Top 7 Tips to Engage Your Autistic Students in Meaningful Speech Therapy

We have all struggled to connect with another human at some point in our lives. In our line of work, however, building rapport is completely essential to making progress. That’s why I am here to talk to you about one of my absolute favorite topics… how to engage your autistic students!

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(One quick thing- you will see me using mostly identity-first language in this email. Like many of you, I was taught that person-first language is always best. However, I have learned that a majority of the Autistic community has a strong preference for identity-first language, so I have adapted. Please know I do this with love and intention. For more information, you can read here from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s website.)

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I love this topic so much because I love autistic kids. They keep me on my toes and just have this way of wiggling into my heart. I get a lot of messages from people who struggle with this population, however, so let’s dive in. I think you’ll find these tips work for just about any child on your caseload.

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Actually, let’s start by talking about the elephant in the room. Have you ever noticed that many of your Autistic students are just flat out not interested in your agenda? Me too. Coming up with new ways to keep them engaged is like a fun game for me. It helps me get creative, solve a puzzle, and (my favorite) get silly! I’ve actually reduced the use of reinforcers in therapy sessions tremendously over the years. I’ve managed to create an environment where the actual therapy is reinforcing. Today, I’m sharing how you can too.

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💡Let Them Feel Success 💡

A lot of my Autistic students are hard on themselves. That’s why the Zone of Proximal Development is critical for these kiddos. Be sure to carefully select goals and materials, as well as provide visual supports, cueing, and scaffolding as needed.

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💡Familiar is Good 💡

I find it’s helpful to include at least one familiar activity in my sessions while building our repertoire. Familiarity is comforting and can provide opportunities for success.

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💡Structure as Needed 💡

When I’m first starting with a student, we may find it necessary to use visual schedules, timers, and other routine-based strategies. These can help students learn their expectations and boundaries, although I can typically fade these quickly thanks to the next tip.

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💡The Power of Connection 💡

I cannot possibly understate the value of building rapport and making a genuine connection with your Autistic students. Let them know you care about them, they are safe with you, and you are happy to be with them.

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💡Don’t Fight the Stim 💡

Stimming serves a function, and you might be surprised how often that function is not in opposition to your therapy goals. Keep an open mind and challenge yourself to not only think about why your student stims, but how it can help you target speech and language.

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💡Take Care of the Sensory System 💡

If students are dysregulated, they simply cannot learn. Watch what your student’s body is doing and consider what sensory need they may be trying to meet (vestibular? proprioceptive? visual?). Better yet, connect with the OTs in your workplace and ask for their input. Don’t have any OTs around? Start networking! There’s no way around it. We need them.

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💡Use Special Interests 💡

This may be the BEST ADVICE I can give you. If there is something your student loves, get creative and incorporate it into your therapy activities. Often this means pulling up a youtube video or finding some cheap little character figurines from Dollar Tree. This is one of the fastest ways to get buy-in from your Autistic students and make therapy FUNctional. (See what I did there?) I actually have an epic resource coming out soon that is totally based on special interests. It will make it so easy for you to incorporate any special interest into your therapy sessions with less than one minute of prep.

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I can feel it… you’ve got this down. Just in case you want a little boost, here are my top resources for engaging Autistic students:

Sorting Language & Compare and Contrast💡Let Them Feel Success💡

Interactive Songbooks💡Familiar is Good💡

Speech Therapy Visuals💡Structure as Needed💡

Silly Language Scenes 💡The Power of Connection💡

Picture Exchange Made Easy 💡Don’t Fight the Stim💡

Gross Motor Speech and Hide & Find Games 💡Take Care of the Sensory System💡

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The first time I used my new Special Interest Language resource with an autistic student his eyes LIT UP, y’all. It’s usually tricky to keep his attention, but our session was a breeze. I’m so excited for you to try it!

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That’s all for today! I hope you are feeling READY. Come say hi on Instagram sometime! Or, better yet, become a VIP so you can get an awesome autism freebie!


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I truly believe in you. You know this stuff, and don’t forget one simple truth; you are awesome. Keep loving on those kids and the rest will fall into place.

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YOU’VE GOT THIS!

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how to engage autistic students in speech therapy

Welcome! I am here to serve, empower, and connect with each of you… and I genuinely love doing it! Why? Because I care about you and I care about your kids. Just consider me your virtual coworker! When I’m not creating super fun resources or nerding out over speechy things… I’m also a wife, taco enthusiast, and olympic shopper. Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

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