While many typically developing children acquire language skills without explicit intervention, language skills must be directly taught to many patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Historically, language was taught as either “receptive,” which involves understanding the language of others, or “expressive,” which involves using language to communicate. The term “listener responding” is also used in the field of ABA to describe receptive language.
In this first section, we will discuss receptive language, which is the ability to understand words and language.
One way a patient may demonstrate this is by following instructions and/or performing an action.
EXAMPLEThe behavior technician asks “Where is the banana?” and the patient points to the banana on the table.
EXAMPLEThe behavior technician says “Clean up,” and the patient begins picking up toys that are on the floor.
EXAMPLEThe behavior technician asks, “What do you smell with?” and the patient touches their nose.
To teach receptive language, the behavior technician might display three picture cards (e.g., chair, fork, and cookie) and instruct the patient to identify one on instruction, as in, “Touch cookie.” The patient demonstrated that they receptively understood the behavior technician if they touched the picture of the cookie instead of the chair or fork.
Where's the brush? You found it. High five. That's good.
Casey, criss-cross applesauce.
Where's toothbrush? Oh my goodness, that is a toothbrush. Brush, brush, brush. That is so cool.
Brush, brush, brush.
Brush, brush, brush. That's right.
Where's soap? That's the soap. That's what we wash our hands with.
Expressive language involves using language as a form of communication rather than as a form of understanding as with receptive language. It is defined as how a person uses language to communicate.
EXAMPLEGiving a spoken answer to a question or statement, or saying something that the individual sees or wants
This may also include communicating through gestures, exchanging a picture, or using an electronic device.
EXAMPLEThe behavior technician asks “What is this?” and the patient says “Apple.”
EXAMPLEWhen hungry, the patient hands a picture of chips to the behavior technician to request a bag of chips.
EXAMPLEThe behavior technician asks “What do you want to play with?” and the patient answers, “Trains.”
The behavior technician would teach expressive language by holding up a picture of an item, such as a cookie, and asking, “What is it?” In this case, the patient was expected to use their expressive language by communicating “cookie” through whatever form of communication was appropriate for them (e.g., speech, sign language, communication device, etc.).
SPEAKER 1: What is it?
CHILD: T-t-t, table.
SPEAKER 2: Awesome job!
SPEAKER 3: [INAUDIBLE].
Many times, this is where instruction will end and a new word target will be introduced. But does this mean that Jonah will now be able to ask for a cookie when he is hungry? Or will he identify a cookie when asked, “What is something yummy to eat?”
From what we observe from many individuals with ASD, this is often not the case. In other words, we can’t assume that Jonah will ask for a cookie when he is hungry just because we have taught him to say “cookie” when we hold up a picture card of a cookie.
In the next few lessons, we will discuss how we use verbal behavior to help teach patients with ASD several different skills.