Receptive Identification & Receptive Language Skills for Kids with Autism

A lot of children with autism or signs of autism get stuck when it comes to learning receptive language abilities, such as touching body parts or touching a banana out of several pictures. I got a lot of really great advice on receptive identification over the past two decades from Dr. Mark Sundberg. So today we’re talking about some key lessons from Dr. Sundberg in teaching receptive language skills

Receptive Identification

I think what’s missing in a lot of ABA programs that aren’t utilizing BF Skinner’s approach enough is lack of attention to multiple control and lack of attention to transfer trials and errorless teaching and blaming the student for lack of progress. I see that as being really critical.

It’s one of the five areas where parents and professionals get stuck. The number one area is taking kids from nonvocal to vocal – getting them talking, or getting them saying sounds or getting echoic control. The number two area is receptive identification, like understanding, touch your body parts, or touch the banana in a field of three. I’ve seen young kids stuck with receptive. I’ve seen 16-year-olds with no receptive language.

And I remember way back with The Verbal Behavior project, where I first met Dr. Sundberg, where I was the lead behavior analyst from 2003 to 2010, we did case studies one afternoon. And so we presented this kid who was about eight or 10 years of age. He had just transferred into a classroom. I remember he had no receptive language to speak of. He had PICA, he had all these issues. So I had the teacher at the time holding up two cards. She was saying, touch the ball and he was just touching either one. 

Multiple Control

Dr. Sundberg said two things after watching this. He said, stop having the teacher hold up the cards because then the teacher has no hands to prompt.  So we started putting a lot more things on the table. And then the second thing that he said is in order to get receptive identification, you really have to have strong matching and scanning.

A lot of my programs now in my online courses – and the way I teach – is to use multiple control. So on the probe sheet, it might say touch head with an imitative prompt and then use a transfer trial to try to shape that down and get rid of that prompt. 

“Multiple control basically involves two or more in a sequence that might control a response,” says Dr. Sundberg. “We’re all familiar with using an echoic prompt. That is, I put up a pen and say pen. We would say I’ve got a vocal SD and a visual SD. I might also have a motivating operation at strength. That is, the child wants the pen to write something. Those three sources of control may get the child to respond. Under the circumstances of seeing the item, wanting the item, and hearing the word. But yet it allows you to evoke that word. So I got a response now that I can do something with, I can reinforce it.”

Dr. Sundberg says the next task is to transfer control. Usually, it’s the echoic control that gives away what the child should say, such as “pen.” If you just hold up the pen, you don’t get the right response. Even though they might want the pen and try to grab it. You need to transfer control from echoic to the tact and to the object. 

“When I say touch pen, what the child with autism needs to do is scan the array and then emit some kind of response indicating the pen,” Dr. Sundberg continues. “But the tricky part is that the source of control is a spoken word. Verbal stimulus control is often very difficult to acquire. And that is obvious in, for example, the intraverbal relation. There’s a lot of parts to words. And it’s hard for kids often to learn, to take those words and have some correspondence with the physical environment.”

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Transfer Procedures

This is how to establish a skill. A lot of kids can easily match a pen if they can see the pen as the control. But if there is a second stimulus present, now you have multiple control. For instance, you can show the pen and say the word pen. This is still matching, but now you can get rid of the visual and transfer to using a verbal stimulus. 

Dr. Sundberg told me about a procedure where he’d have a picture of a pen to use as a prompt, say “find pen” and have the child match it from an array. Then he would start covering his hand over the picture, or showing it quickly and removing it so that eventually the child would know to look for the picture of a pen in the array just by hearing the prompt and possibly seeing a blank card. This can help strengthen receptive language skills even for children or teens who have been struggling for a long time.

The analysis of multiple control and transfer procedures in an ABA program is important. I know Rick Kubina and I published a study in 2005 using transfer procedures to teach tacts to a child with autism. Lucas was in the study and Rick Kubina was my mentor. For Lucas, because I think of his strong Lovaas ABA background, his receptive column was a lot higher than his tact. And what I found with his particular profile is that if I gave a prompt to him in a receptive to tact format, it was almost like doing multiple choice. 

For More with Dr. Sundberg

If you want to watch the whole interview with me and Dr. Sundberg, you can go to marybarbera.com/53. You can also listen to it as you’re on the go on Apple podcasts by searching for Turn Autism Around.

And if you’re a parent or professional who needs more information about how to get unstuck, I’d like to invite you to a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop. If you like this little video blog, I would love it if you would give me a thumbs up, leave a comment, share with others, subscribe to my channel. I hope to see you right here next week.

