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Tuesday 21 Nov 2017

Communication – A Teacher Seeking Help

I work with two gentleman with autism that have limited verbalization. One of gentlemen tends to become confused when answering questions as well as reciting proper salutations, such as,”how are you?” He also tends to always use the same phrases or answers for everything. I know he has a very extensive vocabulary, and he also can use sign.

When I ask D “how are you?” He will always answer, “I’m fine.” If I ask him any yes/no question, he was reply with “yes.” If I ask him if he needs any thing he was say, “I want some vanilla ice cream, Gordon. Please!” (in a very low forceful voice) And anytime he acts out in any type of self-inflicting negative behavior, and I inquire to him what is wrong or why is he hitting himself, his reply is always, “my head hurts.” (Mine would too if I pounded it on everything in the house)

As you can see there are a lot of different issues that could be addressed with just D, but my question is:

“What can I do to help him broaden his verbal communication vocabulary?”

D is extremely intelligent! He can read and write (at maybe a 2nd grade level, but still). I just want to be able to help him communicate his needs and wants more effectively.

I have done picture boards with him and they are effective, but they are still limited. I can’t really afford Boardmaker and the company I work for doesn’t really deem that as a necessity for me to accomplish my job effectively, so it takes me awhile to create new pictures for my communication board. Is there anything else I can do? I want to be able to bond with him on a communicable level. Question Submitted by Gordon

The key to teaching communication is motivation. The intervention method which has the most positive results in relation to teaching communication using this principle is Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). PRT is an intervention based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and uses natural reinforcement to teach language and other skills.

The way this may be used in your case would be to set up opportunities with your students where you have something the really want, but they are unable to access it themselves. For instance, if you know your client wants to listen to the radio you can block access to them listening to the radio until he says to you “I’d like to listen to the radio” (you may have to model the correct language or use a written prompt). The key to using this type of intervention is to make sure the person doesn’t always have free access to everything so there is motivation to communicate to another person. The other key here is to use natural reinforcers which means that what your student gets for communicating is directly linked to the behavior they’re exhibiting (i.e. they’re not get a skittle for telling you they want to listen to the radio).

If your student is able to read, using written prompts (rather than picture symbols) will probably be more effective and use his strengths to teach him. These types of prompts can be extremely effective in teaching him how to correctly answer questions that he is not able to answer at present. Additionally, setting up the environment to encourage communication can be highly effective also because it will give a reason to need to communicate. If at present he has free access to everything in his environment, there is really no reason for him to communicate since I’m making the assumption that “small talk” is not reinforcing in and of itself.

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