When Alanna was evaluated by a psychologist (twice over), her most delayed area was communication. On the Vineland II Adaptive Behaviour Scale, Alanna scored in the <1% percentile for communication, which essentially means in a room of 100 random children her age, her communication skills would be the most delayed out of any of the children in the room. For us, this was quite distressing, since an inability to communicate is a huge impetus towards developing a lot of problem behaviours for children with autism. Fortunately for us, we were able to introduce the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to Alanna fairly early on. She can now ask for lots of items, even if she does not see the item, using pictures. However, what has us really excited is how the mand training we introduced into her therapy has caused a verbal explosion!
Mand training is a verbal behaviour term that refers to teaching a child how to ask for things he or she wants. The word "mand" is short for "demand". It's very boring but effective. Essentially all we do is take a desired item and model the word for Alanna - for example, "muffin". After several times modelling, we give her a small piece. When she approximates the word, she gets a bigger piece. As she is able to say more, we expect more and give her small pieces for responses that used to give big pieces (e.g., "mmm" originally gets a bigger piece but now does not). She can now say "mufffan" or "muff an", sometimes "muffin".
This "mand training" combined with her pictures allows her to say or approximate several words. As she learns more words, other words are sometimes heard spontaneously, such as the "stawberry" I heard yesterday!
Sweet, sweet words. They are like warm rays of sunshine in the bleak winter. Keep talking, Alanna!