Paragon AutismBlog

Helping Your Child Increase His/Her Communication Skills–a recap of the Parent Information Series

On Saturday, May 18th, we had the privilege of presenting a workshop to families who were interested in “Helping Your Child Increase His or Her Communication Skills.”  Although many families signed up and a few attended, we received many calls and emails from concerned parents because they were unable to attend the workshop. As many of you who attend our free Outreach events know, we model many of the techniques taught, are available for questions, and help facilitate communication and social skills at all of our events.  As an additional resource, we are going to outline what communication is and provide eight steps for increasing communication skills.

  • What is communication and reinforcement?  What are the modes of communication, and types of communication?
    1. Communication is behavior for which the reinforcement of the behavior is delivered by another person.  
      • A child points to a cookie.  Mom gives the child the cookie.  Communication!
      • A child asks for a cookie.  Mom gives the child the cookie. Communication!
      • A child hits mom, throws themself on the floor, hits their head against the floor, and cries.  Mom tells them not to hurt themselves and gives them a cookie. Communication!
      • A child gets their own cookie.  Not communication!
    2. Reinforcement is adding something or taking something away from the environment after a behavior occurs, that increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future.
      • Reinforcement could take the form of a tangible object, an activity, or attention.
        • Child asks for a cookie.  Mom gives the child the cookie.  Child asks Mom for cookies in the future.  Reinforcement!
        • Child says “rain” when it is raining outside.  Mom says “you are absolutely right, it is raining.”  Child tells mom about the rain, a dog walking by, or other environmental events in the future.  Reinforcement!
        • Child says “all done” while eating.  Mom takes the remainder of the food away.  Child in the future tells mom when they are finished.  Reinforcement!
    3. Modes of communication include: speech, gestures, speech generated devices, sign language, textual, PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), and inappropriate/dangerous behaviors.
    4. Types of communication (verbal operants):
      • Echoic-repeating
        • teaches the child how to say words
      • Mands–requests
        • Easiest to start with because of immediate, specific, and usually tangible reinforcement.
      • Tacts-Labels and comments
        • Seeing a cat and saying or signing “cat”
        • Commenting about their favorite show.
      • Intraverbals-back and forth of communication, answering questions, fill in the blanks.
        • Twinkle, twinkle, little ______.
        • What is your name?
        • Holding a conversation.
  • What are 8 steps to increasing communication skills?
    1. If your child does not have an appropriate means of communication, consult with a speech therapist or ABA provider.
      • Understand inappropriate and dangerous behavior is a means of communication which can be replaced with a  safer, more appropriate form of communication.
    2. Create motivation and opportunities to request.
      • Allowing your child to get everything themselves may increase independence but does not increase communication skills.
      • When your child is hungry or thirsty, prompt the request, and reinforce.
        • If you give small amounts, more requests will be needed.; until they are full of course.  Generally, a child won’t request if they have had a lot of something and are full. Would you?
      • Work on a request for outside after long periods of rain. (Don’t you want to go outside now with all the rain we have had?)
      • Don’t push your child on the swing right away.  Wait for a push request. If your child doesn’t request, prompt the push request and then push your child.
      • Put things up high so they need to request.
      • Withhold glue if they are doing an art project they like which requires glue.
      • Hide a shoe when they are getting ready to go outside.
      • Turn on their favorite show and talk to them about it or provide them opportunities to fill in the blank when talking about their favorite shows/movies (To infinity _______!)
    3. Understand what natural stimulus or condition evokes various types of communication and what type of reinforcement would be appropriate.
      • I answer a question or continue with the conversation because of something you said or asked; attention will reinforce my intraverbal.
      • I talk about the rain because I see the rain; attention will reinforce my (tact) commenting about the rain.
      • I ask for the loud music to be turned down because it hurts my ears; only the music being turned down would reinforce the removal of the loud music request (mand).
      • I ask for a cookie because I want a cookie; only the cookie would be a reinforcer for the cookie request.  
        • We want our children to ask for a cookie independently because they want the cookie not because someone is asking “what do you want?”.  While we often need to start with asking questions such as “what do you want?” we eventually want to fade that prompt.
    4. Provide prompts (cues) when necessary to assist your child in communicating.  Remember to fade your prompts. You don’t want your child to wait for someone to ask them “what do you want”,  to say “say cookie”, or “c”. to ask for a cookie.
      • Parents generally ask us “how do I know my child wants a cookie?’  or complain because they ask their child “what do you want” or “do you want cookie” and when they give their child the cookie, the child cries and throws the cookie.
        • The best way to determine if a child wants something is to observe them.  If he/she reaches for a cookie, prompt the cookie request and then give him/her the cookie.  
          • If your child leads you to the counter and points and you are unsure between two objects on counter, hold out both items and see which one they reach for, then prompt that request.
    5. Reinforce your child’s communication behavior (immediately and every time at first) with the correct reinforcer.  Eventually you will be able to tell them no, wait or provide an alternative but not in the beginning. At first you need to teach the value of communication through consistent reinforcement.
      • Your child asks for a break, give them a break right away.
      • Your child taps you and says “mom” give them your attention right away.
      • Your child starts to tell you about their day, talk about their day right away.
      • Your child asks you for a cookie, give them a cookie right away.
    6. Never stop at just requesting.
      • Think of your day.  Do you only request all day?  Do you only comment or label all day?  Do you only respond when asked a question or when someone says something to you?
    7. Slowly increase goals for articulation, sentence length, length of conversation, and number of topics of conversation.
      • A child usually can’t pronounce things perfectly if they are not speaking at all.  That comes with time, practice, and help.
      • A child usually can’t speak in full sentences at first.  That comes with time practice, and help.
      • A child can’t speak on multiple topics if they are only used to talking about their favorite topic.  That comes with time, practice, and help.
    8. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.  Fade later.

if you have questions regarding the information above, Autism, or are in need of local resources, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Tina@paragonautismserices.com.  We would love to answer questions about how ABA can assist your child with communication skills, how we can help increase other skill deficits areas and how we can help reduce inappropriate/dangerous behaviors. Remember not all ABA models and companies are the same.  Paragon Autism Services provides award winning ABA services to children diagnosed with Developmental Delay and Developmental Disabilities (including autism) who are covered by Medicaid and reside in Prince William, Caroline, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, or King George.  Call us today and find out for yourself why Paragon Autism Services has been voted 2018 FredParent’s Family Favorite Special Needs Resource for our ABA services and Outreach endeavors.