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Early Grammar: I Want, I See, I Have
This chapter describes procedures for teaching the student to use elementary forms of grammar, such as noun-verb combinations. The three programs used to accomplish this task are titled I Want, I See, and I Have. From these programs, the student is taught to generate such sentences as 'I want play,' 'I see Big Bird,' and 'I have pizza.' These programs may be taught as extensions of the skills introduced in the Expressive Labelling of Objects Program (Chapter 23).
As part of the I Want Program, the student is taught to verbalize choices when confronted with desired versus undesired items and to become more spontaneous in his requests. In the I See Program, the student is taught to describe what he observes in his surrounding environment and to do so in an increasingly spontaneous manner. In the I Have Program, the student is taught to describe his possessions. This program also includes steps describing how to begin early conversational speech between the student and the teacher, as in making reciprocal statements. Each of the programs presented in this chapter should help facilitate social communication.
We recommend that you begin the I Want Program by teaching the student to request her favourite foods, objects, and activities. The reasons for such a recommendation are twofold. First, such favourites almost invariably involve reinforcers, strengthening 'I want' sentences. Second, the student's mastery of an efficient way of expressing her desires is likely to result in a reduction of tantrums.
Note that the response in this program is a full sentence that incorporates the label of the preferred item. Because the sentence 'I want (item)' must be prompted by the teacher, the student should have mastered verbal imitation of the sentence 'I want (item)' prior to introducing it into this program. For example, if you wish to choose Big Bird as the stimulus for SD1, the student should have mastered imitation of the sentence 'I want Big Bird.' Be certain that the student can imitate several 'I want' sentences before beginning the present program (e.g., 'I want cookie,' 'I want juice,' 'I want Barney'). The steps involved in teaching 'I want' sentences are similar to those in all other programs that involve discrimination learning. For the first three steps in teaching '1 want' statements, choose three items the student would delight in receiving as reinforcement for a correct response. These items may include a favourite toy, a special food, or a favourite activity.
► Step 1
Present SD1, which consists of asking, 'What do you want?' while displaying a highly favoured food or toy distinctly in front of the student's eyes. For example, if the student likes juice, present a cup of juice, and ask, 'What do you want?' Prompt the correct response by immediately stating, 'I want juice.' To avoid having the student echo your question, present the question quickly and in a low voice while emphasizing the prompt in a louder voice. Because the student is unlikely to know the meaning of the question 'What do you want?' it may be more efficient simply to present the SD as 'Want?' in the beginning and then fade in the rest of the question as the student gains experience in this program. Reinforce the student's response by giving her a small amount of the item named in her response (i.e., if the item is a beverage, pour a small sip into the cup and give the student the small sip as a reinforcer; if the item is food, give her a piece half the size of a sugar cube; if the item is a toy or activity, allow her approximately 5 seconds to play with the toy or engage in the activity). Fade the prompt ('1 want juice') by gradually saying less and less of the sentence or by lowering the volume of the sentence while maintaining the student's complete and audible response. Intermittently probe unprompted trials to reduce, if possible, the number of prompted trials and help avoid prompt dependency. Remember that the student should receive as reinforcement the same item she requests. Mass trial to the criterion of 9 out of 10 or 19 of 20 unprompted correct responses.
Present SD2, which consists of asking, 'What do you want?' or merely 'Want?' while displaying a second desired item (e.g., a chip) distinctly in front of the student's eyes. Prompt the correct response by stating, 'I want chip.' Fade the prompt while maintaining the student's correct response. Reinforce the student by giving her a small amount of the item she requests. Set the criterion for mastery at 9 out of 10 or 19 out of 20 unprompted correct responses.
Intermix SD1 and SD2. That is, alternate between presenting the chip and the juice, differentially reinforcing and moving to random rotation of the SDs as described in the chapter on discrimination learning (Chapter 16). Set mastery at 9 out of 10 or 19 out of 20 unprompted correct trials. As recommended in earlier programs, generalize this achievement across teachers and environments (e.g., mealtimes) for the next 3 to 4 days before going on to SD3.
