Autism can present many physical, emotional, and language challenges for the children affected by it. In this post we’re going to focus on the speech and language related characteristics of autism and how speech therapy can help.

Repeating Words Just Said (Echolalia)

Echolalia is the repetition of words by a child learning to talk or has a developmental disorder such as Autism. This is also known as “parroting” and generally occurs when language development is noticeably delayed. It’s important to keep in mind all toddlers imitate words they hear and is a healthy part of their language development. However, this imitation becomes symptomatic once a child is noticeably delayed and expressing other symptoms related to autism.

 Relatively No Speech At All

It’s important to note that a child that is delayed communicatively is not necessarily autistic. Children who present symptoms of autism can have trouble communicating and therefore don’t speak at all or may simply imitate a few words. It’s not currently known why this occurs, however with intervention, many children with autism eventually learn how to utilize verbal language to communicate, or forms of non-verbal communication techniques (i.e. sign language, communication boards or devices).

Trouble with Eye Contact and Gestures 

Eye contact and expressive speech are fundamental parts of being able to communicate in a conversational way. For children with autism this can look very different, with little to no eye contact, and expressionless words and phrases. Non-verbal cues for children with autism can cause high amounts of stress that can affect how they approach things like eye contact or gestures. Pragmatics or social language are often areas of difficulty for children with autism. Speech therapy can focus on helping children develop appropriate eye contact, initiate/maintain conversation, turn taking, express feelings and pick up on social cues.

Benefits of Speech Therapy

Speech therapy in addition to other services is the best way to get early intervention with children who have been diagnosed with autism.  A speech-language pathologist can assist with diagnosing speech and language related delays associated with Autism and provide children with evidence-based treatment to improve overall communication skills.


Common treatment methods include:

  1. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) supplements verbal and written speech with aided or unaided symbols. Examples of aided AAC would be PECS (picture exchange communication system) and speech generating devices. Examples of unaided AAC would be sign language and gestures to support communication.
  2. Visual supports, schedules and scripts: These include pictures and/or words to help prompt an individual to follow a schedule, complete tasks, transition and behave appropriately. Scripts are used to facilitate social communication and interaction.