Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How most language therapies fail to teach grammar to children with autism

We've already seen how many children with autism need systematic, rule-based grammar instruction.

The problem is that most autism and language therapies--designed and implemented as they are by non-linguists with little appreciation for grammatical complexity--don't provide it.

One major approach, Floor Time (DIR), expects children to pick up all of language, grammar included, from the natural environment. As we've discussed, many autistic children simply don't.  In particular, they fail to master the Question Rule, saying things like: "The boy swimming?" and "Did the girl talked?" 

The competing ABA (Lovaas/Discrete Trials) approach, with its systematic step-by-step pedagogy, has the right framework for explicit grammar instruction. But it, too, falls far short of its purported goals. Its language curriculum, Teach Me Language, is based on an outdated Skinnerian theory that reduces grammar instruction to a series of stimulus-response sessions. As far as ABA is concerned, there's no such thing as a Question Rule, with its notions of auxiliary verb, inversion, and tense-marking. One simply teaches the child to categorize questions by type--yes/no; what, where, when, who and why--and to respond, passively, to each. At no point is the child prompted to formulate questions on his own and offered grammatical feedback.

This passive/receptive/minimal-feedback approach to language instruction also predominates in the world of educational language software.  

For a linguistically principled alternative: consider this.


Laura said...

Well, again recognizing that I'm not actually in a position to make an informed judgment, that seems incredibly straightforward and logical to me. It's particularly hard to understand (in theory, at least) why a behaviorist would be opposed to the idea. I wonder if you've come across the blogger Interverbal (http://interverbal.blogspot.com), an ABA teacher who I believe has the reputation of being unusually willing to engage in serious debate about ABA-related topics.

Anyway, it's all very interesting, so thanks for your posts!

lefty said...

Thanks for the link, Laura. I've gone over and taken a brief look--it does look quite intelligent and balanced. I searched for references to "grammar" and didn't find anything. But I'll plan to visit again from time to time and perhaps post something.