It is common for parents that have a child with autism or other developmental disabilities to feel they do not have the time, lack knowledge and skills to effectively teach, or lack the necessary materials to teach their child. However, if parents are able to identify the skills that their child currently needs to learn, and familiarize themselves with a few simple teaching techniques, they will be able to help their child develop skills while they are involved in everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed.
A family’s home is similar to a big educational supply store in that there is an abundance of items available that can be used to teach a variety of skills. Routine daily activities provide opportunities to use household items (e.g, cup, plate, refrigerator, towels, bed) to teach skills the child needs to learn. Even a small amount of parental instruction during these at-home activities can have a large impact on how quickly the child learns critical skills. The important part to remember, is to identify teachable moments as they naturally occur.
Teaching new skills to a child can occur whenever and wherever the child is engaged in an activity. A family’s routine of daily activities provides great opportunities to teach skills that the child needs to learn. Identifying skills and implementing effective teaching goals while engaging in normal daily activities is referred to as Natural Environment Teaching, or NET-based teaching.
There are many skill sets that allow individuals to participate in daily activities and learn from their interactions with others. We like to use the NET Worksheet, that can be found in the Success on the Spectrum book. This worksheet was designed to help parents and teachers identify specific skills that can be used when performing common daily activities.
For a child with limited limitation skills, parents can help in developing skills during daily activities by using the imitative prompts. This involves a demonstration of an action to show the learner what they should do. For example, “Do this” while putting a magnet on the refrigerator. When the child is trying to master this skill, it is important for the parent or teacher to provide them with timely reinforcement for making a good effort to imitate the action being presented. Skills should improve over repeated interactions for several days. Imitation can be taught in many daily activities (e.g., while the child is getting ready to eat, before taking a bath, or while getting dressed).
Receptive Language Skills
There are many potential receptive language skills that can be taught during daily activities, both at home and in the community. It involves the child responding to instructions to perform a specified action. For example, when a child is getting dressed and their clothing items are laid out on their bed, they could be taught to get or point to the proper items when asked (e.g, “Point to your shirt”). They also can be taught to follow instructions that help with this activity, such as holding their arms up to easily put on their shirt (e.g., “Arms up”). Receptive language methods can be utilized during other many daily activities, such as dinner or a walk around the neighborhood.
Receptive by Function, Feature, Class (RFFC)
A more advanced receptive language skill involves the identification of items when not directly told the name of the time, but rather from hearing something about it. For example, a parent may request their child to point at an item when they are told what the item is used for (e.g., “Give me the one you drink from”), or has a certain characteristic or feature (e.g. “Point to the one that has wheels”), or when told the class of the item (e.g., “Point to the one that is an animal”). Thus, the child can be taught to point to or give items on request based on function, feature, or class of items.
Vocal Imitation (Echoics)
Some children have difficulty controlling their vocal musculature to produce specific sounds words, or phrases. For example, if a child who is having difficulty replicating single sounds would like to be pushed on the swing, have the child repeat “ah” before giving them a push. If a child can say more sound combinations, but needs to develop more accurate words, the child could be asked to repeat “Push” or “Push please” each time they would like to be pushed on the swing.
For a child that can repeat words, but isn’t requesting, parents can use a process to teach the child how to ask for items or activities. Rather than giving the child everything the parents know the child wants, the parents can tell the child what to say and have the child use words to ask for he wants. For example, if the child seems to want a glass of juice, the parent can say, “Juice, What do you want? Say juice”. Through further interactions, make sure to use lesser prompts so that the child is ultimately asking for juice independently.
For a child who can repeat at least single words and can label at least a few items or people, the parent can easily help in further developing the core vocabulary. While in the kitchen, the parent can easily determine what items the child can label by asking, “What is this?” Many parents simply don’t know what their child is capable of labeling because the child hasn’t been asked or expected to label common household items. Starting with the most obvious items in the room, have the child say the name of the item. If the child can’t say the name, the parent can tell him and then have the child repeat the word. Praise should always follow when the child successfully repeats the name of the item. A few minutes of practice each day can result in a rapid increase in the child’s vocabulary.
Talking About Items And Activities In Their Absence (Intraverbals)
A child who is able to label many items and actions, but is unable to talk about common items when he is asked questions, can also benefit from parental instruction at home. For example, children need to be able to talk about a variety of topics such as things you can find in the kitchen, things you can do on a playground, who and what you saw when you went to school, what you had for lunch, etc. Once a child is able to name many common items, parents can get the child to start talking about those items when they are no longer present. For example, when in the kitchen, the parent can ask, “What do you see in the kitchen?” After leaving the kitchen, the child can then be asked what he just saw in the kitchen. Praise the child for anything he remembers and go back in the room to label things that he might have missed. Over the course of many days, carrying out the same process within different rooms, the child should be able to start answering many questions about various household items.
These are just a few of the many skills that can allow individuals to participate in daily activities and learn from their interactions with others. All it takes is a small amount of instruction from the parent to help their child quickly learn critical skills.
If you’re interested in gaining access to more tools and resources for effective teaching strategies to help your child with autism or other learning disabilities properly develop new skills, Partington Behavior Analysts can help. Check out our available resources, online courses, and other skill assessment tools.