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Teaching Sign Language

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Presentation on theme: "Teaching Sign Language"— Presentation transcript:

1 Teaching Sign Language
Amy McGinnis POAC of PA November 10, 2005

2 After this workshop, you should be able to….
Identify the verbal operants according to Skinner’s analysis Evaluate the need for augmentative communication Select a form of augmentative communication, based on the pros/cons Develop a child’s mand repetoire through sign language

3 Verbal Behavior Terminology
Skinner analyzed language according to function rather than meaning Learning and using this terminology will improve your ability to teach verbal behavior to individuals with autism 4 primary operants: Mand Tact Intraverbal Duplic (echoic / mimetic)

4 Mand The verbal response of requesting (i.e. “I want juice.”)
Mands are reinforcer specific (reinforced by getting what you asked for) Teaching someone to mand items, activities, or objects will lead to a higher rate of talking and will support the development of the other classes of verbal responses (i.e. tacts, intraverbals, etc.)

5 Tact The verbal response that is closest to labeling (i.e. “That’s a red ball.”) Involves labeling items that are present in the environment When a learner says or signs what he sees, hears, touches, tastes, smells, etc., he is tacting. The reinforcement for this response is not specific to what is said and is usually social reinforcement of some type such as acknowledgement of what is said or praise

6 Intraverbal The verbal response to someone else’s verbal response (i.e. When someone asks what you had for breakfast, “I had juice” is an intraverbal) Involves discussing items that are not present in the environment (i.e. past events) This class includes answering “wh” questions and filling in the blanks (i.e. “Twinkle, twinkle little __”) Intraverbal skills are essential to carrying on a conversation

7 Duplic Involves imitation Mimetic = motor imitation
Copying someone else’s movements Echoic = vocal imitation Repeating what someone else says

8 Receptive The receptive response class refers to understanding what someone else says During NET this might include delivering requests to: Perform actions: “Stand up” (receptive commands) Identify an object by touching it or giving it to the teacher “Touch Elmo” (receptive ID)


10 Modes of Communication
Topography Based Involves producing a unique response form for each word Examples: Vocalizations Sign language Selection Based Involves scanning an array of pictures, words or symbols and selecting one via point/touch Examples: PECS Dynavox Go Talker Intellikeys

11 Candidates for Augmentative Communication
Limited ability to accurately echo sounds and words Most attempts to talk are unintelligible to an unfamiliar listener Most words are unintelligible without contextual cues

12 Evaluation What if a child has some vocalizations?
The Unfamiliar Listener Test Have an adult who is not familiar with the child sit with his/her back turned. Have the listener write down what he/she hears the child say. If most words are not understood, pursue augmentative communication

13 Choosing an Augmentative Communication System
Ease of Acquisition for the Learner: Easiest & fastest to learn Development of Vocalizations: Choose the system that is most likely to facilitate the development of vocal behavior (talking). Full Linguistic System: Choose the system that allows for verbal behavior across all the meanings (operants) of words just in case the child does not develop vocal behavior as his/her sole form of communication.

14 Advantages of Picture Systems
Listener does not need special training Simple matching-to-sample may make initial acquisition easier No special shaping required for individual responses Pointing/touching is often already learned or is easily learned

15 Disadvantages of Picture Systems
Rely on environmental support to communicate No “picture system” community exists Pointer needs audience close by Symbols/icons become increasingly abstract as word complexity increases Selection based, often does not improve speech Slow, not conducive to conversation Cannot be used to teach many operants

16 What can we teach with picture systems?
Mands – can teach, but cannot fade to MO level Tacts - often cannot teach true tacts Intraverbals – often cannot teach true intraverbals Receptive ID – can teach independent of system Motor imitation – can teach independent of picture system

17 Picture Systems:

18 Advantages of Sign Language
May help to develop motor imitation Stimulus & response often resemble each other, providing a built in prompt (iconic relation) Topography based, like speech Single stimulus and single response relation, like speech Community of signers already exists Can be used to teach all operants

19 Disadvantages of Sign Language
Parents & teachers must learn the child’s signs Parents & teachers need to use sign language when interacting with the child Parents & teachers must teach/shape each individual sign

20 Sign Language:

21 Sign Language for Learners with Autism
Sign language teaching may lead to improved vocal verbal behavior in children who are vocal but engage in frequent delayed echolalia or video-type or for whom the development of more abstract verbal behavior (adjectives, prepositions, etc.) are difficult to acquire. Sign may be acquired more easily (faster and accurately) than picture symbol systems and with greater facilitation of mand stimulus selection (receptive language)

