How to Make Communication Temptations Really Work

April 14, 2012 by - 8 Comments

Communication Temptations Really Work
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We have been thinking about communication opportunities & temptations for a long time.  We actually think communication temptations are super fun (we promise, we really do have lives).  We are not actors by nature but we can pull off almost anything for a communication temptation.   We will pretend it is hard to open that jar, pretend we didn’t know that it is sooo hot, pretend we didn’t know the gorilla was in the room … at least until the learner lets us know.  But……We still need to go past our acting skills to make communication temptations work.   Here is a our quick 5 step process  for making communication temptations work:

  1. Decide on the Goal–  Goals can be anything from specific communication functions (i.e., requesting, protesting, showing off, greeting, commenting, etc.),  semantic concepts (i.e., recurrence, action, attribute, locative, object etc…we need to always think about the goal), or even syntactical language concepts.  I will never forget from wayyyy back in graduate school (Thank you so much Dr. Amy Wetherby— & yes, I was so lucky).  I would be thinking  ‘how can I entice communication more ‘?  I knew I had great toys (thanks mom & dad for believing) but Dr. Wetherby would always write on my feedback– nice activity but…. “What’s the point”? or as I now know it to be ‘whats the specific goal’?.
  2. Plan and Set up the Communication Temptation Again, way back to graduate school: Long distance relationships are not always great but for planning communication temptations, the commuting time (driving for hours between 2 colleges) really worked.  I would think and think of how to tempt communication.  One idea that I still use today is the use of a ‘ketchup’ cup instead of a regular cup for snack time.  People often ask me, what is a ketchup cup– it is the little cups you get from a fast food restaurant to put the ketchup in (I have also used medicine cups).  Over the years, we have been able to modify and now use espresso cups that are sold in our area. They look just like a regular paper cup just much smaller.  Communication temptations have always been super fun to me even if I have been called some names that some people would find derogatory (torturer comes to mind).  So what if I cut m & m’s in 4’s, my students could ask for as many as they wanted and I would give it to them, or so what if I stood in front of the TV while they were watching their favorite DVD, all they had to do was ask me to move.  We think of it like this, the more communication temptations we do each day, the more practice our students will get being the initiator of communication and as they get better and better at being the initiator instead of the responder they will be able to get what they want, socially interact, and self advocate much more than if we taught them to only respond when we asked them what they wanted, or we initiated every interaction with a “look at this”.
  3. Model the Target Goal with Visual Supports/AAC systemConsider taking a turn with the communication temptation and model expectations. When you see a huge stuffed animal in the middle of a room, model the target language.  Don’t forget aided language input (ALI). Then the next time you present the temptation, do #4.
  4. Implement a Wait & Signal Cue (use a time delay prompt)- Once you have the communication temptation in place, wait and expect communication.  If nothing happens, try to use a gestural cue (gesture in general towards the visual support or AAC device), if nothing happens still (& this may occur when first introduced) use a more specific visual cue (point to the appropriate words/symbols), and if more cueing is needed then try a physical prompt (one of the great things about using visual supports/AAC, is that you can physically prompt unlike a spoken speech only approach where you can not get into someone’s mouth and move it to make the correct words).
  5. Reinforce Appropriately – Honor the temptation if it is a request (i.e., “more”- give the more- the toy, the food, etc.). Simultaneously, use a language expansion (i.e., more Lego’s). The general rule is if the learner  uses 0 words, model 1 word, if the learner uses 1 word model 2 words, if the learner uses 2 words, model 3 words, and if the learner uses 3 words model 4 words. Once a learner is using 4 words then you can model several more words (i.e., Learner- “want the big one”….Language Facilitator ” Come on, give me the really big one because I am starving”).  We use the reinforcement to give a more advanced form of language feedback with communication temptations.  We always use a positive vocal intonation with our language expansion but we avoid saying ‘good talking’ or ‘great use of a descriptor’ because at best that helps general positive feelings and at worst for many of my learners, they learn to say ‘good talking’ after everything they do….. (talk about making someone look different)
5 cool communication temptations for REQUESTING– that we used with a young man, Wayne. When we first met Wayne, it seemed he did not want to take part in any activity and he had frequent self-injurious behavior. He did not use any spoken speech and was somewhat obsessed with round objects.  We found out quickly with an AAC device and visual supports that he had a great sense of humor, was creative, and loved learning (if he was interested). He also had an uncanny ability to recognize which people thought he had potential to learn language…..
  1. Temptation– Balls in a plastic jar that had a screw type top learner could not open (any other jars, he could figure out how to open, but we could always close screw tops tighter then he could open & glass jars could easily be thrown into a wall and……).   Language  Target progressed from  ‘want ball’——- ‘want the ball with the rainbow inside’).
  2. Temptation-We would try to play with his favorite tennis ball but he had quick access to a no-tech symbol that indicated he wanted to ‘play alone’.  Language Target-  progressed from ‘alone’———-‘want to play alone please just for a while’.
  3. TemptationAfter playing tennis, we would serve water in a very small cup (we live in Florida and it is very very ….very hot)  Language Target- ‘more—– please give me the big cup so I don’t wither away’.
  4. Temptation-Turn on the heat in the car (we still live in Florida, thanks Gwen (a mom) for this great idea). Language Target-progressed from ‘cool to please put on the air conditioner or else I may faint’
  5. Temptation-  sit in the chair next to his mom after a session and he learned this usually meant we would have a long conversation with mom  (he liked to leave once finished,  he came to see us us after a full day of school)   Language Target- progressed from ‘hurry’  to ‘please mom, I want to leave right now’.
The underlying assumption to all of Wayne’s communication temptations is that the learner likes or is motivated by the temptation. Without the motivation, there is no enticement/temptation.
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This post was written by Robin Parker


