April is autism awareness month
Day 29: Modelling language
Modelling is an activity which is done all the time around speaking children. Our speech patterns and the words that we use build a profile of speech in young children that are exposed to it.
It is well researched that the more you speak to and around children, exposing them to words and sounds, the more that they explore and develop their own speech sounds and conversational skills.
Children are like little sponges and by about 23 months, the average child says about 200 words.
The lack of developing speech is one of the biggest causes of concern in children, especially those with autism. As soon as possible an alternative method of communicating (AAC) should be sought to minimise frustrations and deescalate any undesirable behaviours linked to the inability to communicate.
Easily accessible options include Makaton (signing) or picture exchange communication systems (pictures which can build sentences in exchange for requested items) Both methods can easily be set up by concerned parents or carers and does not need to be overseen by a speech and language therapist. Youtube and various communication organisations on the internet give easy to follow instructions to show how these communication systems can be set up.
Hopefully with time the speech will come and the communication systems will no longer be required.
There is often a concern that early interventions of alternative communication systems can halt verbal speech but in fact it has been shown to encourage verbal speech, it makes sense if you think about it, to be without the frustration of not being understood a child can then concentrate more on the speech around them and the worth of communication is realised, giving further encouragement to the child to speak verbally.
But if you try all this and there is still no speech, like Dylan, a more robust type of communication system need to be sought. Signs and PECS are very basic – very much need or want based. If Dylan isn’t going to speak clearly for life then he may wish in the future to comment on things – to argue, to chat, to make small talk. These interactions are available on Dylan’s IPad but he need to learn how to use them.
The methods for learning this is the same as with anyone else; modelling.
So, like a child would copy what is said to them, Dylan learns by copying what is modelled to him on the iPad. This doesn’t necessarily require a second device but it does mean that there needs to be extra time to show Dylan what he would say.
An example today; We went to the shops but Dylan left his money at home by accident. He selected some chocolate covered raisins which is unusual for him so we were happy to buy them for him to expand his range of tastes.
So, if this situation was with Josh or Grace we would SAY ‘Ask Dad if he will get them for you’ instead I had to type into the iPad for Dylan ‘Daddy can you get these for me please?’
The downside of this is that modelling takes time. Being verbal is quicker, the location of the words on the iPad can be tricky to find and quite often there isn’t the time to find the words and model sentences or statements to Dylan unless you go out of your way to make time.
But today we had the time and we did this slowly so Dylan could see the location of the buttons so maybe the next time he would use those words himself. Dylan concentrated well on what I was doing and to consolidate the words I said them out loud as I looking for them.
I was originally looking to say ‘Daddy can you BUY these for me please’ but I couldn’t find the button for buy – it was Dylan who reached over and pressed ‘get’ instead when I took too long looking for the buy button. So, he certainly understood what was I was trying to ask on the iPad.
Modelling like this helps in a variety of ways;
1 – It helps Dylan learn his communication system faster: There is good research demonstrating how valuable this kind of modelling is for those using alternative communication.
2- It also helps the families and therapists get competent with the Dylan’s communication system.
3- It’s common sense: Think about it: How many times does a typical 1-year old hear the word ‘more’ before it is spontaneously said?? Dylan needs just as much exposure to his language system.
4- Modelling expands our sphere of influence: The more people that see the IPad be used and modelling be openly observed then other communication partners will imitate us.
If WE use it, then others are more likely to do it and expect Dylan to use it.
5. Modelling is motivating: It intrigues Dylan, making him want to use the iPad, too.
It’s getting to the point, like the earlier example, where I will start off a new sentence, statement or request and halfway through Dylan will push me out of the way and show me how much better he can do it.
This motivation of modelling is priceless.