Teaching Children with Autism

Teaching Children with Autism: A Review of the Basics, continued
In my experience, about 90-95% of young children with autism will thrive if provided with good ABA-based instruction. Unfortunately, that leaves 5-10% who don’t. I am particularly concerned about those children who never seem to master vocal communication, and it is my impression that most children with autism who continue to be non-vocal are non-vocal for two main reasons:
First, fear of failure, having had many unsuccessful attempts at speaking in the past – IMO, we need to encourage risk-taking, particularly with respect to initiating sound-based social interactions, with its attendant failure. Perhaps Bob Proctor has said it as well as anyone: “You may avoid suffering and sorrow if you don’t risk, but you simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.” The Koegel’s Pivotal Response Training model – The PRT Pocket Guide is a good introduction – offers many helpful suggestions for accomplishing that kind of risk-taking, and I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with what they have to say about teaching self-initiation skills.
Second, their caregivers’ failure to reinforce vocalizations, often because those vocalizations don’t meet the caregivers’ criteria for acceptability, either in general or within the context in which they are made (i.e., within the context of what the caregivers are trying to teach at the time). I remember my horror, for example, at watching an instructor ignore an essentially-non-vocal child’s attempts to communicate vocally because he was trying to teach a visual matching task at the time.
About that 5-10%: We know that there are environmental conditions that can produce or exacerbate autistic symptoms. For example, I have seen one child (out of hundreds of children with whom I have worked) whose autistic symptoms more-or-less disappeared when placed on a casein-free, gluten-free diet – not very good odds, that – and many anecdotes support the hypothesis that gut issues contribute to the autism picture. So, I would want to explore biological issues if I wasn’t seeing success with a learning-based approach.

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