According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40% of children diagnosed with autism are non-verbal. Because of their inability to communicate, they become frustrated. As their level of frustration escalates, the situation often turns into the child exhibiting behavioral issues.
Functional Communication skills is, first and foremost, one of the most important skills we can teach our children. It improves and reduces problem behavior. If our children are able to better communicate then it opens up possibilities we all dream they will have – friendships, learning, community participation and more.
Although you may already be working with a behavior therapist on an ongoing basis, here are some techniques or teaching tools that you can use at home to help your child learn to communicate.
4 Steps to Start Communication Training With Your Child
Communication training begins with first with a focus on functional communication. This means that the child is able to ask for his basic needs and wants. Some examples include:
- pointing to the crackers on the shelf he can’t reach
- gesturing to the refrigerator for you to open it
- pulling you over to the dvd player
- saying/vocalizing a sound, word, or phrase to ask for juice like “oooss,” “juice,” or “want juice”
- signing “cookie” to ask for more
Notice there are several different ways for a child to tell you what he wants in that moment. A typical child will point, gesture and pull someone to the item or activity they need or want. They will also look towards the object, and back at the adult as a way to engage them in their communication. Think about the common example of the “drop and pick up” game infants play. The child drops the toy, then looks to the parent, the parent picks up the toy and gives it back to the child, then the child drops it again and we repeat the game over and over for awhile. Throughout this game he is communicating with the parent by looking and maybe even gesturing to the toy he dropped on the floor.
Step 1: How to Communicate
So, the first question to ask yourself is:
“From the list above, what is the best method my child can use to communicate most effectively?”
Step 2: What to Communicate
Now that you’ve determined exactly how your child will communicate we need to decide what your child is most likely going to ask for. Grab a pen and paper and write down the top 10 things your child eats, drinks, and plays with. These should be items your child absolutely loves and uses often. These are what we call your child’s motivators. If you use these items when working with your child then most likely he will be more willing to participate in learning because he really wants access to his favorite things.
Step 3: When to Communicate
The answer to this is – as often as possible! Choose one of the motivators from your list and think about when your child typically plays with or uses that item. The idea is to use those at regular and natural times as an opportunity to teach. If we teach in the natural environment and at times your child is motivated for that particular item, we aim to set him up for success. As an example, if your child typically eats crackers in the afternoon for snack then we need to teach him to functionally ask for crackers for snack, and to get your child to ask for a cracker several times in a row before he gets full. And do this everyday!
Step 4: Help him Communicate
Helping is how we teach. Let’s say that we are teaching the child to point to or reach for an item that motives him. We can demonstrate, or what we call ‘model’ reaching for the motivating item as a way to ask for it. You have now shown child how he can ask for his crackers. Maybe your child is making sounds and you are ready to teach him how to say a word or sound as a way to ask for the cracker. We would again help by modeling the sounds we want him to try to say before we give him the cracker. It can be as simple as the first sound of the word, such as the “k” sound.
Helping can also be in the form of physically guiding (prompting) your child to reach for the cracker as a way to ask before getting a cracker. Gently take your child’s arm, move it toward the cracker box, and say (model) the word “cracker” so that he has practice hearing the word, and then give him the cracker for successfully gesturing to communicate.
About The Expert
Expert Name: Michele LaMarche, BCBA
Expert Title: BCBA
Company Name: Founder, Step by Step Academy
Company URL: www.stepbystepacademy.org
Short Bio: Michele received her BCBA certification from the University of North Texas and is currently working on her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Walden University. She is also the co-founder of Special Learning, Inc.