For the longest time it was so shocking to hear R. say anything beyond babbling. It reminded me of when she first starting moving around how strange it was to find her in a new place. But it also made me think that by not expecting her to speak, I was missing out on opportunities to encourage her.
It can be so emotionally draining to coax words and communication from my child. When I get no response it feels like a double failure. I tend to over-think things, which is probably obvious from this blog. A plan of action really helps me, and being consistent seems to help R.
After pestering our ST and ABA therapists with questions, I decided that I would focus on really encouraging communication regarding things R. is asking for, or manding in ABA speak. I will say a word for what she wants, repeating it in what I hope are interesting ways. Then, as per Hanen’s instructions, I’ll wait, leaning forward with an expectant look on my face and my mouth open. If she doesn’t respond, I’ll repeat and then offer another way to communicate her request, usually with a PECS icon or a gesture.
I’ve noticed that while she can and will say more now, she seems a little frustrated when I prompt her for something and she thinks I know what she wants. We’re down to only one inside door that she can’t open, it has a child-proof (at least so far) knob attachment. She will hand lead me to the door and put my hand on the knob. I’ll say open several times and she gives great eye contact with an expression that seems to say yes, I want it open you idiot. One time without thinking I said, You can say open and she said it. I tried it with different words and it worked, not all the time but more often than without the you can say phrase.
I know that Hanen and many ST’s say that you should not say the word say to your child when trying to get them to speak, and I do agree with that. It seems like this is slightly different. It’s more like I’m giving her a suggestion. Using the example of the word open, I know she can say the word in context and I know she understands the word. Here’s my usual “script”
R puts my hand on the door knob.
Me: Ohh-pen, you want ohh-pen (I lean over with my mouth open and an expectant look, I also remove my hand from the door knob)
R gives me the look, pushes my hand towards the knob again
Me: Ohh-pen, ohh-pen. You can say ohh-pen. (I repeat what I described above and wait)
I’ll open the door and then say Good talking! You said open, I opened the door.
I’ve been careful to discuss my methods with the professionals we work with, and they all seem to say if it works go with it. It has taken me some time, but I finally got our ABA provider to change the way they do the manding program with R. Their method was to try to get R. to mand (ask for) the same item ten times in a row. They would break up a cookie into ten pieces. Usually she would do it several times and then be done with it. I told them repeatedly that they were setting up an unnatural environment, I mean who asks for the same thing ten times in a row? I suggested that they could contrive situations, but that they should be spaced throughout the session and take advantage of what she was interested in that day. I gave them a clear plastic box and suggested they put different things in it to get her to mand for open. I also told the therapists individually about exactly how I was prompting her including the waiting and expectant looks.
I know they tried and were more successful, and at our meeting last month the behaviorist said they were changing the program to record data of any manding that could be encouraged throughout the session. It is partly that we have two really awesome therapists, but they have been getting really good results. Especially this past week, they come running out after the session is over looking for me to tell me everything she said. The amazing thing is that they are just as excited as I am. Today the therapist said that R. used a verbal mand to get out of doing her work. While on a break the therapist sang a song with R. sitting on her lap. When she told her it was time to check the schedule, R said Sing!.