22 Sign Language for Learners with Autism
There is convincing evidence that sign language acquisition with spoken words accompanying sign (total communication) may lead to vocalizations with some children. Children who already possess some vocal imitation skill are more likely to develop vocal verbal behavior as a result of sign language acquisition. Almost all children with autism can learn to sign despite motor imitation difficulties

23 Begin Sign Training by Teaching Mands
Identify items and activities that are reinforcing for the learner Select reinforcers that instructors can easily control and that provide many opportunities to mand (request) Determine the manual sign for each of the reinforcers the child will learn to mand for

24 Steps to Choosing Target Mands
Decide how many mands to target at a time. Always teach more than 1 at a time. Choose mands from a variety of motivational categories. Do not teach items from only one category at a time (ie: all foods) Look up the sign for each item Avoid teaching signs that look similar (“signs that rhyme”)

25 Choosing Target Mands Do NOT teach the following until the learner can mand for many items: Yes/no More Finished Please Potty Help Eat Drink Carrier phrases (“I want__.” “Give me__.”)

26 Sources for Signs
Garlic Press Flash Cards Sign language books

27 Organization It is important that everyone who spends time with the learner knows his/her signs Find a way to keep everyone updated on the learner’s signs Photo album Video Flash cards on a metal ring

28 Modifying Signs Analyze which movements will be easiest for child
Try to keep the modified version of the sign as close to the true ASL sign as possible When you model the sign, be sure to model the sign in its modified form

29 What about children with poor fine motor skills?
Children with poor fine motor skills can still learn to sign Sign language may actually help the child to improve his/her fine motor skills Initially, it may be necessary to modify signs

30 MAND Motivation (MO) (Thirsty) Verbal Behavior (Signs water)
Antecedent Learner Behavior Reinforcer Motivation (MO) (Thirsty) Verbal Behavior (Signs water) Specific to the MO (Gets water)

31 Teaching Mands: MODEL PROMPT GIVE
Establish MO (learner WANTS reinforcer) Model the sign Physically prompt sign (if necessary) Give the reinforcer Be sure to say the word at least 3x Gradually fade prompts with reinforcer present Eventually fade the reinforcer from sight (cover & mand)

32 Rules for Teaching Sign
Contrive MO’s by delivering some reinforcement for “free” Hold up choices to establish MO Prompt mands only for items learner wants Avoid speaking first before learner’s mand Allow learner to enjoy reinforcer Use appropriate pace to keep learner engaged

33 Rules for Teaching Sign
Fade prompts gradually Give differential reinforcement for more independent signs Initially, reinforce independence over accuracy Fade only strong mands from item to MO level (item not present)

34 Scrolling Scrolling occurs when a child signs the incorrect sign or a series of incorrect signs when trying to request something Never reinforce a child for scrolling Prompt their hands down to a neutral position for 2-3 seconds Model and physically prompt the correct sign Reinforce

35 Common Mistakes When Teaching Sign
Not enough training trials are provided Failure to fade prompts Individual operants are never established and responses remain multiply controlled Lack of a progressive, systematic curriculum Failure to require signs outside of therapy sessions Failure to sign to the child Failure to build a community of signers

36 Common Mistakes When Teaching Sign
First signs taught are not mands First signs taught are too complex or overly generalistic (mega-mands!) First signs may resemble each other too closely First signs may involve complex motor movements

37 Transitioning from Sign to Vocal Mands
When the learner can independently sign for a highly motivating item when the item is present, it is possible to shape a vocal mand for this item using target approximations. Pick a target approximation (TA) for that word. The target approximation should be the child’s best vocal approximation for that word.

38 Shaping Vocal Mands Present the item & establish that the learner wants it When the learner signs, do not give the item right away Instead, model the vocal word three times with one-second intervals between each presentation of the word. Do not give the item to the learner until s/he makes at least the sound that you set as the TA, or immediately following the third presentation of the word.

39 Shaping Vocal Mands ALWAYS give the item by the 3rd presentation of the word Once the child is consistently making a better vocal approximation, change the TA to that better approximation. It is very important for everyone involved to be very consistent in his or her reinforcement on the TAs. Do not allow the child to stop signing until the vocal mand is clear, strong, and consistent

40 For More Information… For more information regarding how to teach verbal behavior skills across the operants, please visit to obtain the schedule for the remaining free workshops

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