Communication and Language This paper will briefly outline the definitions of important terms used in language and communication for neuro-typical developing children and the timely acquisition of these skills. Common expressional mistakes made by young children acquiring speech will be highlighted and ways in which we naturally adjust our own speech and communication to assist with these transient errors.
A biological preparedness is noted as an essential requirement for normal development of communication, speech and language; however, individuals with an intellectual disability or physical disability (or a combination of both) may not possess this innate blueprint. Therefore, suitable assessments will be discussed to assess communication deficits along with the varying interventions and programs needed to encourage appropriate and functional communication alternative(s). The validity of assessments and observations conducted on a child with a disability are directly linked to the adherence of a multi-dimensional approach.
Activities associated with encouraging communication will be described in detail and will emphasise the importance of utilising an ecological approach in combination with direct instruction when teaching a person with an intellectual disability. Language, Communication and other Relevant Terms Language is by definition a socially shared code that allows users of this code to exchange information, ideas and feelings (Shames & Wiig, 1986). The speakers of a language agree upon what symbols will be used and underlying knowledge of the system is commonly referred to as ‘linguistic competence’.
Language is governed by applying a combination of complex rules. Lahey and Bloom (1978) have divided language into three distinguishing categories: form, content and use. Form includes the syntax, morphology and phonology. Syntax is the system used within a language that specifies acceptable word order in order to comprehend the intended message (Matthews, 2010). Simply put syntax is the ‘mental’ rules we use to form grammatical sentences (Hoff, 2009). Famous author, Harry Mathews (1930), once stated that the syntax and vocabulary of a language “are ‘overwhelming constraints’-the rules that run us.
Language is using us to talk- we think we’re using the language, but language is doing the thinking, we’re its slavish agents. ” This statement is epitomised within ‘Whorfian Hypothesis’. Benjamin Whorf was an American linguist who proposed that one’s language, culture and classification distinctions, directly influences the native speaker’s behaviour and cognition. An example of using correct syntax in the English language could be, ‘Shelly is playing outside’, however, if I was to phrase the same sentence this way. Playing outside is Shelly’, it would not be grammatically correct because in the English language we use the rule which states that subjects (nouns) are usually said before the verb (action word). Morphology is a system used linguistics whereby words or parts of words, such as ‘ed’, can be combined to change the tense, plurality or convert a verb to a noun. An example of using morphology may be as simple as ‘dance’ to ‘dancer’ or by adding an extra consonant such as ‘run’ to ‘runner (Matthews, 2010). According to Shames and Wiig (1986), some linguists believe that morphology is a subcategory of syntax.
Words are made up of one or more smaller unit called morphemes. Morphemes can be broken up into two categories, a free morpheme or a bound morpheme (Hoff, 2009). A free morpheme can be used independently such as, cat, small and happy. Bound morphemes cannot act independently; they need to be connected with a free morpheme or a bound morpheme. Here is an example of adding a bound morpheme to a free morpheme, you will see it can change the word meaning and clearly demonstrates a semantic distinction: cat – cats, small – smaller, happy – unhappy.
The phonology of a language pertains to the sounds or sound system, such as articulation, voice, rhythm and stress (Lahey and Bloom, 1978) and how these sounds work together within a given language, this includes how we write these sounds (Lass, 1984). Phonetics as a discipline is a study of how speech sounds are produced and perceived. Physiologically, humans achieve this by obstructing the airflow within the vocal tract. A study conducted by Lundeborg, McAllister , Samuelsson, Ericsson and Hultcrantz (2009), oncluded that the impact of Obstructive Sleep Disordered Breathing (OSDB) can not only affect the oral-motor function, behaviour and academic performance but can also contribute to a long term phonological impairment. It would therefore, be imperative that speech pathologists thoroughly investigate the physiological characteristics of their clients before commencing with intervention therapies. The phonology of a language can have a direct influence on the accent or localised dialect and consists of a finite number of units called phonemes.
Phonemes are the smallest units of a spoken language and are used to form syllables and words, for example in the word cat there are three phonemes ‘m’, ‘a’ and ‘t’. Phonemes include sounds created by combining letters such as ‘th’ used in words like ‘there’ (Shames & Wiig). Lahey and Bloom’s (1978) reference to use is the pragmatics of a language. Pragmatics is the study, which investigates the way in which context influences the meaning of speech, in simple terms the how, when, where and why. Pragmatics encompasses ‘speech acts’ which consist of three components, ‘Perlocution’ ‘Illocution’, ‘Locution’.