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Transcript

A lot of children with autism or signs of autism get stuck when it comes to learning receptive language abilities, such as touching body parts or touching, uh, touch banana out of several pictures in the field. Learning receptive language, I got a lot of really great advice over the past two decades from Dr. Mark Sundberg. So today we’re talking about some key lessons from Dr. Sundberg in teaching receptive language skills.

Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and bestselling author. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas about turning autism or signs of autism around, so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now.  A while back I did a Turn Autism Around podcast interview with Dr. Mark Sundberg, and he does a really nice job, uh, in this interview, specifically breaking down how to teach receptive language, what to do if you’re stuck, and also, uh, talks about the idea of using multiple control.

So this video blog, we are just sharing a small portion of that great interview with Dr. Mark Sundberg. Now the difference between, you know, a really in my, using kind of my approach from all of this information that I’ve gathered over the past two decades, as a registered nurse, as an autism mom, as a mom of a typical son, as a behavior analyst, as an author is,  I think what’s missing in a lot of ABA programs that aren’t using, utilizing BF Skinner’s approach enough is, is lack of attention to multiple control and lack of attention to transfer trials, um, and errorless teaching and kind of blaming the student for lack of progress. Like I see that as being really critical and I want to bring up this, this, um, I just actually did a podcast, it’ll be podcast number 51, and it’s on the five areas where parents and professionals get stuck. And so we’ve talked about a couple of them already. So the number, the number one area is taking kids from nonvocal to vocal, getting them talking, or getting them saying sounds or getting echoic control like that’s an area where kids get stuck. And the number two area is receptive, receptive ID, so that’s like understanding, touch your body parts, or touch the banana in a field of three. Um, and, uh, you know, I’ve seen, I’ve seen young kids stuck with receptive. I’ve seen 16-year-olds with no receptive language.

It’s like, how do you get to be 16 years old and no receptive language? And I remember way back with the Verbal Behavior Project, which is where I first met you, where, you know, um, I was the lead behavior analyst from 2003 to 2010, you were like a consultant for the project. I remember you coming in and we did case studies one afternoon.

And so we presented this kid, I think he was about 8 or 10 years of age. He had just transferred into a classroom. And we had videos of him and we showed them to you. And I remember he had like no receptive language to speak up. He had PICA, he had all these issues, right. So I had the teacher at the time holding up 2, well, she was holding up 2 cards and she was saying, touch ball, and he was just touching either one. And I mean, you gave us a lot of advice on, on the whole picture too. But I remember specifically like having this major aha moment, it kind of changed the whole way I was programming for kids, but you said 2 things.

You said stop having them hold it up. She doesn’t even have any, any hands to prompt him with, which totally makes sense. Right? Like, duh. So we started putting a lot more things on the table. And then the second thing that you said, which was, again, just a huge aha, is in order to get receptive ID, you really have to have strong matching and scanning.

And the way you build scanning is through matching, not through receptive ID. And, and so, a lot of my programs now in my online courses and the way I teach is, is to use multiple control. So on the probe sheet, it might be touch head with an imitative prompt and then use a transfer trial to try to shape that down and get rid of that prompt.

But, um, so just in general, like you, you have given me really great advice on, you know, do you have anything to add in terms of, like your procedures for really getting matching strong in that case. Um, also getting, um,  imitation strong, imitation strong for the body parts and commands and matching strong for the receptive ID, I think is just huge.

Well, uh, maybe let’s, let’s talk for a minute about multiple control and, uh, tie that in and see how that, that connects to all of this. Uh, multiple control basically involves where 2 or more antecedents might control a response. So we’re all, we’re all familiar with using an echoic prompt that is, I pulled up a pen and say pen. And now there, we would say I’ve got a vocal SD and a visual SD.

I might also have a motivating operation at strength. That is the child wants the pen to write something if I had something a little bit more fun. Uh, so it may be that those 3 sources of control get the child to respond.  That they can respond under the circumstances of seeing the item, wanting the item, and hearing the word.  That may be easy, but yet it allows you to evoke that word.

So I got a, I got a response now that I can do something with, I can reinforce it. Now, my task is to transfer control, as you have mentioned.  Usually, it’s the echoic, in that example, that gives away what the child should say, say pen. And I know that if I just hold up the pen, I don’t get anything, even though they might want it and try and grab it.

It’s the echoic that is the source, primary source of control. But yet these are secondary sources. My task is to make this the primary SD. So that means I’ve got to transfer control from echoic to the tact, to the object. So that whole concept of transfer stimulus control is really the core of what we do hands-on with kids.

