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Expressive Labelling of Objects
In this program, the student is taught to identify objects by stating their respective labels. Prior to being taught expressive labels, the student should have learned to receptively identify approximately 15 to 20 objects as taught in the Receptive Identification of Objects Program (Chapter 17). Acquisition of the skills taught in this labelling program may also be facilitated by the student's learning to match the objects to be labelled. By following the procedures detailed in the Matching and Sorting Program (Chapter 12), the student's discrimination of the target objects will be strengthened. Prior to beginning the Expressive Labelling of Objects Program, the student should have learned to imitate the words to be labelled in the current program, such as 'juice,' 'ball,' and 'cookie' (see Verbal Imitation, Chapter 22). Such imitations are used as prompts in this program.
When choosing prospective objects for the student to label, make certain that the student's enunciation of the labels are clear enough that other adults can understand what she is saying. Clarity is particularly important in helping to avoid such difficult situations as when teachers disagree on whether to reinforce a particular response given by the student. Clarity in enunciation may first be established by practicing labels through verbal imitation. It should then be decided which labels the most uniformly understood are across team members. Monosyllabic words (i.e., words containing only one syllable) may be easier to master in verbal imitation than polysyllabic words (i.e., words containing several syllables); therefore, monosyllabic words make good candidates for the initial expressive labels to be taught to the student.
In addition to using labels the student can pronounce clearly, use labels that are highly discriminable and, if possible, useful and practical for the student in her everyday life. This may be accomplished by considering the vocabulary of a typically developing young individual. Such a vocabulary normally consists of words used to communicate needs and desires. For example, labels such as 'car,' 'water,' 'spoon,' 'cup,' 'mommy,' and 'milk' are more meaningful to most 3-year-olds than labels such as 'map,' 'fan,' 'shelf,' and 'stone.' Similarly, the practicality of the labels taught may be established by using the student's favourite food, drink, and toy reinforcers as the first labels. Once the student receives the labelled item as a reinforcer, she is more likely to label it again. Later, single labels may be used to build simple sentences. For example, the word 'milk' may be used to receive milk, then a verb such as 'want' may be added to produce the phrase 'want milk,' then this phrase may be expanded to 'I want milk' (see Chapter 26).
Keep in mind that the student may learn to label an object expressively before she learns to identify it receptively. When this is the case, the learning of expressive labels often facilitates the learning of receptive labels. Most often, however, generalization occurs the opposite way such that the receptive identification of an object facilitates its expressive identification. For example, the student's learning to touch a cookie when requested to do so may help the student label the cookie upon the teacher's request.
The procedures for teaching expressive labels follow those described in earlier programs involving discrimination learning (see Chapter 16). However, although earlier programs in this manual largely employ nonverbal prompts to teach new skills, the Expressive Labelling Programs employ primarily verbal prompts. Nonetheless, the principles of prompting and prompt fading remain the same. To simplify the following text, we use the object labels 'cup,' 'ball,' and 'shoe' to represent SD1, SD2, and SD3, respectively. Note that these labels sound sufficiently different and the objects look sufficiently different to facilitate the student's discrimination.
Labelling the First Objects
You and the student should sit facing each other. As described in previous chapters, you should sit close enough to the student to allow for clear presentation of instructions and immediate reinforcement delivery. The use of a table is not necessary in this program. Present each three-dimensional object to be labelled by holding it in front of the student, approximately 1 foot away from him.
► Step 1
Present SD1, which consists of your asking, 'What is it?' while simultaneously moving a cup distinctively in front of the student's eyes. A correct response is defined as the student stating, 'Cup,' at the time you present the cup. After giving the SD, prompt the response by stating, 'Cup,' and reinforce the student for imitating the label. Remember that the prompt must occur immediately after the SD (within 1 second). Present the verbal portion of the SD ('What is it?') quickly and at a low volume and then immediately express the prompt ('Cup') loudly and succinctly as an additional prompt. By doing this, the student may be prevented from repeating your question ('What is it?') rather than simply responding with 'Cup.' Gradually increase the volume of the question while fading the volume of the prompt. While fading the prompt, monitor the student's rate of correct responding and reduce the prompt at a pace that maintains a clear enunciation of the label. Present mass trials of SD1 until the criterion for mastery of 9 out of 10 or 19 out of 20 consecutive unprompted correct responses is reached.
