Wednesday, November 18. 2009
Posted under: Research
Teaching children to talk (i.e., speech) is one of the primary aims of behavioral treatment in the first year. While focusing on functional communication through requesting (i.e., manding) is an important part of the process, there are other key strategies that often play a role in helping children who are primarily nonverbal become vocal speakers. Here they are:
- Pair ANY sound with reinforcement. I've worked with families who have carried a small fanny pack around with them, filled with their child's favorite food and toys. Whenever their child sporadically babbled throughout the day, they would rush over to the child and reinforce them with attention, praise, and even toys or food. This increased the number of times the child babbled throughout the day. For those children who vocalize infrequently, every sound they make is a learning opportunity, and providing reinforcement for every sound is one way to increase the frequency of those sounds.
- Pair reinforcement with a specific sound. Research has demonstrated that pairing a sound with reinforcement increases the likelihood the child will make the sound again later. With one three-year-old, we paired the sound "eee" with going down the slide. We would help the child go down the slide five to ten times in a row, each time saying "eee." Within a week, he was spontaneously saying "eee" throughout the day.
- Focus on imitation. First, make sure a child can imitate gross motor actions (e.g., jump, clap hands, push car). These are easier to prompt and easier for a child to discriminate. Then, focus on fine motor imitations that are less distinct (e.g., touch two fingers together, put thumbs up, etc.) This requires observation of more subtle cues as well as practice with fine motor control. Next, move to oral/facial motor imitation (e.g., open mouth, blink, tongue out, etc.). A child is now learning to focus primarily on your oral motor movements. Finally, make a sound while producing an oral motor movement the child has already learned to imitate (e.g., open your mouth and say "aahh," close your mouth and say "mmm," etc.). This gradual progression allows for steady advancement whereas requiring a child to say "ooo" when he wants juice rather than using sign language may be too difficult of a transition.
During the course of treatment, each child may demonstrate challenges in learning. For many children, one of the first big hurdles is learning to talk. A good behavioral treatment program does not focus on only one strategy to teach speech, but rather uses the wide range of strategies available in applied behavior analysis to create a comprehensive program that meets the individual child's needs. With that being said, are there any additional strategies you would add to this list?