Teaching Children with Autism, continued
For most children, social approval is both rewarding and reinforcing, and behaviours followed by social approval are likely to be learned. For many children with autism, however, social approval is a yet-to-be-learned reinforcer. That is, it is not particularly reinforcing until after it has been paired repeatedly with more tangible reinforcers such as food or activities that the child finds rewarding (i.e., activities that are reinforcing for the child). So, begin by pairing yourself and your approval with more tangible reinforcers, until your approval has reinforcement value. Then, continue to pair your approval with other reinforcers once in a while, so that its reinforcement value doesn’t die out. Remember, continue to pair your approval with other reinforcers once in a while, so that its reinforcement value doesn’t just fade away.
At the same time, expose your child to lots of language and fun things that you do together – pair yourself with lots of non-demand “narrative” language (also called “declarative” language, in contrast to “imperative” language)…
Imperative communication uses language forms that are “instrumental” in their objectives – they demand something specific of the child (and they imply that the instructor’s point of view is the only one worth considering). Examples of imperative language are:
- directives (“Touch the car”)
- choices (“Would you like the car or the bubbles”)
- questions (“What is your name?”).
Declarative communication uses language forms that don’t make any direct demands on the listener. It tends to involve relative thinking processes which imply that, between two speakers, there can be different views of reality. Examples of declarative language include:
- invitations (“Let’s play with cars”)
- statements (“I’m tired of playing with cars!”)
- self-narratives (“I’m walking over to the table to get a car.)
and non-demand social interaction – and, of course, reinforce any positive response that you get. But don’t talk all of the time. There is also value in pairing yourself with comfortable silence – just quietly being together – if you can learn to use it productively.