One problem that may occur when fading the prompt by reducing its volume is that the student may imitate the volume you use. There are three possible solutions to this problem. One is to teach the student to maintain the volume of his label even though the volume of the prompt is lowered. This may be done by reinforcing only those responses that are adequately loud. Another way to solve this problem is by probing for a correct response by suddenly eliminating the prompt. Precede the probe trial with a series of fully prompted trials in close succession, delivering reinforcement immediately after the student's response and beginning each trial within 1 second after the delivery of reinforcement in the prior trial. After the student correctly responds across 3 to 5 trials, eliminate the prompt completely and continue to present the next few trials in close succession. A third solution may be employed by systematically reducing the length of the prompt. By gradually excluding the final sounds of the object label, the label is eventually eliminated as a prompt (e.g., begin with 'Cup,' then reduce the prompt to 'Cu,' then to 'C,' and then eliminate the prompt completely). Make sure the student expresses the label in its entirety (even though the prompt is reduced) by reinforcing only the student's enunciation of the complete label.
Clearly expressed responses are critical to the team's agreeing upon which responses are to be considered correct and hence reinforced. If the student is reinforced for stating the label while lowering his volume in imitation of a fading prompt, it becomes difficult for the student to decide what component of the response is being reinforced. (Technically speaking, the reinforcement contingency is not discriminable.) That is, the student may not know whether you are reinforcing him for stating the label, lowering the volume of his speech, or both. It is therefore crucial that reinforcement be given contingent only upon labels that are clearly enunciated in a proper volume. It is also important to remember not to inadvertently prompt the student's responding to such cues as your mouth movements rather than the auditory input. Observation by other team members can help reduce such prompts, as can saying the word while covering up your mouth or presenting the instructions when the student is facing the table rather than you.
► Step 2
Present SD2, which consists of your asking, 'What is it?' while concurrently moving a ball in front of the student's line of vision. Immediately (within 1 second) prompt the correct response by stating, 'Ball.' The prompt helps prevent the student from stating, 'Cup,' which is a likely response given that this label was heavily reinforced in Step 1 and the student has yet to learn that different objects have different labels. (Technically speaking, the student demonstrates a flat generalization gradient; different stimuli cue the same response.) Reinforce the correct response and gradually fade the prompt. Mass trial SD2 and set mastery at the same criterion used for SD1.
To facilitate the student's attention to the SD, you may first state, 'Look,' while moving the ball in front of the student's visual field. This may help temporarily inhibit certain self-stimulatory behaviours that could block the student's attention to the SD; however, a disadvantage in adding this statement in that the distinctiveness of the SD may be decreased, thus making the discrimination more difficult. Therefore, it may be more effective to engage the student in three or four successive presentations of a well-mastered task (e.g., nonverbal imitation or receptive instructions) and then quickly switch to the target SD once the student's attention has been gained.
► Step 3
Intermix SD1 and SD2 according to the discrimination learning paradigm. Set mastery at 9 out of 10 or 19 out of 20 unprompted correct responses. Once mastered, practice the discrimination between SD1 and SD2 for approximately 1 week across different teachers and environments so as to help solidify and generalize this discrimination.
This first discrimination is an extremely important achievement because it provides some evidence that the student can speak and may go on to more elaborate expressive language. To be able to express such things as wants, impressions, and observations in the quick and efficient medium of language is critical for facilitating development. It is important to keep in mind the significance of the first discrimination given that this discrimination is almost always difficult to achieve and requires enormous patience and diligence from both you and the student.
► Step 4
Present SD3, which consists of your asking, 'What is it?' while showing the student a shoe. Follow the same procedures used for teaching SD1 and SD2. After the response to SD3 is mastered in mass trials, systematically intermix SD3 with SD1 and then with SD2 according to the discrimination learning paradigm.
Up to this point, direct prompting techniques have been demonstrated (i.e., in this case, stating the label of the object as the SD is presented). A less direct but potentially useful prompt is the combination of receptive and expressive labels such that the receptive identification of the object provides the prompt for the expressive identification of the object. For example, if you instruct the student to 'Point to cup,' you may ask, 'What is it?' while or immediately after the student performs the action. The 'cup' portion of the receptive instruction may prompt the student's expressive labelling of the object. Receptive identification may also facilitate the student's attention to the object to be labelled.
