I think my student might be autistic. Should I say something?
Are you an SLP seeing characteristics of autism in one of your students and wondering if you should say something? ASHA says yes!
This can be a difficult conversation to have with parents, but it is an important one!
I’ve had parents get upset with me for saying something. I’ve had parents get upset with me for not saying something.
The truth: hearing that someone sees characteristics of autism in your child is most likely never going to be easy for a parent.
This article from the ASHA Leader gives information to support why it is within the scope of practice and duties of an SLP to communicate these concerns to parents. Seeing Autism Signs? Speak Up and Guide Parents to See them Too. I should note, Autistic adults have indicated that they prefer the term “characteristics” in place of “symptoms” or “red flags”, as those terms imply that Autism is a curable disease. Instead, it is a neurological difference. Someone with a neurological difference may be considered neurodivergent. Differences in brain functioning are known as neurodiversity. Examples of neurodiversity include Autism, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, Depression, Epilepsy, etc.
*Note: unless you are on an autism diagnostic team, it is not the role or responsibility of an SLP to diagnose a child with autism. What you can do is identify characteristics.
Are you a provider looking for ways to help foster acceptance of neurodiversity? Check out the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective.
Speechy Things has put together a collection of autism handouts that celebrate neurodiversity while explaining important topics, such as echolalia, stimming, and eye contact. She consulted with autistic adults to put together a sensitive and informative set of resources for providers and families.
If you’re looking for a free handout that explains autism in a parent-friendly manner, check here.
Some parents have a lightbulb moment when they see a milestone chart or are approached about pragmatic language and/or social skills. I’ve developed a Free Milestone Chart. This is a research-based document that shows what pragmatic language skills are expected by each age…and when we should refer for more testing.
Are you having trouble having this conversation with parents?
You aren’t alone. I still struggle with this, myself. I’ve been an SLP since 2005 and I’m a Mama of an autistic child. This is still hard. Maybe it always will be, and that is ok. We can do this.
Can’t we Just Wait and See?
Yes and No. For some, having an autism diagnosis may not open any doors. If the child is functioning at a level similar to peers in the areas of education, safety, physical, emotional, language, and social development….an autism diagnosis may not be necessary.
If a child is behind in any of these areas, a diagnosis could lead to:
- Access to funding.
- Early placement on long waitlists.
- Access to services (including therapy, respite for parents, and more)
- Specialized instruction and/or access to certain educational programs
- Answers that settle worried parents’ minds
How Can I Make this a Little Easier for Parents?
- Every child has strengths. Focus and lead with these. (examples: memory, attention to detail, early reading skills, unique personality, etc.)
- Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Some parents may appear to be mourning and this is something valid that they will have to work through.
- Be patient with parents. They may not move through this as quickly as you would.