The Speech Language Pathologist’s Role in Early Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

This year, Jefferson is partnering with the Philadelphia Eagles to raise awareness and funds for Autism research. The Eagles Autism Challenge will take place on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at Lincoln Financial Field. Alicia Graf, MA, CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language-Pathologist (SLP) at JeffFit Outpatient Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy in Center City. Over the past 11 years, she has worked with multidisciplinary clinical team members and patient families to develop and progress communication and oral feeding skills in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I am a member of an exemplary multidisciplinary team of professionals, including occupational therapy, physical therapy, primary care pediatrics, developmental psychology, and developmental pediatrics, to name a few. As a team, we collaborate to best meet the needs of our patients and their families.

In my practice, I often evaluate toddlers who have been referred to JeffFit because they are not meeting their language development milestones, which are typically discovered during a well-child visit to the pediatrician. As an SLP, it is critical that I evaluate the whole child and not just the child’s speech and language skills in isolation. I must thoroughly review the child’s medical and developmental history with the caregiver(s) and assess pragmatics and social communication skills, which are often impacted in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. During this assessment, if I discover that the child is presenting with any characteristics of Autism, I will begin counseling their caregivers and make referrals for further assessments. This is important step in the evaluation process because research has shown that earlier diagnosis and treatment for children with Autism often leads to increased positive developmental outcomes as was the case with an adorable two year old boy who recently came in with his parents.

Through observation, interactions with the child, and completion of a standardized parent questionnaire, a receptive-expressive language disorder was diagnosed. A receptive-expressive language disorder is a delay in both what the child understood and what he communicated verbally. He also presented with social delays such as inconsistent eye contact, inconsistent response to his name, and decreased engagement in social greetings (waving hi/bye). His parents and I decided the first step would be to have the child’s hearing assessed by Audiology to rule out hearing loss as the cause for the delay in verbal communication. However, the results were inconclusive, as the child had some difficulty cooperating for the testing. The child returned for therapy and I continued to notice some behaviors characteristic of Autism and began to counsel the parents on the next steps. The parents immediately contacted developmental pediatrics, scheduled an evaluation, and the child was diagnosed with Autism. Throughout this process, the child continued to attend weekly outpatient speech therapy at JeffFit with his parents and has made great progress. He is beginning to use simple sign language to communicate and will verbally imitate some single words. He is also now waving good-bye, showing increased eye contact, and beginning to engage in simple pretend play. And, with ongoing therapy and collaboration with the medical team, I know he and his family will continue to make progress towards their goals.

Learn more about the Eagles Autism Challenge, or join team Jefferson: Jefferson.edu/EaglesAutismChallenge.

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