Teaching Children with Autism, continued
“Shaping” is accepting, for the purpose of having a reason to provide reinforcement, a behavioural response to some situation, and then gradually raising the bar required for the student to receive reinforcement. For example, when my daughter first tried to say “squirell,” it came out as “Keo.” We praised that behaviour with an enthusiastic “Yes, it’s a squirrel” – modeling the correct pronunciation. Because we approved of her effort, she kept trying and eventually got it spot-on correct.
When children struggle to learn to communicate, they often learn other behaviours that we would prefer they didn’t – screaming, crying, hitting, biting, etc. Since some of these behaviors are dangerous, I am going to address them next. There is a fairly recent book by Martha Gabler called “Chaos to Calm.” It is about her adventures with teaching her severely autistic son using TAGteach (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance), essentially clicker training such as is used with animals – you do remember that humans are animals, don’t you – and athletes. It contains a lot of information about shaping, and if you have a child whose behaviours are extremely undesirable, I recommend that you learn to use TAGteach to shape the kinds of behaviours that you want to get.