If the first two SDs involve food-related items, it may be helpful in establishing the next discrimination to use a preferred nonfood item for SD3, such as 'up' (if the student likes to be lifted), 'tickle,' or a favourite toy. After SD3 is mastered in mass trials, intermix it first with SD1 and then with SD2 while maintaining the SD1-SD2 discrimination in different sittings.
Areas of Difficulty
Should you choose a non-preferred item or activity to teach the student to request, it is reasonable to expect that the student's requesting will deteriorate. Similar deterioration may be observed should the student satiate on the preferred items (i.e., the reinforcers). If the student's requests show a marked decrease, add a second reinforcer to back up correct responding in an effort to maintain her skills. For example, should the student master the phrase 'I want Big Bird' and lose interest in Big Bird over trials, reinforce the student with food for merely retrieving Big Bird. If the student refuses an item in the early stages, replace that item with one the student desires. In the section that follows, steps are made to help prevent the difficulties described in this section.
Presenting the student with a large amount of the reinforcer (e.g., a full cup of juice) but allowing the student to consume only a small amount of the reinforcer (e.g., a sip) is likely to cause a struggle for the larger portion. The ensuing tantrum is likely to reduce the effectiveness of your efforts; therefore, provide the student with reinforcement that is proportioned.
It is a great accomplishment for a student to learn to verbalize preferences. Unfortunately, not every student acquires this skill. For those students who encounter serious difficulties expressing their choices verbally, however, the Reading and Writing Program and the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Program (Chapters 29 and 30, respectively) offer alternatives. By adhering to the following steps, the student may learn to verbalize choices.
Present SD1, which consists of asking, 'Which one?' while showing the student two items. The student should have previously learned to label both items. One of the items presented should be a highly desired item (e.g., a preferred food such as ice cream) and the other a less desired or un-desired item (e.g., a non-preferred food such as a pickle). As soon as the objects are presented on the table, prompt the student to say, 'I want (ice cream).' Reinforce by providing the student with the preferred item. Systematically fade the prompting. This task typically is mastered relatively quickly, in part because the student is unlikely to request an item she does not want. If the student makes an error, withhold reinforcement or present the student with the non-preferred item. Place mastery at 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted correct responses.
Present SD2, which consists of asking, 'Which one?' while presenting a new preferred item (e.g., a preferred toy) and a new undesired item (e.g., a washcloth if the student does not like her face wiped). Immediately provide a prompt, and then fade it systematically. Remember to reinforce the student with the item she labels in her response. If she requests the non-preferred item, present her with that item. Place mastery at 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted correct responses.
► Step 3
Teach the student to discriminate between SD1 and SD2 by following discrimination learning procedures. That is, the stimulus display should eventually vary between the preferred items presented in a random order and always in contrast with one of the undesired items (e.g., ice cream in contrast with either a pickle or a washcloth, a favourite toy in contrast with either a pickle or a washcloth).
After the student learns to choose desired items over undesired or non-preferred items, show two desired items and an undesired item when presenting the SD. For example, ask the student, 'Which one?' while presenting ice cream, a favourite toy, and a pickle. If the student verbally chooses both of the favourite items, reinforce by giving her both items. Withhold reinforcement for selecting the non-preferred or undesired item, or give the student the item as a consequence for requesting it.
As the student masters this task, you may extend the SD to produce the question 'Which one do you want?' You may also make several new choices available to the student, such as choices among preferred behaviours versus non-preferred or undesired behaviours rather than items. By modifying the teaching program outlined above, it is possible to teach the student to choose between two behaviours of different desirability, such as a kiss and a pinch. For example, you may ask, 'Want a kiss or a pinch?' If the student says, 'I want kiss,' she should be kissed. If she says, 'I want pinch,' you may want to pinch the student just enough to make it unpleasant for her and then present another trial, prompting the response that receives the preferred behaviour. New choices (e.g., bath vs. television, play vs. work) should be introduced in proportion to the student's comprehension of language. Suffice it to say, there are endless variations of the original question 'What do you want?'
