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April is Autism Acceptance Month

April is Autism Acceptance Month

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, this month's blog will feature frequently asked questions about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD.)

Question 1: My child is 2 and isn't talking yet. Does this mean that they have ASD?

Answer: No, but that doesn't mean that you delay scheduling an evaluation! Although communication deficits are a core symptom of ASD, many children without ASD have language delays. Getting them evaluated by a Speech-Language Pathologist will ensure that they get the support that they need to become effective communicators!

Question 2: What are the "red flags" for ASD that I should look for?

Answer: According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, the core features of ASD include the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviors and impairments in:

  • Social communication
  • Language and related cognitive skills
  • Behavioral and emotional regulation

In addition to these core features, sensory and feeding issues can also be present. Because ASD is defined as a "spectrum," every individual with ASD will have a different constellation of impairments, unique in type and severity. If you have concerns about any of these areas of development, speak to an SLP who can guide you to local resources.

Question 3: What can Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) do to help children with ASD?

Answer: SLPs are the most qualified professionals to address communication concerns in individuals with ASD. Communication is a complex act that involves many prerequisite skills, including joint attention, reciprocal play, imitation, social referencing, and more. SLPs work on receptive (understanding) and expressive (using) language in many different ways. If a child has difficulty with producing words, the SLP might introduce sign language or an alternative/augmentative communication device which uses pictures to represent words. Communication can come in many forms, and the SLP is trained to find the most effective mode of communication for each individual.

Question 4: What is the difference between Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Answer: Speech-Language Pathologists earn a Master's degree in their field, which is focused on communication and swallowing disorders. They must earn hundreds of supervised clinical hours in graduate school and complete a 9-12 month supervised fellowship after graduation before they are allowed to practice independently.

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) also earn a Master's degree, usually in psychology or education. However, they rarely provide the intervention. BCBAs supervise Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs), who provide most of the treatment in ABA centers. RBTs have a minimum requirement of a high school diploma and 40 hours of training.

ABA is an invaluable part of many treatment plans for children with ASD, and SLPs regularly collaborate with BCBAs and RBTs to coordinate care for mutual clients. While BCBAs have extensive training in the science of behavior learning, SLPs have the most specialized training in speech and language development and should be included on any team targeting communication goals.

Question 5: Do vaccines cause ASD?

Answer: No. https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccine-myths-debunked/, "The widespread fear that vaccines increase risk of autism originated with a 1997 study published by Andrew Wakefield, a British surgeon…The paper has since been completely discredited due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, and ethical violations. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license and the paper was retracted…" More information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.