Speech-Language Pathologists and Autism


If you have a loved one with autism, you may have worked with a speech-language pathologist (SLP) during their course of treatment. We sat down with seasoned SLP Jordan Segall to learn more about what SLPs do:

What does a speech and language pathologist do?

A speech-language pathologist evaluates and treats children and adults who have difficulties in areas such as speech, language, fluency, voice, swallowing and social communication skills. A speech-language pathologist has a master's degree or doctoral degree and has a state license to practice. Speech-language pathologists play an important role in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of persons with autism spectrum disorder.

When should I consider having my child evaluated by a speech and language pathologist?

Generally, your child should: smile and/or make eye contact (birth–three months); babble (four–seven months); use gestures (seven–12 months); understand what others say and process simple directions (seven months–two years); say his or her first word (around 12 months); and have an expressive vocabulary of 200 to 300 words by 18 months and approximately 1,000 words by 36 months. The general rule of thumb is that at age one, your child should be saying one word at a time; at age two, two words; at age three, three words. Be mindful that not reaching any of these milestones does not necessarily indicate that your child has a language disorder. With milestones, there's a wide range of normal and many children who are slow to start talking eventually catch up. However, as a parent, you are the best expert about your child. If you think there might be a problem, there is no reason to guess. Have your child tested by an SLP to make sure his or her speech and language is where it should be. Early intervention can have a significant impact on a child's overall communication and social and emotional development. Free public services are available for infants and toddlers (birth to age three years). Contact your local school and/or visit to find out more about early intervention programs in your area.

My child has autism and is non-verbal or minimally verbal. How does a speech and language pathologist help my child to communicate?

An SLP would initially want to establish some form of functional communication. Functional communication refers to the most basic of communication skills. This type of communication enables a child to get his or her basic wants and needs known. These are not complex thoughts and they are often the first types of messages that children begin to communicate. The first thing to consider for a non-verbal or minimally verbal child with autism is whether speaking is a real option for them. If the child is able to say words or make sounds in order to get something that he/she wants/needs, then speaking is likely the best way to go to assist him/her in communicating. Speech is always the first option. If speaking is too difficult, an SLP can help nonverbal children find and use the most appropriate means of alternative communication. This may involve learning gestures, sign language, picture boards, picture exchange, or some form of an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device as a mode of communication. The SLP understands how to match each of these approaches to the child’s skills and challenges. By improving communication and reducing related frustrations, speech-language services often ease challenging behaviors and increase a child’s availability to learn.

My 3 year old isn’t talking. Does he have autism?

Not talking in and of itself is not sufficient to diagnose a child with autism. Likewise, if your three year old can talk and possesses a large vocabulary, it does not mean they don’t have autism. An assessment is necessary to diagnose a child with autism. Two of the more common diagnostic instruments used include The Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and The Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales.

Where can I go to learn more about speech and language pathologists?

To learn more about speech and language pathology go to To locate an SLP or audiologist in your area, go to

Jordan Segall, M.S., CCC-SLP, is the speech-language pathologist on the Child and Adolescent Neuropsychiatric Unit at Sheppard Pratt's Towson campus. He has over 18 years of experience working as a speech-language pathologist in both the public and non-public school setting.