At some later point into treatment, the student may be taught yes/no responses to volitional items (e.g., 'Do you want a kiss?' 'Do you want a pinch?'). Extensions of volitional questions will be introduced in an upcoming volume on advanced programs in which yes/no answers to factual questions ('Is the sky blue?') are introduced.
Making Choices When no External Stimuli Are Present
Following the steps described in the preceding section, present SD1 ('Do you want [Item 1] or [Item 2]?'). The items involved in this question should not be within the student's view but should be readily accessible so the student may be provided with a consequence immediately upon her response. Directly following the SD, prompt the student to say, 'I want (object label).' Quickly present the item named in the student's response. For example, ask the question, 'Do you want ice cream or pickle?' and quickly prompt, 'Ice cream.' Reinforce the student by providing her with a taste of ice cream. After mastering SD1, introduce a second pair of items in SD2 (e.g., a favourite toy such as Woody or Buzz vs. mustard or salad dressing). Prompt as done before and fade the prompt over subsequent trials. When the student reaches mastery criterion for SD2, subject SD1 and SD2 to discrimination training.
Although it is advisable to use the preferred item as the reinforcer for correct responding, you must decide whether to use the undesired item as the consequence for incorrect responding. For example, you may present the student with the pickle if she requests it. Most likely, such a consequence is mildly aversive and may therefore facilitate the discrimination. To help the student make choices among less extreme stimuli, pair highly desired items with mildly desired items (e.g., ice cream vs. pretzels).
The goal of this portion of the I Want Program is to help the student spontaneously request items she wants. By spontaneous, we mean that you do not ask or otherwise prompt the student to request something.
► Step 1
Present a desired object on the table. The correct response is the student's requesting the item on the table (e.g., saying, 'I want juice,' if juice is on the table and is a preferred item). If necessary, prompt the correct response by providing a relatively un-intrusive prompt, such as an expectant look toward the student. If this fails, try mouthing the word 'I' or the phrase 'I want.' If necessary, provide a full verbal prompt. To make this skill spontaneous, all prompts must be faded. Set mastery at 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted correct responses. At a later stage in teaching, the correct response can be extended from 'I want juice' to 'I want juice, please.'
► Step 2
Present more than one object on the table, such as a glass of juice and a washcloth. Prompt the correct response and immediately reinforce the student. Fade the prompt over subsequent trials. Once this response is mastered, present more than one desirable item plus an undesirable item on the table (e.g., the display may consist of juice, ice cream, and raisins) and prompt the student to ask for both of the preferred items. After this skill is mastered, generalize the student's requests to the family's mealtime when many desired items may be available.
Continue to introduce items until the student can express 'I want' sentences involving items, activities, or behaviours that have not been specifically taught in this portion of the program. These are spontaneous or self-generated sentences. Once the student has given evidence of early mastery in this area, extend the teaching of 'I want' sentences to her everyday environment so as to maintain this skill and expand upon her expressive language.
Areas of Difficulty
At any given point in the I Want Program, some students will encounter serious problems when attempting to verbally communicate their requests. If this occurs, introduce the Reading and Writing Program (Chapter 29), the PECS Program (Chapter 30), or both. Progress in either or both of these programs may facilitate the student's progress in the present (vocal) program.
Spontaneous verbal communication is an area of difficulty for most students with language and other developmental delays. To maximize the effectiveness of the Early Grammar Programs, it is essential that the instructional format be practiced in all environments. If a parent or other caregiver consistently provides a student with desired foods and activities even though the student has mastered requesting these items, the student is reinforced for not requesting. It is therefore important to monitor the frequency with which the student's desires are satisfied if she is to learn to communicate them independently. Rather than merely giving the student a desired item, place it and other items in front of her and give her an expectant look. Be sure the student does not pick up the item and take it away; she should receive the item only after she has requested it in an appropriate manner. Also, do not reinforce nonverbal gestures if the student has learned to request items verbally. If necessary, prompt the student to use the most advanced level of communication she has mastered.
