The field of autism speech pathology is a rapidly expanding one and it is now catching up with other areas of special education. Some thirty years ago, those afflicted with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) – defined as a collection of related disorders including Asperger’s Syndrome, conduct disorder, autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) were simply labeled as” autistic.” Today, many professionals, parents, physicians and laymen, alike, are realizing that these individuals could have a different kind of voice – one that sounds like a mumbling duck or a squeaky wheel. While many in the medical community still regard these individuals as “minor” and believe that communication is most often achieved through verbal means, some in the autism speech pathology field are beginning to suggest that nonverbal communication may also play an important role in this complex condition.
This idea that autism may be involved in the expression of thoughts and feelings has been around for some time, but it has only recently been subjected to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Autism speech pathology professionals now have the opportunity to test a series of ideas about autism spectrum disorders through the use of a new diagnostic tool called a behavioral typing device. Using the autism child’s own voice as a reference, they can analyze the various aspects of behavior – including eye contact, facial expression and head tilt – in order to determine whether a particular behavior is indicative of ASDs or not. This diagnostic testing allows researchers to target treatment plans that have proven to be effective in the past but are now being tailored to the specific needs of each individual child with autism.
For example, if a parent finds that their child frequently resorts to hand gestures when speaking, but has no history of language or communication, this could indicate a different type of autism than one who is perfectly fluent in both languages. The same technology, applied in the past to X-rays, blood tests and other tools, is now being adapted to this new area of autism research. As technology continues to advance and become more refined, autism speech pathology will become easier to diagnose. As our understanding of autism grows, we may learn more about the most common symptoms, and perhaps even find a cure.