Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teaching conversation to children with autism

Teaching Conversation to Children with Autism: Scripts and Script Fading by Lynn E. McClannahan and Patricia J. Krantz discusses an ABA (applied  behavioral analysis) approach to teaching conversational skills. For a brief explanation of ABA and autism see .

The authors begin the book describing the scripts and fading techniques that they utilize. Audio card reader machines such as Language Masters are utilized in conjunction with Voice-Over and Mini-Me voice recorders to provide audio scripts that are imitated and later faded. Even if an indivudual chooses to use a teaching approach independent of these devises, the progression of skills remains valid. The voice recorders, however, may be utilized to help children with limited verbal skills to interact with neurotypical peers.

Of critical importance is selecting where to start with the training. The authors repeatedly indicate the importance of starting where the child is. If there are only three non-word utterances, that is where the training begins. Training is focused on things of interest to the individual. In no place does the teacher select things that are easy, convenient or deemed necessary independent of student interest and/or ability. Slowly expanding the repertoire to incorporate a broader range of interests and experiences is important, but going too fast will result in failure.

The research conducted by the authors suggests that although they teach conversation through scripts, introducing a variety of scripts and heavily rewarding non-scripted responses does, generally, result in an expansion in non-scripted conversation. They have used their methodology with children ranging from toddlers to adolescents, from non-verbal to echolalic to verbal, and from non-readers to readers.

This book details a process for moving individuals from non-language users to independent conversationalists. It is very behaviorist, a methodology that some people object to. Even so, it clearly indicates the progression that needs to be taught and uses techniques that can be applied in the general education classroom. Some of its proposals, such as making a phone call and continuing with a script even though the person on the other end tries to take the conversation elsewhere, could be awkward to implement and are not conversationally natural. Teachers need to be sensitive to this challenge to promote natural conversations and appropriate responses.

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