Remember that for many years and thousands of occasions, a parent may have provided all kinds of help and favours to the student in part because the student could not talk or otherwise communicate appropriately. Remember also that parents and teachers may have been told that the student was helpless, sick, and in need of non-contingent love and affection. It is often very difficult for a parent or teacher to relearn such attitudes and relationships even when the student has mastered certain more appropriate and age-related forms of communication.
The goal of the I See Program is to teach the student to begin describing what he observes. In a sense, the I Want Program benefits mostly the student. The I See Program may be viewed as primarily benefiting persons other than the student because, through this program, the student tells others of his experiences, providing reinforcement to someone other than himself. Prior to beginning the current program, the student should have mastered the expressive labelling of 15 to 20 objects presented in both their 2-D and 3-D forms (see Chapter 23). The student should also have mastered verbal imitation of 'I see' phrases that include mastered object labels (e.g., 'I see balloon').
A variety of items used in the Expressive Labelling of Objects Program should be gathered for use in the I See Program. This set should include objects in both their 2-D and 3-D forms.
► Step 1
Present SD1 ('What do you see?') after placing an object (e.g., a cup) in its 3-D form on a table that is free from all other stimuli and reinforcers. Immediately prompt and reinforce the correct response ('I see cup'). Repeat this SD and reinforcement for correct responding over trials while gradually fading the prompt. Note that the correct response in this program is the statement of three discrete words that form a complete sentence. If the student omits one or more words, you should conduct more trials that include prompting the full response. All prompts should then be systematically faded until the criterion for mastery is met. Set the criterion for mastery at 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted correct responses.
Present SD2 ('What do you see?') after showing the student a second object (e.g., an apple). Again, place this item on an otherwise empty table. Immediately prompt the correct response ('1 see apple'). Gradually fade this prompt over trials while continuing to reinforce subsequent correct responses. Continue to present SD2 until the student independently responds correctly in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 trials.
Intermix and differentially reinforce SD1 and SD2 according to the discrimination learning paradigm. Given the student's previous mastery of labelling the cup and apple, the criterion for mastery may centre on his providing a full three-word response. Should the student fail to complete the entire response to either SD1 or SD2, additional prompting may be necessary? Often a partial prompt (e.g., 'I') is all that is needed to reinstate the correct response. As always, systematically fade all prompting until the student can respond independently. Place mastery at 9 out of 10 or 19 out of 20 unprompted correct responses when SD1 and SD2 are randomly intermixed.
After the student masters the discrimination between SD1 and SD2, introduce a third item, SD3 ('What do you see?'), and teach the student to respond with, 'I see (e.g., hat).' Follow the procedures outlined in Step 1. After the student masters SD3, intermix SD3 with SD1 and then SD3 with SD2 until each discrimination is mastered. Maintain the SD1-SD2 discrimination throughout this process in different sittings.
Subsequent responses should be taught using Steps 1 through 4. After the student masters a new SD (SD4, SD5, etc.) when presented alone, intermix it with three to four already mastered SDs.
At some point, most students generalize '1 see' sentences to all the objects they can label. Such generalization may occur relatively early in the learning of the skills involved in the I See Program (e.g., after the student has mastered five SDs). Other students may demonstrate generalization relatively late or not at all. You will know the student has begun to generalize when the student responds correctly to objects presented that have not been specifically taught in this program. For example, if you present the student with an object that has not been used in this program but that the student can label (e.g., a banana) and then ask, 'What do you see?' and the student answers, 'I see banana,' without being prompted, then the student has made progress in generalizing this skill. When the student has begun to generalize or after the student has mastered 15 SDs in the I See Program, begin Step 5 in which the student is taught to label several objects using the 'I see' phrase.
► Step 5
Place two objects on the table. For example, place a sock on the left side of the table and a toy tiger on the right side of the table (from the student's perspective). Place the objects approximately 1 foot apart and equidistant from the student. Present the SD ('What do you see?') and prompt the response 'I see sock and tiger.' If necessary, add a prompt by pointing to the objects or, if the student misses an object, pointing to the missed object.
