Teaching Children with Autism

Teaching Children with Autism, continued
Autism is a social communication dsorder (among other things), and the rule of thumb is that, if they don’t learn something automatically and you want then to learn it, you have to teach it. Teaching chidren with autism typically begins with establishing insructional control and then proceeds to teaching language (requesting, labelling, intrverbals), with a few other things tossed in as well. Then there is the problem of making that language functional within social situations, and that is what I want to comment on today.
Many instructor therapists get hung up on ABA procedures. You know, teaching is as simple as A-B-C (antecedent-behaviour-consequence). We present a stimulus (such as “Touch ball”), elicit a behaviour (such as touching the ball), and reinforce that behaviour so that it is learned as a response to that stimulus. What that doesn’t take into sufficient account is the artificiality of the teaching situation, so we talk about generalization so that something learned in one place with one instructor, etc. is potentailly demonstrable in other places with other people.
Establishing Operations, Inc suggests that Natural Environment Teaching (NET) is best for beginning and advanced learners, and that Intensive Trial Teaching (where you want to fill the child’s head with tons of information) be reserved for intermediate learners. Others have suggested (1) limiting the amount of language that asks for a particular response to no more than 20% or so of your verbal interactions with the child, and (2) that you limit the amount of new learning (as opposed to tasks that are already learne to no more than 20% or so of “teaching” trials. I rarely see this advise being taken.
To promote the use of language in social situations, you have to contrive the kinds of social situations in which the language that the child has can be used. Typically that is going to be “in the NET,” i.e., in the natural evironment. In my opinion, you have to be able to establish a real person-to-person interaction with the child, rather than just teaching specific responses to him or her. For example, it is rare that an instructor will need to simplify things so much as to say “Touch ball” rather than “Touch the ball.” I believe that you should almost always use normal langauge when interacting with your students and that, with enough repetition, almost all needed interactional skills will be learned. Now, I admit that is a complex subject, so I am probably going to return to it from time to time but in the interim, don’t hesitate to challenge me on these ideas if you feel like doing so.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Children with Autism

  1. Hi. I would imagine great adaptation would be needed to teach children with autism. I have Asperger’s syndrome myself so I have been on both sides. Teachers had to teach me. Luckily I was quite academic and high verbal comprehension so I found things easy enough to understand. I’ve heard people agree and disagree with ABA. I will be working in a school that uses the ABA method in the near future so I can evaluate it for myself and see if it’s effective. Good article.

    • ABA provides a conceptual system that offers techniques for good teaching. Most schools that claim to use ABA really don’t.know enough about it to apply it effectively.

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