What you should know before choosing a speech pathologist for your child with autism

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I’m now past my due date for our baby boy to arrive and since I’m just sitting around waiting for him to come I thought I’d quickly take a few minutes and share some more thoughts with you…

It’s very important when finding a speech pathologist for your child that you get the ‘just right fit’.

Here’s why it’s so important…

Just as there are many areas of specialty for doctors (orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiologists, neorologists, etc) the same applies for speech pathologists. Areas of specialty can include stuttering, articulation, literacy, hearing impairment, language disorders, voice disorders, strokes, laryngectomies etc, etc… the list is very extensive!

But the thing that completely baffles me is that some speech pathologists say that they have 5-8 or more “Areas of Specialty”! To me this suggests that they do not specialise at all, and are more of a ‘generalist’ speech pathologist (like a GP is a generalist doctor). Some therapists even say that they ‘specialise’ in autism when they may have treated only 10-20 children on the autism spectrum.

In my view, you’re only a ‘specialist’ if you work exclusively on just one thing and only one thing… and as a result, you tend to become quite good at it ;)
Heck! I’ve been specialising in autism for over 12 years and I’m still learning things with every new client I treat.

As we know, children with autism are ALL incredibly different and unless your child is seeing a speech pathologist who’s caseload is predominantly children with autism, there’s a good chance that the therapist would not have had the time or experience to truly equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to really help your child with autism.

If I had a child with autism…
Here’s a list of key questions I would ask any speech pathologist before employing their services:

  1. How many children with autism have they treated before?
    Anything below 50 is really quite a small number. If they are just starting out that’s ok, we all have to start somewhere, but I would fully expect them to be mentored by a senior therapist with well over 50 clients under their belt.
  2. What percentage of the children that they treat are on the autism spectrum?
    This will give some indication of the therapist’s level of commitment to treating children with autism and may also indicate the amount of professional development that the therapist has done in the field of autism.
  3. Have they treated children on the autism spectrum with your child’s specific diagnosis (eg: Mild autism, severe autism, PDD-NOS, Aspergers)? How many?
    Some therapists may not have had experience working with the full spectrum of autism.
  4. What age range do they mainly treat?
    Some therapists may only specialise in either early intervention or school aged children.
  5. Is there a possibility of having home or school visits?
    I firmly believe that it is essential to get into the homes and schools (the main social and communication environments) of children with autism so that you can get a ‘true picture’ of what is going on for the child and family. Sometimes home and school visits are not always logistically possible for every session but I would certainly favour a therapist who was willing to do them now and again.
  6. What style of Speech Pathologist are they? Is the therapy play based or structured learning at the table, is it adult directed or child directed?
    I very much believe in a play-based, child-directed and practical therapy approach where building a relationship with the child that is based on fun, trust and respect is pivotal to successful treatment. If a solid, trusting relationship is not present then your child will not build their desire to interact or learn from the therapist and the effectiveness of therapy will be compromised.

    A relationship builiding approach to speech pathology ensures that we are not only working on the ‘Communication’ element of the triad of impairment but also the social part. This is essential when treating speech and language skills and MUST NOT be ignored because social skills development drives communication development!!

    Some speech pathologists use a skills-based approach where they set the agenda for the child’s learning and carry out ‘structured teaching’ sitting down at a table drilling them on certain concepts or commands. This type of learning can often be very unmotivating for the child and often does not tap into what learning is important and meaningful for the child.


Now obviously it would be an ideal world if every child with autism could be matched with the right speech pathologist (and you should absolutely keep striving for this), but the practical reality is often quite different. Specialist services can often be hard to come by and most of the time parents will settle for ANY help rather than none! And even when you manage to get ‘a good’ therapist, it takes time and a few sessions to determine whether they are ‘right’ for your child.

This is exactly why parents need to be able to step in and fill in the gaps and to recognise when things aren’t working as well as they could be and to make changes in their child’s program that will result in positive outcomes for the child.

How do you do this? By knowing your child better than anyone else (including their therapists). You need to understand what they need, what motivates them, how they learn best and what type of therapy approach is going to get the best results for them.

If this is kind of making sense for you and you’d like to have a greater understanding of all these things about your child so you can feel more empowered and confident to make these sorts of decisions for them then I’d really suggest that you check out my Autism Essentials In-home Training Program.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Just make sure to keep them in mind when choosing a therapist for your child.

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts and stories on this.
Please leave me your comments below.


P.S: Don’t miss my next tip…
I’ll be talking about the warning signs that will help you know when it might be time to find another speech pathologist who is a better match for your child.


Other articles by Monique:


  1. [...] What you should know before choosing a speech pathologist for your child with autism | Autism Essent… [...]

  2. [...] What you should know before choosing a speech pathologist for your child with autism | Autism Essent… [...]

  3. Hi Monique,
    We have a 3 1/2 year old son with Classic Autism and have recently had our 19 month old son diagnosed with Atypical Autism.

    I wanted to commend you on this particular post because I think it is a very important point you are making to parents/carers.

    We live on the Central Coast and after starting with a conventional Speech Pathologist I quickly realised it wasn’t really going anywhere. I think the first reason was that our 2 year old wasn’t quite ready given he had no meaningful speech other than jibberish which he did a lot of. Secondly, the method used by our first Speech Therapist didn’t relate to our son’s particular type of Autism in my humble opinion.

    After speaking with other parents in our situation I found that thankfully there was one Speech Pathologist on the Coast who used the D.I.R. Floortime approach. Her name is Lisa Whiteley and she is AMAZING! We have been seeing her for about 6 months now and our 3 1/2 year old is now using lots of language and just as of last week is starting to sing.

    Love your emails and thankyou again for all your fabulous information.

    Ps. Best of luck with bub no. 2!

  4. Ali Blinco says:

    Hi Monique

    Your words are always so inspiring! Parents and professionals who stay in touch with your website and email system like myself, find it an invaluable resource.

    You are so clear with instructions of what is best for everybody and honest in your approach. Which I recognise as very supportive to hundreds of people in need of the correct information to guide us through the process of finding our way on a day to day basis.

    Thank you for speaking a language that we can all understand.

    Can’t wait for the next update.

  5. J.Jayasinghe says:

    It’s wonderfull work that u do through the net. Publishing the thoughts are nice to show our parents of AT kids in Sri Lanka. I would like to know a way of connecting Sri Lankan parents with Autistic kids to join with your sight as it gives good inspiration for the professionals as well as parents. please tell me how to do it.
    Best wishes
    jayamalie Jayasinghe
    Speech pathologist/Therapist
    Chamber of Speech-Sri Lanka.

  6. [...] my last blog post we looked at some of the main things to think about and some key questions that you should ask any [...]

  7. Tracy Cunningham says:

    I am overjoyed at long last to find a like minded Speech Pathologist who is open to giving parents and the general population this very practical advice. I struggle in Queensland to understand the Speech Pathology services on offer, having trained as an Autism Specialist Speech Pathologist in the UK, I’m baffled by some of the “unmatched” therapies used with children here…………its great to be connected to connect therapy!
    Thanks so much…ps love the piccies of the bubs.

  8. Pam says:

    I agree that children with autism are ALL incredibly different and must therefore be handled uniquely and accordingly if we are to truly help them learn life skills. Some practitioners are just so pre-occupied with being able to connect with many cases as they can without being so concerned with the quality of the connection. It’s just so sad…

    Pam of SpurPress
    A Malaysian SEO Company

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