A perlocutionary act is a term used to describe the effect of an utterance has on its listener (Austin, 1962). For example, a baby cries the mother comforts the baby, comforting the infant is the effect or the perlocutionary act, which has occurred consequently because the baby cried. An illocutionary act is fundamentally the intentional behaviour demonstrated by the speaker (Matthews, 2010). For example, a child might call for attention “help, I cannot get out”, this cry for help has an illocutionary function. A locutionary speech act describes the performance of utterance.
For example, if I say to you “don’t go in the water” and you do not go in the water then you have performed my request, which is the primary function of my statement (Austin, 1962). Pragmatics explains how linguistic knowledge of a language is imperative in order for the listener or speaker to competently convey or interpret an intended meaning of an utterance. This is said to be one of the hardest concepts that a ‘new language’ student has to contend with when learning a foreign language. Lahey and Bloom’s (1978) model, which explains how language skills interrelate and employs the term ‘content’ to explain the semantics of a language.
This aspect of language studies, pertains to the meaning of words, phrases and sentences and appropriate word/s selection, referred to in linguistic studies, as the ‘semantics’ of a language (Bowen, 2001). A young child gradually acquires semantic mastery as their chronological age increases, however, a child with autism for example, may always experience some sort of semantic processing problem, particularly within the area of idioms, sayings and slang expressions as they often interpret these statements literally.
For example, ‘pull your socks up’ may infer that you need to improve your behaviour in some way, however, a child with autism may respond to this statement by saying “how can I pull my socks up, I haven’t got socks on”? This response might indicate to a professional that there is a semantic processing problem and consequently they may investigate whether this problem is a stand-alone difficulty or whether it is interrelated with pragmatic difficulties. Usually, individuals with autism are more likely to have a combination of both a semantic and pragmatic language disorder (SPLD) (Bowen, 2001).
Aspects of human behaviour that support communication and speech Aspects of human behaviour that appear to support and expand communication acquisition for newborns is the fact that they are acutely attuned to the human voice and appear to prefer it to surrounding sounds (Hoff, 2009). Hoff (2009) also declares that babies are naturally attentive to the human face and this is especially so when they are looking at a talking face. Communication begins at birth via repetition and imitation (Matthews, 2010). Hearing others communicate vocally motivates infants to respond with vocalizations of their own.
This has been referred to as ‘mutual contagion’ (Berger, 2000) and recent research suggests that this tendency may be inborn. Noam Chomsky (1965, cited in Hoff, 2009) also suggests that the human capacity for language is an innate biological phenomenon, therefore, language expansion must also be considered as an organic progression. Between 0-3 months of age, most babies will display the following behaviours, which support communication and later language acquisition (Matthews, 2010): •Seem to recognise their mother’s voice. •Quieten down when spoken to or smile in response to the verbal communication. Turn toward familiar voices or sound; make sounds that appear to indicate pleasure. •Cry differently to express their various needs, grunt chuckle, whimper and gurgle. •Begin to coo and mimic vowel-like sounds such as ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’. •Tracking objects and following people. Communication for the newborn consists mostly of crying and vegetative sounds (non-crying sounds), which are reflexive and unintentional (Stark, 1978). According Austin (1962) intentionality is a critical feature of communication and as newborn does not intentionally try to communicate, we consider their cry as non-communicative.
This is more commonly referred to as the perlocutionary phase in communication development, as described within John Austin’s speech act theory (Hoff, 2009). Preparation for language and communication and common mistakes The second stage of communication and speech development is the illocutionary phase; this is where an infant, between the ages of nine and fifteen months, of typically developing children, become aware that their behaviour can be used to communicate with others (Hoff, 2009). Joint Attention’ (JA) is the skill whereby two people can coordinate their attention to an event or object (Naber, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Van IJzendoorn, Dietz, Van Daalen, Swinkels, Buitelaar, Van Engeland, 2007) and may stimulate early communication between the caregiver and infant. Naber et al note that deficits in JA may be one of the earliest signs of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however, by the time these children reach the age of 42 months their study found that there was only a deficit within the ‘Joint Visual Attention’ (JVA).
This study, therefore, suggests that JVA could be a useful component in assessments used for early screening of ASD. Another behaviour that children use for communicative purpose is gesture. A gesture can be facial expressions, hand signals, eye gazing and body postures. Gestures usually occur before the spoken work (Hoff, 2009). Hoff (2009) declares that although gestures are not directly associated to human speech they are symbolic speech representations because the physical form is consistent and used in variety of contexts.
