How Speech and Language Therapists improve communication for their students

December 11, 2017

In the world of Speech and Language therapy, the overall goal is improving communication.

Since a large percentage of our students at Crossroads Center for Children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum where communication is recognized as a deficit, and since many other students of ours also experience communication delays or challenges, having a phenomenal Speech Therapy team is a hugely important piece of the services we provide.

While similarity in individual goals abounds, no two children are exactly alike, making vast the level of individualization implemented by the therapists.

One child’s goals in speech therapy might include articulating certain sounds so that intelligibility of verbal speech is increased. Another might be working on comprehension skills to increase their ability to follow classroom directions. Children can learn to point to items as the therapist labels them, such as body parts or foods, and later express labels themselves.

They can learn to make “mands” (requests) by selecting a picture in exchange for the desired item, or to select an icon on an assistive technology device to do so.  So many skills, so many different ways of learning.

Being an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) school, the therapists here highly individualize the structure of the way they address their students’ goals. Individual education goals are developed into “sets and steps” making each skill attainable a step at a time, as is manageable by the student. Each child’s preferred “reinforcers”- what is used to reinforce accuracy, effort, attention and so forth – are established and continuously reevaluated and documented. The materials that are most motivating are assessed to capture each child’s best work. Data is recorded for each “trial” or attempt at the skill presented. This data is analyzed in conjunction with the data of others on the team to determine true progress. Consistency is built in through exacting  descriptions of the target behavior, how to direct it through an “Sd” (discriminative stimulus). Changes in the steps and set are made by the team based on percentages and frequencies of mastery. All of this is a general description of how it works, for our readers to understand the level of communication between the team that is purposeful in helping the students to achieve their goals, learn and improve skills, and prepare for success in their lives.


What sometimes happens, for example: Child wants juice. pushes brother who has juice. baby sitter says, “Oh he just wants your juice,” and gives him some juice, thereby reinforcing the maladaptive behavior of pushing to get juice, and the child learns to communicate in an unacceptable way to ask for juice.

What the therapists here do instead, for example: Child likes juice, therapist teaches child to ask for juice. Juice is given when the child asks for it appropriately with words or pictures, but not when a maladaptive behavior occurs. The steps of asking might be many; it might start with pointing to a body part or item, progress to selecting a picture or icon,  then to a verbal word and, eventually, a verbal sentence.

Or another scenario: Child likes juice. Therapist offers the juice to the child to work for during session. When the child engages in the desired manner, the therapist reinforces that behavior by giving him or her the juice, along with enthusiastic verbal praise of the specific behavior that the child performed.

At Crossroads Center for Children, at any given moment around the school, you can find the speech-language pathologists working with children on their many goals. A few pictured here show some of the ways such great gains are achieved.

While one preschooler has progressed from selecting a picture to request his preference using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to finding that same picture on an iPad and then having access for a set time to that video that he prefers, another of our young children has learned to label several objects and is learning to verbally ask for what he wants. Another is working on saying the word “more” together with a request word. Another is learning to touch his head on request, important so that he can indicate to others what hurts when he doesn’t feel well. And yet another is working on saying the word “stop” when it is just too much.

For most, the requirement is made that the student looks at the therapist, so that he or she learns to attend. When eye contact is gained, there is immediate positive reinforcement given for “good looking” and then the direction or cue is given followed by positive reinforcement for accuracy, effort, appropriateness, and other desired behaviors.

Why is developing the communication skills of our students important? It’s necessary in life for people to be able to tell others what they want and need. To be understood. To understand others, too. To tell another person something, to listen so someone else, to find our human commonalities, work together for the good of ourselves and others in the world around us.

If not, that’s when we see frustration often manifested in maladaptive behaviors such as tantrums, aggressions, self- injury, withdrawing from others and more. Those maladaptive behaviors, when reinforced, become stronger behavioral patterns that can go lifelong. At Crossroads, the aim of our mission is lifetime success. We know that improving communication is essential to that aim.

 

Read another article about this topic.

Communication and language skills are fundamental

 

How a community came together to GIVE LEARNING to a special school.Wish List Update