disorders, 23(2), 95–115.
Frith, U. (2004). Emanuel Miller lecture: Confusions and controversies about Asperger syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(4), 672–686.
Heffner, G. J. (2000). Judevine® Center for Autism Training at GSSH. Retrieved July 10, 2007, from http://www.autismawarenessonline.com/
Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. R (1995). Asperger’s Syndrome: Guidelines for treatment and intervention. New York, NY: Guilford.
Lovaas, O. (1981). Teaching developmentally disabled children: The me book. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Paul, R. (2007). Assessing communication in autism spectrum disorders. In F.R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and Pervasive developmental disorders: Volume 2: Assessment, interventions, and policy (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Rollins, P. R. (2014). Facilitating early social communication skills: From theory to practice. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC.
Resources and Materials
Ad Hoc Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders (2006). Principles for speech-language pathologists in diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders across the life span. Washington, DC: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Provides information on assessment and interventions for speech-language pathologists.
American Speech-Language Hearing Association (n.d.) Website of the leading association for speech-language pathologists. Retrieved from www.asha.org.
Contains much useful information.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B. (2007). The Ziggurat Model: A framework for designing comprehensive interventions for individuals with high-functioning autism and Asperger Syndrome. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
This material provides a method of matching student characteristics to need and incorporating speech-language interventions throughout a student’s day.
Centers for Disease Control. Autism Info Center. Retrieved from: www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism.
Provides information on autism assessment.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
Provides research on autism and assessment and treatment information.
Rollins, P. R. (2014). Facilitating early social communication skills: From theory to practice. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Association website. Retrieved from http://www.txsha.org/.
Provides information on autism, including assessment.