Autism speech development requires intervention that works on various areas of skills


Many important factors and skills can help assist the development of speech – imitation, motivation, social awareness and attention.

As mentioned in a previous article titled “Why speech is complex”, speech is a form of communication that involves the act of speaking. Many important factors and skills can help assist the development of speech – imitation, motivation, social awareness and attention. The article provided a brief introduction on speech. Following up from that, this article will focus specifically on how Applied Behaviour Analysis – Verbal Behaviour (ABA-VB) works on various areas of skills that can assist in speech development and improvement.


Another of our previous articles titled “ABA-VB: Dispelling the myth that all types of ABA therapies are rigid” explained that intervention is based on the view that language is a behaviour which is learnt and acquired.


Therapists encourages individuals with autism to learn and acquire language by assisting them in connecting the words with their purposes. It teaches why we use words and the usefulness of words in making requests and communicating ideas and thoughts.


Below are some drills in ABA-VB that assist in speech development:


  • Manding

Manding (requesting) is the most basic type of language. The child learns that saying the word, for example “candy”, can produce a candy. At the start, the child does not have to say the actual word to receive the desired object. The objective is for them is to learn that communicating produces positive results, that pointing or saying the word enables them to obtain the reinforcer.


This goes back to one important part of speech development – motivation. When communication produces positive results, children will be increasingly motivated to want to use their words to communicate again.


  • Matching

This drill requires the child to match identical or non-identical items (either the object itself or pictures of the objects). Matching is a visual performance task that works on the child’s ability to attend to the task by scanning and tracking. Scanning and tracking requires them to pay attention to the items and identify the similarities in order to place them correctly.


Hence, matching actually builds up the child’s attention and awareness. Both of these skills are important for speech development. For the child to even pick up on speech, he must have be aware of sounds in his social surroundings. For example, turning to look at someone speaking or reacting to a loud noise. Additionally, when the child starts to pay attention, he will be able to focus and stay on task long enough to assist him in picking up and improving his skills. In the long run, this will improve the child’s performance in his ability to imitate and follow through the other drills that will assist him in speech development.


  • Imitation

This involves the child copying what others are doing. For example, copying gross motor skills such as clapping and jumping, or fine motor skills such as pointing or showing 2 fingers. Similar to the matching task as mentioned above, in order for the child to imitate successfully, he requires the ability to attend and to be socially aware. He must be aware that the person in front of him is doing something, attend to the action before he can imitate the exact same.


Imitation is the foundation for later speech abilities. The child learns by watching and copying others, from making sounds to forming words and eventually sentences. With the help of therapists, they will pick up and learn the meaning behind the words, assisting them in speech development.


To conclude, speech is complex and requires various skill sets that can assist children in developing speech. Although some of these drills might not seem directly related to speech, they actually help build up skills (for example, attention and social awareness) that will eventually lead to improved performance in your child’s speech.


Written by Winnie.

© HEALIS AUTISM CENTRE. All Rights Reserved 2018.

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