Implications for Communication

Behavior is communication; thus, educators can support behavior by targeting developmentally appropriate communication goals and strategies. In order to create a meaningful and functional communication program, the adults in the student's environment need to understand the developmental profile of the student and what those next steps can be given the student's current strengths and weaknesses.

It is important to remember that oftentimes, students engage in challenging behavior because those are the forms readily available as they have limited ways in their repertoire to communicate. Although we want the student to be able to verbally express themselves, sometimes that is not within their current ability and therefore, we need to rely on and shape more appropriate pre-symbolic forms.

Specifically, when a student demonstrates the skills and abilities reliably present within the first two years of life, they do not yet have symbolic attachment as a reliable skill. Therefore, they rely on pre-symbolic forms (e.g., reaching, pointing, pushing away, vocalizations, throwing, hitting, etc.) to communicate immediate wants and needs.

If a pre-symbolic learner protests non-preferred activities by throwing the item or pinching adults, a more appropriate form, that is developmentally appropriate and within their level of understanding, could be putting the task in an "all-done" bin as the bin serves as a concrete visual support that utilizes their "put-in" abilities.

These skills and expectations match their developmental level. Additionally, adults need to honor and respond to the forms the student uses, even if they are pre-symbolic forms.

In the above example, this means the adult would allow the student to escape the task upon demonstrating the more appropriate form. When communication goals and supports are above the student's level of understanding, more challenging behavior and/or decreased engagement will likely follow.

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