Children with Autism do learn to communicate but not all will be able to learn to speak. Some children with Autism learn to speak by memorizing phrases and scripts of shows or movies and then repeating them over and over without understanding what they are really saying ~ this is called Echolalia. Sometimes the cold hard facts are just that…cold but I’m trying to “live in hope.”
Apraxia of Speech
What? That’s how I felt when I first heard the word Apraxia but deep inside I knew this was a water shed or epiphany moment.
It is not the Autism that has been holding Johnny back from speaking but Apraxia of Speech.
Apraxia of Speech is a neurological delay that effects the motor planning around his jaw, tongue, lips and voice box sending signals back and forth between the brain to form words.
Johnny is a unique case not because of Autism + Apraxia but also because he has full understanding of language and high cognitive skills. He does not memorize blocks of words and sentences but instead already understands what is being said to him and knows what he wants to say and how to say it. Can you imagine how frustrating this is and how much anxiety can build in him? The good news is that children can re-build neuropathways and just like when you learn to ride a bike after plenty of practice and therapy he can learn to speak.
The new SLP that is teaching the parent training program that I have been taking right now identified Johnny as displaying the classical signs of Apraxia of Speech after 20 minutes of being with Johnny and playing and observing him. She has nearly 20 years experience working with children with Autism and she could tell that he understood everything that we were saying and was very curious and smart. In all the years she has been working with children with Autism she has only encountered 2 other children with the same issues as Johnny. To put it simply, because of his understanding and cognitive ability he is completely teachable and WILL learn to talk.
The SLP from the program is suggesting the PROMPT method and is helping me find a SLP that has the expertise and experience to help our unique case. Prompt method? The SLP literally puts her hand on the child’s jaw or mouth and gently redirects the movements so they learn to speak clearer and memorize the movements. You don’t have to have Autism to have Apraxia of Speech and often children have this on its own or have another issue. So we will need a SLP that can handle the Autism AND the Apraxia and I have been networking with all the professionals I have met regarding this. It will require intensive therapy 2 to 3 times a week (expensive) so we have to make sure we get someone really good as well as someone that won’t frustrate Johnny.
We may have a chance of getting on a wait list for a school that specializes in this kind of therapy. They have a long waiting list but they do have a summer camp as well as a Senior Kindergarten program where Johnny could split his time between his regular kindergarten and then go to this special school.
Meanwhile we have pushed Johnny regular school to get the Autism SLP involved and have her assess him re: Motor Speech Delay and stop doing things to teach him language requirement but instead help him have opportunities to speak at school and practice. He was crying at his regular school all morning 2 weeks ago because he had been trying to speak so much more but he was upset because he wanted everyone to understand him. How do I know this? With the right questions and with the words he knows he told me and his Daddy. “Tah…hard…Tah…hard”
The Autism SLP is making a communication book for him that he can use to flip through and point at when speech fails him and she will be working with him intensively for a few weeks to get him started. Its the first step in preparing him to use a speech augmentation device in the classroom. Meanwhile his afternoon school is teaching him how to use an app on the iPad for speech augmentation. They are not waiting….:)