A hot topic with families generally is how to help their family member with Autism communicate. Whether a child uses an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device, sign language, or their voice, communication is an area that families and experts see as essential for developmental growth. In Applied Behavior Analysis, there are several ways in which communication is incorporated into a therapy session.
The founder of ABA, B.F. Skinner broke up communication into different categories:
- Mands- Any type of vocal communication that indicates something desired (i.e. Joel asks his mom for a cookie on his AAC device)
- Echoics- Vocal imitation (i.e. Scarlett’s mom says “Popcorn” and Scarlett repeats by signing “Popcorn”)
- Tacts- labeling an item (i.e. Brody sees his dog playing outside. He says, “dog”.
- Intraverbals- a conversation (this can be a statement such as filling in the rest of a song. For instance, Abigail’s Grandma says “Ready, set…” and Abigail finishes the statement, “Go!”)
These four types of communication are incorporated into each child’s session at some point based on their assessment level when they start services. Beyond a session though, family members can increase communication opportunities at home or in the community by doing three things:
- Provide opportunities for the person to communicate. If you’re providing dinner for them, place the plate on the table but intentionally forget the fork so they have the chance to request for it. This increases the amount of times the person has to communicate. That old saying, “practice makes perfect” is actually really valid in the communication world. Give them several moments each day to practice their communication and they will learn and grow from
- Participate in vocal play. Even before words exist for a child, babbling and hearing sounds is beneficial. When playing with a child and their train set, make the train sounds. This will give them the option to hear and imitate the sounds that you make. This can also be used if the person babbles at all. For instance, Colt continues to say “eeeee” so his therapist says “eeee” as well.
- Provide opportunities for functional communication training. This is something that can be crucial even further into a child’s development. Provide communication when they are visibly doing something to gain access or avoid something. For instance, John is watching a movie with his parents. He becomes afraid of something on the screen and hides under a blanket. His mom provides some communication for him: “John, I think you’re scared. Do you want to keep watching the movie or do you need a break?” John then requests the break. This can also be utilized for those who are non-vocal or are unable to request a break. For instance, when Addie is approached by a horse at the farm she runs away. Her mom prompts her to use her device and say “no thank you” then gives her different options of animals at the farm they can look at. Addie chooses the goats.
Communication is a vital skill for development along with being beneficial to express an individual’s needs, wants and thoughts in the home. By utilizing these three tips, communication can flourish in one’s day to day routine even when therapy is unavailable.
Cooper, J. Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Shane, Joseph, “Increasing Vocal Behavior and Establishing Echoic Stimulus Control in Children with Autism” (2016). Dissertations. 1400. https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/dissertations/1400
Sundberg, Mark L. (2008) VB-MAPP Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program :a language and social skills assessment program for children with autism or other developmental disabilities : guide Concord, CA : AVB Press