taken from www.autismdvds.com
Submitted by Jenna on Wed, 03/09/2011 – 05:38
One of the first interventions for children diagnosed with Autism is communication training. This often begins with sign language, with the hope (supported by the literature) that signs will help produce spoken language. If you and your service provider decide that sign is for you, it is important that everyone, especially parents, are on the same page in order to see the most success. Here are a few tips that might help you to carry over what your child is learning in therapy into your home.
1) Reinforcers should be the first signs taught.
Begin with a handful of signs, all items your child seems to really love and is motivated by. What does your child consume every day that he/she seems to really enjoy? You might pick “milk”, “movie”, “puzzle”, etc.
Teaching your child to request what he/she wants is technically called “manding” but you can think of manding as “requesting”. It’s very important to begin this way to keep your child interested in communicating.
We want the child to see that communicating appropriately (not with challenging behavior) can directly benefit them. Part of decreasing challenging behaviors like crying is to teach new, replacement behaviors. You want to show your child that communicating appropriately is easier and more beneficial than engaging in challenging behavior.
So, if I haven’t said it enough it’s very important to begin with reinforcers!
2) Be Specific
Make sure the signs you introduce are as specific as possible! Teaching signs like “more”, “please” and “thank you” are often not functional for kids with Autism. “More” is too general and often I see children signing “more” for everything… it begins to mean that they want something. It can be fruitless to begin by teaching words like “please” and “thanks” because they have no meaning for your child and cannot get them access to what they really want.
In the beginning, try to choose very specific signs. (i.e. “chips” instead of “eat”). Teaching emotional states like “happy, “sad” or “love” are more advanced and can be learned once communication of wants and needs is mastered. You have to work with the developmental level of each child, trusting that they will gain skills and make progress communicating along the way.
3) Capture the moment!
Teach sign when your child actively requests something by pulling you over or pointing. Right away, fully prompt them to sign what they want, then say, “That’s right, you want movie” and you re-sign it correctly while saying the word simultaneously.
It’s important to say the word at the same time as you sign, so your child pairs the two together. Later, if they begin vocalizing, you can decide to only accept the sign when it’s paired with a vocal attempt, but that is another post for another day.
NOTE: If challenging behavior occurs, do not prompt the sign, but wait for at least 10 seconds of appropriate behavior before prompting and reinforcing! It’s easy to accidentally reinforce challenging behavior this way, making it more likely to occur in the future.
Try to get as many trials as possible daily. A typical child will request hundreds of times per day, and that’s what we are trying to emulate. If they ask for drink, give them a few seconds of it, take it back while saying, “my turn” and then wait and prompt them to sign it again. Practice, practice, practice!
This can be done with “movie” too. After each request you can give about 30-60 seconds of the movie. This may seem redundant, but all of these trials will help your child.
NOTE: If you don’t have time for this much practice, you can stll prompt your child to sign just ONCE for access to a particular reinforcer, and then give them the whole drink. Remember, every little bit is helpful, no matter how much time you have.
5) Fade prompts!
If you can, begin to fade the prompt, “what do you want” as soon as is feasible so the child won’t become dependent on that phrase. You can do this by just using the item to prompt your child.
So, holding the juice nearby should be enough of a prompt to evoke the sign. The goal is for your child to be able to communicate a want for the item even when it’s not present, and the quickest way to achieve that is to ensure they don’t get prompt dependent!
6) Motivation is everything.
This is probably the most important piece of all. If your child does not seem to be motivated by an item, do NOT prompt them to sign for it!
Or goal is to capture the child’s motivation to maximize learning, so if they do not show outward cues that they are interested in an item (smiling, reaching, etc.), don’t prompt the sign. You can try to get them interested in it (aka contriving motivation) using a variety of tactics, but if you find that motivation is absent, then move on to something else!
Remember, we want this to be FUN for your child!
This is just the tip of the iceburg; there is much more to teaching signs than this, but hopefully these tips are helpful. Stay tuned for more tips on teaching sign within you daily routine! You are your child’s best teacher, so the more you can be equipped, the better.
Here is a helpful application where you can see videos of how to sign, which can often be much more helpful than just pictures. http://www.babysignlanguagedictionary-mysmarthands.com/Baby_Sign_Languag…