We’re giving them lots of them prompts, so they’re successful, but the key is to fade out the prompt. And as that applied to the listener discrimination procedure, as you had suggested, uh, in, in a listener task, when I say touch pan, as you had mentioned, what the individual needs to do is scan the array, uh, and then emit some kind of response indicating the pen.

But the tricky part is that the source of control is a spoken word pen, or shoe or car and verbal stimulus control is often very difficult to acquire over kids in that, uh, over kids, verbal behavior. And that is obvious in, for example, the intraverbal relation. It’s hard to get kids to respond, to tell me a big animal that likes to swim.

Uh, there’s a lot of parts to words. And it’s hard for kids often to learn, to take those words and, and, uh, have some correspondence with the physical environment. That is what you say goes along with what I’m looking at or what I’m seeing. So the procedure you described was simply establishing a skill.

If we look at matching to sample, and if I, if I show you, if I show you a pen, And I want you to match one of these, a lot of kids can easily do that. That’s often not very hard to do is establish that under the control of this pen, I can now match it to this pen.  That is I can scan an array and I can select. That’s the exact behavior that we’re after in a listener discrimination that is, touch pen, the child touches pen.

The only difference is I got a second stimulus present. There’s our multiple control. So now I say pen, when I’m showing the pen and, uh, in a sense, all the child’s still doing is matching to sample. Uh, they’re, they’re just identifying, uh, you know, in a matching framework.  My task is to get rid of this pen and transfer stimulus control to touch pen.

And there are a variety of procedural ways to do that. We began to call that the blank card procedure, because we’d have, for example, if this had a picture of a pen on it, uh, would use that as a prompt.  I’d say find pen and the child would match to sample. Then we’d gradually put our hand over it or do it quickly find pen, find pen and pretty soon transfer control from the picture to the word.

And that’s all the procedure was, was if you’re able to do it with a visual stimulus, now I got to teach you to do it with a verbal stimulus. And it turns out that it wasn’t so hard to do. So that was always fun then to see kids now get it correctly, even though they’re looking at this blank card and what we ended up figuring, figuring out was the blank card was almost a prompt to scan the array.

When they saw the blank card, they looked for stuff, and then eventually faded out the blank part. So it’s those little procedures, but, uh, uh, it’s that kind of detail, I think, that gets us, uh, through barriers that kids struggle with often for years. Yeah. And I think it’s, um, you know, it’s one of the, I think, a lot of well, meaning professionals who are running ABA programs, whether you want to call it VB or not, or whatever you were going to call it, if you’re missing the analysis of multiple control and transfer procedures, I think that’s a lot of the crooks of the issues.  Um, I know Rick Kubina and I published in 2005 a study, which we can link in the show notes here, uh, uh, I can’t remember the name, uh, Using Transfer Procedures to Teach Tacts to a Child with Autism, it was Lucas was in the study and, um, he helped me. Rick Kubina was my mentor. And I did a podcast episode with Rick, I think we talked about that study more in-depth, but up until that point, like your, your teaching language book really recommended a lot of, uh, echoic to tact trials. But for Lucas, because I think of his strong Lovaas ABA background, where receptive was just like gold. Right? Was just taught. His receptive on his ABLLS at the time, because there was no VB MAPP at that point, his receptive column was a lot higher than his tact. And what I found with his particular profile is if I gave it to him in a receptive to tact format, it was almost like multiple choice.

And then, you know, based on that study, there were a lot more studies that were done after that. And so I’m constantly, within my procedures, within my online, I’m constantly like multiple control, multiple control, you know, like, um, blasting the matching, blasting the imitation and, and blasting the multiple control.

So you’re, you’re, instead of match, you’re saying pen, um, as they’re matching and you’re transferring it right away and we’re just having a ton of success. So thank you for that explanation. And thank you for all of what you’ve taught me over the years. Um, I feel like when I’m in your presence, you like have so much knowledge, so it’s, it’s just awesome. I hope you enjoyed that interview and listening to Dr. Mark Sandberg’s advice and insights. If you want to watch the whole interview, you can go to marybarbera.com/53. It is one of my favorite podcasts interviews, you can either listen to it as you’re on the go on Apple podcasts, just search for Turn Autism Around or if you go to my website marybarbera.com/53, you’ll get right to that, to that podcast interview that you can actually watch as well. And if you’re a parent or professional who needs more information about how to get unstuck, I’d like to invite you to a free online workshop at marybarbera.com/workshop.

If you like this little video blog, I would love it if you would give me a thumbs up, leave a comment, share with others, subscribe to my channel. I hope to see you right here next week.

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