Introduction to Sign Language for Students with Autism

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Introduction to Sign Language for Students with Autism
August 2, 2016 National Autism Conference
Laura Yates
Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network
PaTTAN’s Mission The mission of the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance
Network (PaTTAN) is to support the efforts and initiatives of the Bureau of
Special Education, and to build the capacity of local educational agencies to serve students who receive special
education services.

Presentation Outline
• Students with Autism • Response Form • Verbal Behavior • About Sign Language • Benefits of Sign • Basics of Sign • How to Teach sign (mands, tacts, intraverbals)
Goal of Presentation
• Review Core Deficits of Autism
– Socialization – Communication – Flexibility
• How do we know what works with this population and how do we teach communication?

Difficulty of Speech
• An estimated half of all children with autism are non-vocal or have difficulty acquiring speech (Scott, Clark, Brady, 2000).


Evidence-Based Practices
• What does evidenced-based mean? • How do we know what they are or where to
find them? • What are the evidence-based practices? • Why does it really matter?

• Language is complex • Behavior interventions make complex aspects of
human functioning simple • Primary choice for communicating with others is
vocal speech • What if speech doesn’t develop typically? • What are the other options for communicating?
Alternatives to Spoken Language
• Gesturing • Using pictures • Signing • Writing • Typing • Augmentative devices with various access
modes/voice generation

The Form of Language
• People communicate with language behaviors • This language can look different • We call this the form of language • The avenue in which a person communicates
their wants and needs to another person is called their response form • Response form is the general shape and physical characteristics of the behaviors through which one communicates
Response Form
Types of response forms include vocalization, sign language, picture exchange, writing, and various augmentative devices.


Vocal/Verbal Response Form

• Vocal-Verbal • Nonvocal-Verbal
• Vocal-Nonverbal
• Non-VocalNonverbal

• Verbal (Saying Water)
• Verbal (Signing Water, handing over a picture of water, writing)
• Non-Verbal (non-social vocal noises such as coughing)
• Non Verbal (crossing legs)

Response Form
• When selecting response form, a good rule of thumb is always consider vocal first.
• Why?
– humans are evolved to speak – our vocal apparatus is always with us (portability) – our culture shapes up vocal verbal behavior


Response Form “Categories”
Jack Michael (1985) was the first person to make a clear distinction between two kinds of verbal behavior. • Stimulus Selection-Based • Topography-Based


Topography-Based with Requesting
Speaking Signing Writing
• The motor movements are different • Each word “looks” and “feels” different

Selection-Based with Requesting
Picture Exchange Systems Vocal Output Devices
• The motor movements are the same • While this may seem simpler, there are
added complexities (scanning, discriminating)
Analysis Tells Us…
• Signing and talking are quite similar • Selection-based systems share few
characteristics with speech

Choosing a Response Form
Where do we start?
Use a language assessment to help select a response form.
Decisions Based on Data
• What skills does the student have? • How efficient are the responses? • How easy are the skills to teach & acquire? • How easily will the response form lead to
independent responses? • Implications for developing a full range of
verbal responses and eventually complex behavior • Portability

Response Form
• Consider vocal first! • If vocalizations are unintelligible to the naive listener,
vocal is not a functional response form. • If weak echoic, consider sign language.
– Portability – Hands are always with us – Topographical correlation an option for teaching vocals – Full range of verbal function
• If weak motor skills or attempts to teach sign fail, try
picture exchange or augmentative devices.
Verbal Behavior
• B.F. Skinner in 1957 • The meaning of a word is found in it’s
function • Teaching communication skills across the
verbal operants • VB is behavior mediated by other people • Verbal behavior does not have to be spoken

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Introduction to Sign Language for Students with Autism