Note that the object to the student's left should be stated first. This may be the student's first exposure to the skill known as sequencing, an important skill necessary for successfully completing several types of tasks. Patterning, filling in a calendar, storytelling, writing, and reading are all activities that rely on the use of sequencing in a left-to-right manner. At this stage into the I See Program, the order in which the student states each object label is incorporated into the criterion for mastery.
In adding more demands on the student (naming both the stimuli and naming them in the correct order), be careful not to expose the student to too many non-reinforced trials. If the student's responses show signs of extinction, go back and re-establish the number of objects labelled, and then the order of labelling. Remember that the order is imposed to help the student scrutinize the entire stimulus display and provide a foundation for using the skill of sequencing in later, more advanced programs.
Once the student responds correctly in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 trials using the first two objects (sock and tiger), add a new pair of objects (e.g., pencil and cup) and teach to mastery. Continue introducing new pairs of stimuli until the student generalizes the 'I see' response to every label in his repertoire.
Using the same procedures described earlier, teaches the student to label three to five objects in a field. The first part of the response (i.e., 'I see') should remain the same. What changes are the number of labels stated in the response and the length of the statement needed to gain reinforcement. For example, after the student has learned to generate a sentence containing any two known object labels, place a fire engine, a strawberry, and a toy mouse on the table and present the SD ('What do you see?'). The student's response should be 'I see fire engine and strawberry and mouse.' It is, of course, acceptable for the student to insert the article 'a' in front of the object labels.
The student who has mastered three object labels may quickly move to five object labels. When he has generalized the production of this type of response, objects presented in their 2-D form should be used as program stimuli.
Follow the same steps of instruction when teaching the student to respond with the 'I see' phrase to stimuli presented as pictures of objects (i.e., in their 2-D form). Systematically increase the number of objects presented in this format until the student can label as many as five objects within one response.
The use of a photo album allows the teacher to manipulate the number of items presented on a single page. Systematically increase the number and complexity of items shown per page until the student can label five or more items in a single response. At this time, picture books or posters may be introduced as program stimuli. Each picture used should contain between two and approximately eight objects to be labelled. Mastery is achieved when the student can use the phrase 'I see' in expressing all object labels he knows, and when many or most of these sentences are novel (i.e., not specifically taught). It is ideal to generalize this task to informal settings, such as having the student describe to his mother pictures from a book while sitting on the sofa.
Areas of Difficulty
The student may experience difficulty when the program stimuli are shifted from pictures presented on the table to pictures presented in a photo album or on a poster. This means that the teacher may need to prompt more heavily and simplify the presentation and orientation of stimuli by, for example, placing the pictures in sequence from left to right. Later, the pictures may be gradually placed in a less ordered format. This latter stage will help to prepare the student for labelling pictures in a book as these pictures are usually presented in idiosyncratic arrangements.
A second area of difficulty is dealing with incomplete responses. For example, it is quite common for students to complete the last part of a verbal prompt rather than repeat all the words presented within the prompt. That is, should the teacher prompt by saying, 'I see cup and hat,' the student may delete the 'I see' portion and say only, 'Cup and hat.' To alleviate this problem, review the use of backward chaining as described in the Verbal Imitation Program (Chapter 22).
This chapter ends with the teaching of rudimentary conversation. In the I Have Program, the student is taught to state a parallel phrase in response to an SD. The statement of analogous or complementary phrases is an important part of conversation. At this stage, the SD is not a question, but a statement.
Before beginning instruction in this program, the student should have gained the following prerequisite skills: (1) expressive labelling of 15 to 20 objects presented in 3-D and 2-D forms, (2) some mastery of 'I want' and 'I see' sentences, and (3) verbal imitation of 'I have' phrases that incorporate object labels (e.g., 'I have pizza,' 'I have banana')- The article 'a' as in 'a pizza' is deleted to simplify the sentence; it can be introduced at a later stage.
The First Object Labels
Present SD1 by giving the student an object (e.g., a duck) and asking, 'What do you have?' Verbally prompt the student to state the response 'I have duck.' Some students use the article 'a' correctly with little or no instruction to do so. If the student responds in this way, the article 'a' may be used to complete the sentence. If not, this portion may be taught in later stages of language acquisition. Fade the use of the prompt while continuing to present this instruction in mass trials. After the student has responded correctly in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted trials, go to the next step.
