As a BCBA, I often see a heavy focus on teaching reading, math or other academic skills with both younger and older children with autism. In this week’s video, I talk about the important lessons I’ve learned in situations like this:
I became a BCBA in 2003 and a few years later I was contracted by the school district to work with the sixth-grader that we will call Tommy. I remember the day I first observed Tommy because it was September 11th, 2005. I walked into the Learning Support classroom and Tommy was reading about 9-11. He was reading things like, “on a clear sunny day, the sky was blue as the plane flew into Tower One. He was also reading about the explosions that ensued and the mass casualties.
It was very impressive Tommy could read so well but what was very upsetting was that Tommy had no idea what he was reading. After he read about the planes crashing into the building, he would make gestures acting out explosions and smiling and laughing. You see Tommy had very poor language and was speaking at only the level of a three-year-old and comprehending at that level too.
I had always learned that without language comprehension it was kind of pointless to focus on academics like reading and math, but as I stood there watching Tommy it was more apparent than ever that teaching him language and language comprehension needed to take a front seat in his programming.
Tommy also had a lot of scripted language and would often make inappropriate and off task comments throughout the day. He would say things like “Miss Mary has a striped shirt on, “Tommy keep reading,” “Tommy don’t throw the ball in the air,” as he was throwing a ball in the air.
For those of you who have watched my prior video blog on the three buttons, Tommy did a lot of pushing the self stim button, which was a problem in teaching him language. I asked the staff to count the nonsense language and much to my surprise Tommy had an average of 500 per day. I worked with Tommy until he was 21 and with ABA programming we were able to get Tommy’s nonsense language from 500 per day to less than 10 per day.
I learned so many lessons working with Tommy including these:
- It’s never too late to start great ABA programming,
- Language comprehension is an important prerequisite to reading comprehension
- A child, no matter what the age, will learn when the demands and the reinforcement are at the right level.