Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have some degree of difficulty with speech and the use of language. The American Speech Language and Hearing Association defines a speech sound disorder as a general difficulty with perception, motor production, or phonological representation of speech sounds.

Most children with ASD have some sort of speech therapist included in their support team. Improving speech and the use of language often leads to greater success in reaching other important milestones throughout the child’s therapeutic process.

Defining Speech Sound & Language Disorders

It’s important to note that speech sound disorders can also differ from language disorders, Most of the time language disorders are recognized as different degrees of difficulty in the acquisition and use of language across a wide range of modalities. This can be due to comprehension problems, or problems with the production of language.

Most speech sound disorders are classified as being either organic or functional. With organic speech sound disorders, the issue might be developmental or it might be an acquired dysfunction. This can include issues with motor/neurological issues, sensory/perceptual impairment, or even physical structural conditions such as a cleft lip or cleft palate.

In contrast, functional speech sound disorders often don’t have a known cause. Though they often pertain to articulation and/or phonology difficulties.

For children with ASD, sound disorders can look very different from one child to the next. There can also be several layers to speech pathology, and various speech or language skills that need specific focus.

Specific Speech Sound Disorders

Within the context of speech sound disorders, the type of difficulty can be broken down and assessed as:

  • Discrimination is where the child has the ability to listen and can hear the difference between correct and incorrect production of sounds.
  • Isolation is when the child with ASD can say the target sound by itself with no other sounds.
  • Syllables denote when the child can produce the sound with a vowel.
  • Single Words is classified as a child who can produce the target sound in a variety of different positions but has trouble producing the sound in the final position.
  • Phrases/Sentences are when a child can produce the target sound in a sentence when it is surrounded by other sounds and words
  • Conversations are when the child can engage in a full conversation while producing a specific target sound.

Once the targets have been selected and the skill level has been defined, the clinician selects target activities that make it possible for the child to practice their target word. This often involves repeated use with an appropriate level of support and feedback.

Many times, speech sound practice involves a lot of drill work. This calls for practicing sounds with a high volume of repetition to help them be articulated correctly. Though the clinician needs to take special care to make these activities fun, engaging, and interactive to keep the child’s participation vigorous.

Speech Therapy Exercises for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

There are a lot of different exercises a clinician can provide to help a child with ASD improve their speech and language skills. Most provide some type of verbal cue and might also call for use of a mirror. Early on the mirror helps the child with ASD to observe their own oral movements so that they can accurately match the movements of the clinician or the support team member who is helping them.

As the child’s skill and cognition improve the clinician might transition to one of the following speech therapy exercises. Many of these are disguised as games the child might simply enjoy playing, yet also provide engaging practice repetition.

Feed The Stuffed Animal

A lot of children with ASD have one or two favorite stuffed animals that can be used for this exercise. It calls for presenting the child with a stuffed animal as well as pictures of objects that begin with the target sounds. To “Feed” their stuffed animal the child must model the target sounds.


I-Spy is a game that children of all ages love to play. For this exercise, you present the child with picture cards of the target sound and/or the words that need to be targeted for their level of development. Then you carefully describe one picture at a time by saying things like “I Spy Something Blue”. Then the child will need to find the target picture and produce the sound and word being targeted. When they do find the object, give them copious praise to encourage their continued participation.

Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt can easily serve as the next progression from I-Spy. It starts with hiding objects around the house or the child’s room that start with the target sound. Props like a paper towel tube or a pair of toilet paper tubes can help add to the experience as a pretend telescope or binoculars. You can even give the child a basket to carry the items they find.

When they find an object, ask them “What did you find?” After the child labels the object, model the word back to them with the correct articulation. The child can put the item in the basket and move on to repeat the process with the other hidden objects.


The bingo exercise is another great way to add some variety to the experience. It starts with printing out simple bingo cards with pictures of objects that start with the targeted sound. Then you call out one picture and give the child time to imitate the target sound. When they do, they get to mark off the square and continue on. Once the child has all the spots in a row or column covered, they can call out BINGO to pick a prize.

The Sorting Game

Sorting games are a great way to advance word and object recognition. In some instances, they can even be used to help a child better understand how to pick up after themselves or organize their personal items. Though this is a secondary objective to the exercise.

You can provide them with a pile or grouping of items in a basket. They pull out the items with the target sound and place them in a separate basket, or put them away. With each one they get correct they are praised.

Word Ball

Word ball can be done with a simple beach ball, with pictures that use the target sound taped onto it. You then throw the beach ball to the child, and they say the name of whatever object their hand lands on. If necessary, provide them with a model of the correct pronunciation of the target sounds and give them enough time to accurately to imitate the model.

Communication Boards

Communication boards are another way to add variety to speech therapy exercises. It can also be adjusted to fit your child’s specific skill level. Just like word ball, you print out a variety of pictures of objects with the target sound in their title. The child is asked to touch a called-out object and say its name.

You can also use communication boards as direct communication tools. Images of common words like Yes, No, Stop, Go, Play, and Eat can be printed on the board. The child can then point to the topic they need to address. It’s a great way to empower children who have the cognitive ability to describe their needs but might not have the verbal skills to accurately say it.