Gaining Consistency

Finally Words

Is your child starting to request items and activities using words? Does he/she say the word 1 time and then point or use sign language the next time? Does your child talk for 1 person and use physical gesturing for the next person to gain access to an item or activity?

Gaining Consistency

It is so exciting when a child goes from pointing, using sign language, gesturing, or using the picture exchange communication system to using words expressively. Many people get frustrated with inconsistency in expressive language and not knowing how to get their child to the next level in communication. It is common for children who just start learning to use their words expressively when requesting items to fall back on their previous form of communication.
As a parent, therapist, care taker, or educator you must first determine what the expectation is for the child. The expectation may vary across words and activities.

Expectation = Consistency
How do you determine the expectation?

When a child says a word and receives that item or activity in response to the word, you have just discovered the expectation. Once the child is able to say a word for the item, the expectation moves from a previous form of communication to an expressive request. The child should now only receive positive reinforcement, the item/activity, when he/she expressively requests for the item/activity. The child should no longer get the item/activity with a gesture, sign language, or using the picture exchange communication system. Each item/activity that the child requests may need to be taught separately and therefore the expectation will vary across items/activities. For example, if a child learns to request bubbles by saying “bubbles,” he/she may still be using sign language to request other activities such as tickles. Once the child says “tickles,” that is when you move the expectation from sign language to the expressive word. When you establish that the child’s expectation for particular items/activities is expressive language, the child will stop doing the other forms of communication because he/she will no longer receive positive reinforcement, the item, for the other modes of communication.

Everyone that works with the child must know the expectation for consistency to take place.

Communication must take place between everyone that works and plays with the child to ensure consistency. If the expectation for a child is expressive language, for example to ask for help, and once in a while someone grants a picture exchange to ask for help, the child will continue to rely on using pictures when asking for help. Intermittent reinforcement, a behavior that gets reinforced sometimes, will maintain the behavior. Intermittent reinforcement can also create frustration for the child. Establish the expectation with everyone involved in the child’s daily life to minimize frustration and increase consistency.

It is always easier to point than to talk. Hold the expectation high.