Autism, Verbal Behaviour and Communication; first posted 30th June 2007

Children with autism suffer from a range of sensory interference. Everything they hear, see, feel, taste and smell is distorted into a range of “overs and unders” in accounting terms. Some may see every hair on your head in individual detail and others may just see an amorphous blur where your head is. Some may hear the wind blowing through the trees on the calmest day, as if it were a gale. Others may hear a pleasant blur of white noise, like a mistuned radio. A touch can feel like a squeeze, a squeeze can feel like nothing, like when your foot goes to sleep, except it is their whole body, ALL THE TIME!

They find it difficult to tune in to their human environment as a result and do not learn the baseline skills of communication and self care naturally, through imitation of their parents and peers.

Why do we find that ABA helps?

ABA stands for Applied Behavioural Analysis. It is an applied science using observable behaviour to determine how someone learns, and how they may be best taught.

All observable behaviour is caused by what happens before it (Antecedent) and what happens after it (Consequence)

For example,
When a baby in a cradle says "Mama!" and mother is nearby she reacts, giving the baby a kiss, (consequence) and baby says it again! (More Kisses)
If Daddy or Nanny was nearby, the baby wouldn’t get the same reaction.

So they have to come up with DADA or NANNA eventually, Dadda and Nanna react and our baby quickly learns which sounds get the big kisses and from whom.
This is the beginning of what will become a vocabulary to suit the environment in which they are being raised.

If they were in a different community they would have to chance upon different sounds, to suit the language of their near relatives, in India, DAHDI would get a reaction from your Aunt, not your dad.

A baby with autism might accidentally say "Mamma" one day,
But may be oblivious to their mother’s reaction because they are facinated by the sunlight coming through the window and by the time they actually tune in to their Mother, they have made no link between the sound "MAMMA" and the big kiss she is giving.

If we want them to learn to say Mamma again, we are going to have to make a more structured link between saying it and a reward that means something to them. We have to observe what the child seems to like, and use it to teach communication, step by step.

This is where we use ABA .

We observe and analyse what makes a child happy and apply this to shape their behaviour, towards the desired goal.
It works on positive reinforcement of desired behaviours to increase their occurrence.

AT the same time a child may be using an inappropriate behaviour to get their needs met. Something they developed themselves which up to that point was getting your attention, and “earning” a reward.

A great example of this is the child who climbs and opens the pantry to get something to eat, while you rush over to get them down and hand them whatever they were reaching for. Or they might have learned to lead you by the hand, without looking at you, or saying anything. They just bring you near to what they want and wait for you to get it.
The child might have chanced upon this accidentally but they quickly learn that climbing and balancing or leading = food.

When implementing an appropriate means of requesting; the undesirable method is just ignored. You don't react to the climbing or leading. You do react to the card exchange, sign or spoken request. The emphasis is on getting the desired behaviour to increase and the inappropriate behaviour to fade. It is not about control or punishment, just reinforcement and reward.

It has to be individual, because the range of sensory challenges is individual, and the interests and abilities are individual.

It has to be intensive; as all the behaviour has to be recorded and analysed to decide what next can be shaped or reduced.

And it has to be comprehensive and consistent to ensure that the individual is getting the same message across all environments.

The child remains the person that they were born as; with the will and the personality and intelligence that god (if you like) gave them. But they have learnt to adapt their own behaviour to in order to be included on their own terms in "our world".


debbie said…
i do a lot of that with my fas children also. consistency is a law in this house!