Present SD2, which consists of giving the student an object different from the one presented in Step 1 (e.g., a crayon) and presenting the verbal instruction 'What do you have?' Use a verbal prompt to assist the student in stating the correct response (i.e., 'I have crayon'). Fade the prompt gradually until the student gives 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 independent correct responses.
Intermix SD1 and SD2 according to the discrimination learning paradigm. After the student masters the discrimination between SD1 and SD2, additional objects should be introduced systematically.
Multiple Object Labels
After the student learns to generate an accurate sentence in the format described in the previous section, teach her to include two objects in a single response. The steps described previously should be followed exactly; however, in this step, the teacher should present the student with two objects rather than one object. It may be necessary to prompt the student to insert the word 'and' between the object labels (e.g., 'I have horse and wagon'). This and other verbal prompts should gradually be faded until the student can state the correct response independently in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 trials. After the student meets these response criteria for the first pair of objects, present the instruction for a second pair of objects. Introduce new pairs systematically. The student has mastered this sentence structure when she can include any two mastered object labels she is presented with.
The teacher may already have anticipated how 'I have' sentences can be generalized to the student's experiences. For one, the student may be taught to describe hurt, happiness, and other emotional states (see Chapter 28). For example, it is inevitable that a child will get scratched or bruised by falling down. When such an event occurs, it provides an opportunity to label the hurt 'Boo-boo' and teach the student to say, 'I have boo-boo.' In a similar manner, a student can be taught to describe holding onto her mother by saying, 'I have Mommy.' Limitless opportunities for creative teaching exist in this area.
As mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, the I Have Program lends itself to the early stages of conversational speech. This comes about because the presence of objects helps prompt the student's 'conversation.' An upcoming book that includes programs on advanced language will contain programs for advanced conversation. Note that the kind of early sharing of information described in this section is similar to show-and-tell sessions in typical schools.
Present SD1, which consists of the student's holding an object (e.g., a book) and your holding an object that is different from the student's object (e.g., a shoe) while stating, 'I have shoe.' Rl is the student's stating, 'I have book.' Prompt the student's correct response by asking, 'What do you have?' immediately after giving SD1. Gradually and systematically fade the prompt by saying less and less of it or by reducing its volume. Move on to the next step after the student responds correctly in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted trials.
Present SD2 by giving the student a new object (e.g., a toy bus) and holding a new object of your own (e.g., a flower) while stating, 'I have flower.' Once again, prompt the response as necessary. Fade all prompts as soon as possible. Begin Step 3 after the student responds correctly in 5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 unprompted trials.
► Step 3
Intermix SD1 and SD2 using discrimination learning procedures. After the student has learned to discriminate between SD1 and SD2, introduce SD3. After the response is mastered when presented in mass trials, it should be brought into discrimination training.
Generalizing 'I Have' Sentences
Following mastery in the formal teaching environment, all instructional formats should be practiced in several different settings and across different persons. Facilitate natural interactions by presenting SDs when the student happens to be holding one or more objects in settings less structured than the controlled environment provided at the table (e.g., while walking through the house and handling objects or joining an adult shopping in a supermarket). Also, present SDs while engaging in parallel or interactive play with the student. Instructions from the I Have Program should be intermixed with those from other programs to ensure discrimination and generalization. To help prepare a younger student for a classroom environment, a show-and-tell type of format may be introduced by having the student and several adults (playing children) sit in a circle. Some children become very spontaneous in this type of setting.
Areas of Difficulty
The student may echo the question 'What do you have?' and not respond to the prompt. If this should occur, it may be necessary to present several trials with the question 'What do you have?' as the SD, establishing correct responding to this SD. After the student responds correctly to the question three or four times, start the conversation by stating, for example, 'I have puzzle' in a very soft voice and then adding the question 'What do you have?' in a louder voice. Over several trials, increase the volume of the statement and decrease the volume of the prompt.
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