Kelly, Ozyurek Maris (2010) concluded after a series of congruent and incongruent trials with speech and gesture, that the practice of speech and correlated gestures improves language comprehension. Kelly et al (2010) suggest that the best method for orators to communicate their message to their audience, is to coordinate their speech with correlating gestures. Piaget (1955) declares that gestures help develop language acquisition with children in the sensorimotor stage (0-2years), because the motor portion of this stage involves interaction with objects and the sensory feature observes the repercussions of one’s actions.
Therefore, biologically the toddler is able to interact with their environment using their newly developed motor skills to point to objects, which may stimulate the need and desire to label, thus speed up the vocabulary building process. Piaget’s (1955) cognitive development theory states that children in the pre-operational stage (2-7) use language egocentrically and will use ‘private speech’ when they are trying to understand another’s perspective. Piaget (1953) proposes that between the ages of four through to seven, children gradually grasp this concept, Theory of Mind (ToM).
Acquiring ToM enables, an individual to not only understand their own mental state and that of others but also facilitates other psychoanalytic developments such as the ultimate ability to self-reflect (Piaget, 1953). Prelinguistic communication (nonverbal communication) as stated above, starts out as reflexive responses but as reinforcement is received and repetition is applied, the infant soon begins to vocalise sounds which are described as canonical babbling, which are basic consonant and vowel combinations, such as ‘dada’ (Hoff, 2009).
Babbling is considered a pre-speech milestone and deficits within this area should be investigated. Oller and Eilers (1988) declare that canonical babbling is the first distinguishable difference between hearing babies and non-hearing babies. Conversational babbling or jargon is the next stage of prelinguistic vocalisation. During this stage, a baby will mimic adult’s intonation and stress. For example an infant may be seen to babble a string of ‘unrecognisable words’ and at the end of this babble, raise their voice signalling a question. Sroufe et al. (1996) propose that this is the beginning stage of a child mimicking their native language. The next stage begins around the one year mark in which many children will begin to say their first word, commonly referred to by linguists as ‘protowords’ (Bates, 1976. Cited in, Hoff, 2009). Once protowords begin to appear, infants make a transition from prelinguistic to linguistic communication. To make requests they tend use one word sentences. Approximately by the age of two years, toddlers go through a vocabulary spurt (Hoff, 2009), which enables the child to acquire new words at a rapid pace.
Therefore, at this stage children are beginning to make two word sentences that contain nouns, adjectives and verbs. A number of methods are used to prepare a child to evolve into communicative partners and Hoff (2009) declares that the environmental conditions exposed to a child can significantly support the ‘word-learning process’. Some of methods adopted by parents/carers are listed below: •Motherese/parentese: One of the most common “techniques” caregivers use to nurture verbal communication with infants is known as, “motherese” and is said to make it easier for a child to learn language (Hoff, 2009). Semantic and syntactic acquisition is supported by repetition and simplification (Matthews, 2010) •A tendency to talk about shared experiences or a running commentary (Matthews, 2010), for example, “Mummy will get your bottle”. •Playing simple games such as, ‘labelling games’, for example, a mother might point to a flower and say, “What’s this? ”. •Echoing is a technique whereby parents repeat that the child has said and provides feedback to the child and provokes mutual contagion (Berger, 2000).
Hoff (2009) states that echoing leads to a feedback loop in which the infant is encouraged to repeat sounds over and over to the point where the child will eventually be able to reproduce sounds when needed later on. •Recasting is another technique applied when nurturing language acquistion in young children. Recasting basically is when a caregiver rephrases what a child has said in a more correct way. For instance, if a child says, “Mine dummy”, the caregiver might rephrase the statement this way, “This is my dummy” (Berger, 2000). •A caregiver may opt to use incomplete sentences to encourage the infant to fill in the gaps.
This method also gives the caregiver an indication of the lexicon level of the child. •Reading books to the child is an invaluable tool to use as young story books use visuals which helps the child to make connections, that is, words that are supported with the corresponding picture. •Finally, asking questions. The onset of linguistic communication can present a new set of challenges for the child. Not only does the child have to learn a large number of new words but they must also become aware of the limitations attached to each new word.
Therefore, a child might underextend and overextend the meanings of words. Underextension, refers the child underestimating the meaning of words, for example, they may believe that the word for a particular category (e. g. , ‘dog’) only pertains to ‘their dog’ and is not applied, when looking at other dogs. Overextension refers to phenomenon whereby the child may come to believe that the word ‘dog’ refers to all four legged creatures. Consequently, they would call a ‘cow’ a ‘dog’ (Hoff, 2009).