  • Christina Doelling says:

    Hi Robin
    I couldn’t find my handout for communicative temptations this morning so I “googled” it. Up popped your blog about communicative temptations and mentioned graduate school with Dr. Wetherby. I too am a former FSU grad school, Dr. Wetherby student! It was WAY back in the early stages of CSBS development and we all got to be her guinea pigs to try it out! I’ll never forget one summer her Autism class was offered as an elective to the other College of Communication students. I think they all thought it would be easy and it was a class in the same building (Diffenbaugh) but they all almost failed. It was hard for us but imagine if you were not a SLP major! I love talking about my days at FSU and although at the time I thought Dr. Wetherby’s classes were the most difficult. I really learned the most working with her! I love what she taught me and how she taught me to look at communication in general.

    Keep up the good work you do.

    Christina Doelling

    • Robin Parker says:

      So cool to ‘meet’ another FSU/Dr. Wetherby student. I also have such great memories of my time learning and having fun at FSU. I appreciate the time you took to introduce yourself and comment about the blog and communication. Definitely keep in touch.

  • Ian Boniface says:

    Hello. I happened upon this article because it’s currently circulating in the autistic community on Tumblr, along with discussion of how uncomfortable it makes us all. Upon reading what of this I could stomach, I felt I had to comment. I am an autistic adult. The kind of “games” you’re describing are the same kind of thing that teachers and counselors and therapists have tried on me over the years. They are exactly the type of things that made it harder and harder for me to communicate, both in the moment, and later in life. I was a confident child, excited to communicate with others, until I was forcefully taught that my way of communicating was “wrong”, and made to jump through never ending hoops trying to communicate in the “right” way. Now I have severe social anxiety and complex PTSD. Playing tricks on autistic children to try and manipulate them into what you think they should be is the last thing they need. What they need, what they have a fundamental right to, is alternative communication and self determination. I hope that you, and others like you, will learn to take into consideration the thoughts and feelings of autistic people when you work with us. Thank you.

    • Carole Zangari says:

      Ian, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Robin Parker, the author of this post, can’t respond (she passed away). I can’t speak for her, of course, but knowing her for 20 years I do think she would appreciate your comment and the spirit with which it was shared. She was passionate about helping people who are nonverbal find a way to to express themselves. Robin honored all ways of communicating, and was a fierce advocate for others to do the same. She was equally passionate about the power of language, and helping people develop it so that they could say what they wanted to, whenever they wanted to, to whomever they wanted to. (She took great joy in situations where kids would protest, reject, or disagree and worked to foster their self-advocacy.) Robin was especially concerned with those who were under-served and still nonverbal as adolescents and adults because others had given up on them. What may not have come across in this post is the fun and joy that were central to her therapy sessions. Kids learn best when they are respected and feel safe, but also when they are fully engaged in good instruction that they enjoy. She strived to use evidence-based strategies, like communication temptations, but her thinking certainly evolved over the years and no one was more eager to listen to (and learn from) her clients that Robin. As SLPs, we don’t always get it right. The good ones listen to their clients, and modify their approach based on what they learn. She was one of the best and I think she would have really enjoyed a dialogue with you (and others) about better ways to teach and empower people through communication. Thanks again for commenting and especially for giving me something to think about. With new information, we must grow and change our practices.

      • Hi Robin,
        I too am a former student of Dr. Amy Wetherby at FSU!!! She is an incredible woman and I am again learning from her through her newest training named: Autism Navigator. It is AMAZING, guiding SLPs, and Pediatric Primary care physicians through (with TONS of video clips) ways to identify children with autism by 18 months.
        She is still working on changing the world and in the field of early identification for autism. she IS CHANGING. at this point, the state of Florida.

        • Carole Zangari says:

          Janet, thanks so much for stopping by to share this information. Sadly, Robin passed away last year but she was following Dr. Wetherby’s work and was so excited about its potential to change the lives of these children and empower them to fully express themselves.

  • Patricia says:

    Sorry, but withholding water from someone with communication challenges after an exercise isn’t a “temptation to communicate”. It’s mistreatment.

    It’s a violation of trust. I hope that people don’t think this is a good idea in any way.

    Now that we have the internet, there are non-speaking autistic bloggers sharing their experiences, and this kind of stuff, from their reported experience, is more harmful than helpful.

    We non-autistic/non-communication challenged people need to step back and listen to those we’re supposedly trying to help. Because these “helpful” things often just aren’t.

    • Carole Zangari says:

      Patrica, Robin passed away a few years ago so cannot respond but I can certainly say that our thinking certainly evolved since this was first written. Thank you for stopping by to share this important perspective.

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