High Functioning Autism: Can the Verbal Behavior Approach Help?
Supporting Individuals with Higher Language Skills
I did an independent evaluation on a student years ago that I assumed from looking at the preliminary reports had higher language skills. She was doing very well academically, supposedly, but just having these severe tantrums.
So I started asking her to tell me some animals. She was able to name a lot like horse, pig, and cow. Then I asked her to tell me some pieces of clothing. She said pants, shirts, dresses, even capris, and sandals. I was very impressed with the advanced language there. And then I said, tell me some things that are usually red.
I wanted her to say things like strawberries or stop signs. Because answering questions, like tell me some colors, tell me some animals, tell me some shapes, those are answers to the questions that she’s potentially been practicing since she was three years old. And she’s now nine. So I said, tell me some things that are usually red.
And she started looking around the room, and it was Christmas time and there was a Christmas tree up in the home and she said Christmas lights. And I said, “Oh yeah, that is red. Can you close your eyes and tell me some things that you can think of that are red?” Looking for things that weren’t in sight. And she started screaming at me, “Don’t tell me to close my eyes!” What the language is that we really need to assess quickly for these kids that have higher language skills is the intraverbals.
There are four elementary verbal operants that make up expressive language. When we use verbal behavior terms, we talk about four ways or four functions of expressive language. They are to request or mand (asking for a cookie when you want a cookie), tact or label (seeing a cookie and naming it), echoic control (I say cookie, you say cookie), and intraverbal, which is answering WH questions. Intraverbals are the hardest operant. When we learn our first language, or when we learn second languages, it’s the answer part of a question with no visuals. So all of our academic content, all of our writing, all of our comprehension is all based on that intraverbal and that is going to be the weakest operant overall.
Typically developing kids don’t obtain intraverbal language until about 18 months of age. They have their mands, their tacts, and their echoics when they start to babble. Even crying for a bottle or for diaper change is a mand.
Verbal Behavior Approach
So in order to see if the verbal behavior approach is good for supporting someone with higher language skills, we need to assess their intraverbal language, their ability to answer questions.
You can do that actually pretty easily by using Dr. Mark Sandberg’s intraverbal subtests. You can go to www.avbpress.com to take it for free. From the homepage click on the resource section and then on VB MAPP Supplementary Material. There you will find the Intraverbal Subtest and instructions below it.
One thing I would do to help my friend’s student or the student I mentioned above, is I might ask him or her to just answer some questions. What’s your name? What’s your favorite color? What’s something that flies in the sky? Just to get a feel if he’s fully conversational. To see what their language is like.
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The Intraverbal Subtest
When in doubt, though, you can obtain this free intraverbal subtest. They go in groups. So group one and two are really, really simple ones. Like a kitty says, twinkle, twinkle, little…and the student says star. Those are gonna be your very early on intraverbals. Then you move on to fill in the blanks. You sleep in a… bed.
For higher language kids, you could even skip to say groups five, six, seven, and eight. Make sure that they can answer some of these questions. So group five might have questions like, What shape are wheels? What grows outside?
Group six gets a little bit harder. What color is my shirt? What do you smell with? Then groups seven and eight are super hard. Any kid over age five should be able to get 8 or 9 out of 10 of these correct. And it’s really important that you don’t teach to the test.
Asking these questions will help you determine if there are deficits in their language. Kids tend to answer fill-in-the-blank songs first. Then fill-in-the-blank sentences. Next what, where questions, and some of the harder questions like why and how. Switching out one word like, what do you eat versus what do you eat for breakfast? What do you eat for breakfast that’s warm? As you can see, it’s not just about answering WH questions. It’s about answering WH questions that get more and more complex.
Support for Advanced Language Learners
And so I’ve spent the last two decades programming for early and intermediate learners. And some of these kids with advanced language are actually intermediate learners that need a lot of help. It’s just that people don’t normally know how to help.
In general, I encourage you to really look at the intraverbals, the ability to answer questions, as one of the pivotal things you can do to assess treating kids with higher language skills.
If you would like to learn more about the Turn Autism Around Approach and get additional information about possibly joining our online course and community, you can attend a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshops.