Teaching My Child to Talk More
Do you find yourself wondering why your child with autism can imitate what people say but seldom talks on their own? Mand training which uses incidental teaching along with prompt fading can teach children to say more when requesting items they want.
Why start with requests? Language is difficult for many people on the autism spectrum. Because of this, we need to motivate them to learn and use language. If they are seeking something out, walking toward a preferred item, or reaching out toward something we can assume he wants the item. Take this opportunity to teach language. How do you do that?
First, think about how your child let’s you know what he wants. This is where you want to start. Does he say the name of items, or even a phrase? Does he point or reach toward items he wants but imitates words at other times? For sake of clarity moving forward I will use an example of a child who typically says one word to communicate what he wants but inconsistently. So when he wants a cookie he will most often just get it himself but if someone else has it he will say “Cookie.”
Now start with Incidental teaching which includes Initiation from the child (e.g., he reaches for an item, says the name of an item), you ask the child to do something (in this case talk), the child does what you ask (e.g., imitates what you model), and you give access to what he requested.
- Initiation from the child. When you see your child going for a cookie,you want to assume he wants the cookie. If he wants something he is more likely to do what is asked of him. As soon as you see your child walking, reaching or pointing toward the cookie, block him from getting the cookie. For example, if he reaches for a cookie, put your hand on it to prevent him from taking it or if he is walking toward where the cookies are then position yourself between him and the cookie location, and hold a cookie in your hand.
- Require a response. Model what you want him to say, “Say cookie.”
- Child responds correctly. He says “Cookie.”
- Give access to the requested item. Give him a small piece of the cookie.
- Repeat this 3-5 times so that he gets the idea- talk gets cookie.
Fading the verbal model
Now we are moving away from incidental teaching and fading our prompts to require more independence. This is extremely important because the goal is to not only increase what your child says but teach them to initiate or spontaneously say things without waiting for others to prompt or ask questions. Continuing instruction with our previous example, prevent access to the entire cookie but this time, wait for about 10 seconds. Just look at your child expectantly like you want something, but don’t say anything.
- If he says “Cookie” then immediately give him a piece of the cookie, bigger in size than he received during the incidental teaching procedure.
- If he does not say anything after 10 seconds then provide a partial model such as, “Say coo.” Although you only modeled “Say coo,” he must say the entire word “Cookie.”
- Repeat this procedure until he is saying “Cookie” within the 10 seconds without any model 3-5 times consecutively.
Increase the requirement
Now you want to start requiring more language. Go back to the incidental teaching procedure in which you provided the entire model of what you wanted but in this instance you want to model 2 words such as “Say Cookie please.”
- Initiation from the child. Even if he independently says “Cookie” you are not going to give him access to the cookie.
- Model a response. Model what you want him to say, “Say cookie please.”
- Child responds correctly. He says “Cookie please.” Only once he says the two words should he get a piece of the cookie.
- Give access to the requested item. Give him a bigger piece of the cookie since you are requiring more from him now.
- Repeat this 3-5 times.
Waiting and ignoring
Kids can become reliant on prompts. This goes back to my first question: Do you find yourself wondering why your child with autism can imitate what people say but seldom talks on their own? This is called prompt dependency. Your child has not learned to initiate language, but has learned to respond to others. You asking a question, modeling language (e.g., “Say Hi Mommy”) are verbal prompts. Prompts are great teaching tools but need to be faded as quickly as possible to prevent prompt dependency. Sometimes we prompt too quickly and the child needs time to figure out what to say.
The goal is to have your child independently approach you and say something. Try waiting while ignoring their minimal requests until they use language. This may require you to wait more than 10 seconds as suggested above. You may find that you follow the outlined steps, repeatedly model a phrase and your child reliably says it. Then he stops initiating or says less than you previously required. This is when you want to try waiting and ignoring while preventing access to the preferred item. This may take a few minutes or even more.
Require language as much as possible throughout the day
You can also use the above strategies throughout the day, ideally as much as possible. When you are with your child, require language prior to getting anything. So if he starts to head toward the stairs, require him to say something about where he is going, such as “Going to my bedroom.” The more he learns he must talk to do things, the more likely you are to see initiations and spontaneous language.
- You can stage preferred items out of reach or in transparent clear bins. This way the child can see the item but can’t get it on his own.
- If he walks away or starts engaging in something else then that is fine. It just means he no longer wants the item.
- If you find yourself implementing incidental teaching and he is not repeating your model, then walk away (i.e., with the item.) If he really wants it, he will talk. He may not want it or may approach you later on to try again. Just keep in mind, he should not get the item until he does what you asked of him.
- Make sure he can see the item he is requesting to sustain engagement and motivation.
- Keep in mind you want the amount of the reward to match the work. So the first time he uses more language independently, give him half or even the whole cookie.