If you are the parent of a child with Autism, you may have heard them speak in a language not recognized as anything but gibberish. You may long to hear your child call, “Mommy” or “Daddy,” yet the words emitted are indistinguishable. Children, who are exposed to language by various teaching methods, begin to imitate and utter sounds that eventually form words to communicate meaningful language.
As a developmental specialist in the field of early intervention, there have been several opportunities to witness the first words of children with Autism. One experience included working with a girl with Autism was awe inspiring and touching. She was a child of three, with large, round brown eyes. She was the mirror image of her mother, a young 31 year old, married and living in Columbia, South Carolina.
Working with children with disabilities includes methods used to teach skills in areas of development such as emotion, social skills or physical development. Angela* begin to play with Mr. Potato Head; his parts spread on the floor. Angela reaches for the plastic blue eyes and walks over to her mother sitting on the floor. She looks into her mother’s eyes, pointing closely at them, then stating clearly and distinctly, “My mommy’s eyes.” Her first three words rang in our ears, sending shivers through our bodies, making tears well up in our eyes. Angela continued and pointed, “My mommy’s face,” and touched her face. “My Mommy’s nose,” and touched her nose. It was the first of many times that Angela would put together more than one word at a time, let alone speak spontaneously without any prompting from an adult.
Her mother was so elated she could barely speak, tears in her eyes. The experience was incredible! From that point forward, Angela’s language capabilities increased steadily, as she was able to imitate words and sounds. We began ABA therapy – or applied behavior analysis. ABA is a program for children on the Autism Spectrum that has been demonstrated to assist the child in communicating effectively and reciprocally, thereby decreasing behavioral challenges. A hallmark of Autism Spectrum Disorders is the lack of communication. Without some way of communicating, either by touching or pointing to objects, children become increasingly frustrated and angry that their needs are not being met. Presently, Angela is in a special needs school, continuing her education with a peer mentor.
Peer mentors assist children in the childcare center, in school and even at home, helping them to transition throughout the day. In a typical classroom, you have one teacher who is responsible for the education, safety and health of all the children in her classroom. When one child has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, the disruption is minimized with the use of a mentor. The mentor provides cues to the special needs child, assists with transitions, and models appropriate social and behavioral norms to ease the child in and out of the daily routine. Without a mentor, the teacher must stop the class and the activity to try and calm the child. If the teacher lack of experience in dealing with children with special needs and severe tantrums, can lead to an unsafe environment not conducive to learning.
For children to learn how to communicate, they must consistently learn through a variety of ways incorporated throughout their day. How? Families can do this by, listening to the radio, TV, or their family talking, singing, and humming, etc. By hearing different types of words, sentences and phrases, will help. Repetition is key. It may be tedious and dull, but the success of teaching a child to speak or utter those few words is done through constant repetition.