Generalizing Expressive Labelling of Objects
After the student learns to label 20 to 25 objects presented in 3-D form, teach her to label other exemplars of these same items (e.g., if the student learned to label a white shepherd as a dog, now teach her to label a brown collie as a dog). By varying characteristics (e.g., size, colour) of the objects, the student learns to group particular features associated with classes of objects. Remember that this step is crucial to the student's development given that she must learn to associate common abstract elements among objects in order to form concepts rather than simply know isolated labels for particular objects. Certain early steps in this direction were introduced in Chapter 12, Matching and Sorting.
Once the student learns to label a variety of objects of different classes or categories in a structured one-on-one teaching situation, begin to generalize this mastery to new situations. For instance, place items around the living room (e.g., a cup on a coffee table, a doll on the floor, a ball on a chair) and ask the student to label them. As teaching is extended to several parts of the student's daily life, the student learns to generalize skills she first acquired in the more structured treatment setting to the less structured real world.
An important step toward the generalization of labels is teaching the student to label objects when they are presented in their 2-D form (e.g., objects depicted in books, magazines, and movies). After the student learns to label 20 to 25 various exemplars of objects presented in their 3-D form, teach her to label these objects when presented in their 2-D form. It may be helpful to begin by using photographs of previously learned 3-D objects. The photos should be clear and unambiguous (e.g., to generalize the label 'car,' use a clear picture of a car without background clutter). The procedures for teaching expressive labels presented in 2-D form are the same as those used for teaching expressive labels shown in their 3-D form. Simply present SDs, one at a time, by showing the student the pictures of the objects, prompt, bring to mastery, and finally employ discrimination learning procedures.
When the student learns to expressively label 20 or more pictures of separate objects, teach her to label these objects as they appear in picture books. Begin by using books that contain only a few pictures per page. Such simplicity facilitates the student's success at correctly labelling the target items. Systematically introduce books that contain more and more items per page and teach labels of novel objects as they are presented in the books. This format of teaching marks the beginning of more informal and natural teaching and it extends the student's description of her environment.
Areas of Difficulty
One problem that may occur in the student's responding is excessive echolalia. The student may echo the SD in part or in whole instead of imitating the prompt or in addition to imitating the prompt. This problem was touched upon earlier in this chapter, but because it is a common problem, it may be helpful to further discuss how it can be resolved. If echolalia occurs during responding, ask the question in a low volume, stating the object label in a louder volume than the volume of the question. For example, ask the student, 'What is it?' quickly and in a low volume while presenting a toy car, then quickly state the prompt 'car' loudly and clearly before the student can echo 'What is it?' Reinforce the student for repeating the prompt and withhold reinforcement for repeating the question. Gradually increase the volume of the question 'What is it?' while maintaining reinforcement for not echoing. If the volume is increased too quickly, the student may go back to repeating the question. Use the amount of volume necessary to block the student from repeating the question and increase the volume of the question at a rate that helps the student not to repeat the instruction but rather to repeat your label.
Echolalia is likely to occur when the student does not
know the answer to your question. Once the answer is mastered, the student is
likely to cease echoing the question. For example, if a student does not know
the answer to a question such as 'What is the capital of
Another difficulty that may arise is that the student may master labelling certain 3-D objects but encounter problems in labelling representations of these objects when they are presented in a photograph or picture. If this occurs, prompt the student by presenting the 3-D objects beside or behind their 2-D representations. After the student consistently responds correctly to the instruction, slowly fade the 3-D objects from the student's view, shifting the labels from the 3-D objects to their 2-D representations. Note that some students learn rather quickly to label 2-D objects but experience difficulty with labelling 3-D objects. Begin teaching in the area where the student's strength lies.
Some students (approximately 1 out of 10) fail to label any objects despite the most extensive teaching efforts. Some of these students may learn to label behaviours before learning to label objects. If this is the case with the student you work with, introduce the Expressive Labelling of Behaviours Program (Chapter 24), and return to the Expressive Labelling of Objects Program after the student masters labelling behaviours.
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