Another linguistic error that children make is ‘over regularisation’, which occurs when the child uses rules for past tense to convert singular words to plurals. An example of this may be ‘go’ becomes ‘goed’ and ‘mouse’ may be pluralised as ‘mouses’ (Hoff, 2009). Important Issues Related to Observation and Assessment of a Young Child with Autism and appropriate activities to support programs. Young children with autism are difficult subjects to assess accurately because of the triad of impairments, which are associated with the nature of autism. These are communication, sensory processing and repetitive and stereotyped activities.
Dodd (2005) notes that an assessment of a person with an ASD should consider the individuals attention span, auditory processing, sensory processing, sequencing and high order abilities. A good observation and assessment will not only report on the weaknesses within the child’s description but also highlight their strengths. An excellent method to use for observational purposes is the naturalistic approach. This methodology is excellent for investigative intention; however, this technique will not identify the causation of the behaviour observed (Berger, 2001, p. 0). Peterson (2004, p. 45) noted another advantage of the naturalistic approach, which occurs from observing a person within their natural environment; he refers to this as the ‘real-life validity’. When selecting a formal assessment the assessor must consider the above facts, therefore, the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-III) (Dunn & Dunn, 1997) is a great formal method to assess literacy skills for a child with autism, as it is individually administered, un-timed and helps to establish rapport and reduces tension.
In conjunction with a formal assessment, a criterion-referenced test is necessary to get an accurate profile of the person. A Criterion-referenced test measures an individual’s skill level in terms of absolute mastery (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 1991). Absolute mastery is a big call when we are considering children with autism, as quiet often a child with autism may be able to repeat words (echolalic) but they may not be able to use these words functionally. The final method that is applied when assessing a child with autism is an informal parent/caregiver interview.
The aim of this approach is to fill in the missing gaps that the formal and criterion assessments may have missed. Peterson (2004, p. 44) declares that the main objective of the informal interview process is to; ‘compile as complete a picture as possible of all the interconnected facets of that individual’s overall psychological functioning’. Assessment Information collected and the development of sound communication and/or teaching goals and appropriated activities.
Assessment information gathered from a child with a diagnosis of autism may identify deficits in the following skills: lack of social engagement, joint attention skills, imitative abilities, cognitive impairments, which are pivotal skills, required for the successful acquisition of communication and language proficiency. Therefore, programs designed around treatments, which focus on increasing social engagement, imitation skills, ToM concepts and an understanding of language and/or communication, may develop or support language/communication skills.
Prizant, Wetherby and Rydell (2000) nourish a developmental approach when supporting individuals with autism as it delivers an individualised program, based on the child’s present capabilities. Rogers (1991) developed the model now known, as the ‘Denver Model’; it is a sound developmental approach and is used as an intervention strategy. This model uses a curriculum and methodology based around joint attention teaching techniques, which utilises children’s natural play activities. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is fundamentally the foundation for this method.
This model employs the following strategies to teach language and communication skills, which are, essentially pragmatically sound activities: •Naturalistic teaching plans which utilise highly motive social games and object activities, designed to develop communication through turn taking games, modelling and shaping of natural gestures which evolve into more intention gestures, which may be used to assist communicative functions such as requesting, initiation, greetings, protest and requests for help. •Teaching imitation skills, including oral-facial movements and speech sounds.
This is achieved by including drills, object play, songs, puppets and object and social requests. •Teaching receptive skills utilising the naturalistic approach and simplifying instructions (sit down, hang your bag up, and come here). Repetitive language also used to name objects, people and social and sensory actions. •Utilising matching games to teach object identification and association (Lovaas, 1981). •Increasing verbal approximation of target words in object play and familiar social routines. This may be achieved by modelling, shaping and by applying a realistic reinforcement schedule. Teaching augmentative communication strategies such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) Teaching communication and language skills to children with autism requires a broad understanding of all levels of autism and the associated deficits. Standardised tests will not give an accurate profile, therefore, a combinational approach utilising formal and informal assessments, and interviewing may assist with a more truthful summary. Assessment of both expressive and receptive language is imperative when assessing a child with autism and is necessary to obtain an accurate assessment of the individual’s comprehension skills.
Acknowledgement of oral-motor speech abnormalities should be noted, as this may affect the application of intervention strategies. Prizant, Wetherby and Rydell (2000) note delay and immediate echolalia may have important functions, therefore, dismissing their relevance may be counterproductive when designing appropriate activities for intervention programs. Assessment of language and communication skills for children with autism who have some verbal ability should assess both their receptive and expressive vocabulary, expressive language and comprehension, syntax, semantic relations, pragmatic, morphology, articulation and prosody.
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