Teaching language to children with autism and other developmental delays can be very rewarding. You can often sense that your child wants to be able to tell you more than he/she knows how. Once your child has learned to mand for items as described in the previous two posts, Part One and Part Two of this series, you can begin to expand their vocabulary with attributes (adjectives) related to their desirable items. Remember that language development and expansion can be done with all types of communication styles-sign, verbal, pictures or communication devices. All of the activities I am writing about may be adjusted up or down based on your child’s abilities.
If your child is in school it is a good idea to coordinate with your child’s teacher and/or speech therapist so that you are all working on the same or similar attributes. It is a good idea to pick items that they are naturally drawn to or have an affinity for to increase the child’s motivation. Again, the same rule applies that once a child has learned to ask for items by a certain attribute you want to continue to require the use of the attribute to gain access. For example, if your child has learned to request “square cracker”, “circle cracker” and “triangle cracker” you want them to continue to request in that manner because it is at a higher level than just plain “cracker”.
When you begin teaching attributes you only want to start with three in a category The most common are size (small, medium and large), shape (square, triangle, circle), color (black, red, blue), texture(smooth, soft, bumpy) and number(1,2,3). You can substitute in any attribute, especially if you see that your child has an affinity for a certain item that posses a certain attribute. If you lay out 10 different colored crayons and your child does not yet know colors he/she will likely become overwhelmed and behaviors will often creep in. When you are teaching new skills, you always want to present a minimum of three items because with only two choices there is too high of a likelihood of getting a correct answer by guessing.
Toys and art supplies are a great way to teach attributes. Place the items on the table in front of your child, but out of reach. For example, if your child likes to draw place a stack of paper and 3 different colored markers on the table. When you child requests paper using his/her form of communication repeat the verbal label and give them a piece of paper. When you child requests the marker. Say, “Yes this is a marker, we have 3 choices of marker today, ‘black marker’ (hold it up), ‘red marker’ (hold it up) and ‘blue marker’ (hold it up). Which one would you like?” If your child picks up on the cue quickly, you can give him/her the requested marker(s) with lots of praise. If not, move in a little closer and either pick one you know he/she likes the color of or see which one he/she grabs for and reinforce the label with the adjective, ‘red marker”’. When the child attempts to put the two words together, sign them together, find the correct picture symbols or push the correct button on their communication devise, praise him/her and hand him/her the red marker, again repeating the verbal label.
Another example we can draw from the natural environment of your child may be playing with Legos. You can work on shape, color, size or color with Legos. For this example, I will illustrate size (small medium and large). Tell your child it is time to go play Legos and sit on the floor or at the table with your child with the container of Legos. We are going to assume for this example that your child knows how to mand for Legos. This time when you child mands for Legos, follow the same procedure above and say, “Yes, Legos! Today we have small Lego (hold up a small piece of Lego), medium Lego (hold up a medium piece of Lego) and large Lego (hold up a large piece of Lego). If you child catches on quickly you can give him the different sizes he/she requests with lots of praise and verbal reinforcement. If your child does not and just keeps manding for Lego. Hold up a small Lego and say, sign, hold up picture card or push button on communication device for “small Lego”. When your child attempts to ask for the item, praise and give him/her the item. Depending on your child’s cognitive level and form of communication an approximation In the beginning is great progress, so praise and give the item and then continue to work on clear annunciation, definitive sign and correct picture symbol or technology device button association.
Many parents I have worked with have really enjoyed these language development activities with their child. Not only are you working on essential language development but you are also interacting with your child in a meaningful way. If you feel uneasy about working with your child on language development, I encourage you to ask your child’s teacher or speech therapist if you could observe some sessions at school. I have had several parents do this and I know it gave them more confidence to work on the skills at home. I also saw a huge increase in a child’s manding repertoire and speech productivity (for those able to speak) when both the school and parents were working together. If you are looking for more information on Verbal Behavior and manding, I highly recommend the book, The Verbal Behavior Approach .Click here to view it and read reviews on the book.