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Speech Therapy

Director: Rachael Bowen

The communication difficulties of children with ASD vary and may depend on the intellectual and social development of the child. Though some children with ASD have little or no problem with the pronunciation of words, most have difficulty effectively using language. Even those children who have no articulation problems show difficulties in the pragmatic use of language such as knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it as well as how to interact socially with people. Many who speak often say things that have no content or information. Others repeat verbatim what they have heard (echolalia) or repeat irrelevant scripts they have memorised. Some may speak in a high-pitched voice or use robotic sounding speech.

Two pre-skills for language development are joint attention and social initiation. Joint attention involves an eye gaze and referential gestures such as pointing, showing and giving. Children with autism lack social initiation such as questioning, make fewer utterances and fail to use language as a means of social initiation.

Giant Steps offers a comprehensive speech therapy program that combines the best elements of a number of approaches to create a desire within the child for connection and communication with others. The therapy works on the core deficits of autism focusing on social foundation skills, comprehension (the world and the student's role in it – the people world and the physical world) and anticipating situations. Elements of TEACCH (Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children), PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) and SERVAM (Sensory styles, Environmental modification, Routines, Visual techniques, Autism friendly language, Motivating activities) are evident but not used exclusively and the approach is tailored to the child’s natural strengths.

Briefly, TEACCH focuses on the design of the physical, social and communicating environment. The environment is structured to accommodate the difficulties a child with autism may have. The children work in a highly structured environment that may include clearly delineated activity areas, picture-based schedules and work systems, and instructional clarity. It is believed that structure for children with ASD provides a strong base and framework for learning. Though TEACCH does not specifically focus on social and communication skills as fully as other approaches it can be used along with therapies to make them more effective. PECS is a type of augmentative and alternative communication technique where children with little or no verbal ability learn to communicate using picture cards. Children use these pictures to “vocalise” a desire, observation, or feeling. Since some people with autism tend to learn visually, this type of communication technique has been shown to be effective at improving independent communication skills. SERVAM, as the name suggests, offers an holistic approach to the many issues of autism and learning.

Speech Pathologists form a part of a transdisciplinary team at Giant Steps.  They work alongside teachers, occupational therapists, music therapists and educator support to assess, plan, implement and evaluate communication goals.  Speech Pathologists at Giant Steps are immersed in the classroom. They look at addressing functional communication goals across a variety of classroom settings including within the classroom, upon arrival and departure, in the playground, and within the wider community.

A functional communication assessment is completed for each full time student attending Giant Steps.  The assessment focuses on each student's expressive communication, comprehension and social foundation skills where each student's skills are assessed across the range of environments, people and activities they interact with.  From these assessments, functional edge of learning goals are written and implemented within each child's individual program.

Current key program initiatives developed collaboratively by the Therapy team at Giant Steps include 'play lessons' which focuses on developing the social foundation skills and reciprocal relationships through play.  A joint music and speech therapy initiative, 'Sounds Aloud', has been developed to address the speech sound production needs of students attending the school. In addition, developing a student’s early literacy skills forms a key part of this program.