We all want our children to be able to answer yes and no questions. It just makes life so much easier when we feel we know what they want and do not want. It is a common speech goal with our students with severe speech challenges. By being able to respond with a yes or no a child can describe preferences, answer questions, and clearly express their wants and needs. Right?
ASHA shares, "Intervention should focus on providing the individual opportunities to influence family members, staff and peers by expressing wants, needs, and preferences and having others respond to their expressions."
Kate Ahern, author of Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs blog, shares in her posting Best Yes" and Rewarding Successive Approximation: Shaping, simply put, is rewarding the small steps that lead to a large success. Also known as "rewarding successive approximations" I call it, "Close enough is good enough, for now." By which I mean that if we reward a first time step towards meeting a goal and then each tiny step closer we will eventually get there. Shaping is baby steps. In the case of yes/no this starts with something known as "best yes".
Below was shared by a colleague of mine, however the author is unknown. It is the best explanation of teaching yes/no to students with complex communication needs (CCN) that I have read. I hope it helps you to understand that yes/no is a cognitively demanding strategy. Not that we shouldn't try to teach it but that we must be aware of what and how we are trying to do so.
- Yes, all children can and do communicate from the moment of birth. It is important to remember that communication is not just speech. There are a variety of ways to communicate, such as crying when hungry, tugging on mother's skirt to get juice, and speaking in sentences.
- Life is more than yes and no. Sometimes we need a maybe, I don’t know, I don’t care, etc. Offering a third response should be considered. To communicate these, it could be a shoulder shrug, looking up or....
- Because yes and no really can mean accept and reject, affirm or deny, and often just rhetorical questions- we must be sure what types of questions we are asking. When we are trying to develop a yes and no with our students, be sure to ask accept and deny questions only until we are sure that they understand, then we can move on.
- It is best to have a physical method for communicating yes, no and your third choice. Head nods are preferred and should always be modeled (exaggerating your own head nod with the verbal with every yes/no response that you give). If your child cannot produce a head nod, look to see what they are using and make sure everyone knows their method.
- As with teaching all forms of communication: model, model, model. All day, every day. Exaggerate your modeling. “You like this toy? Yes!” “You want to go outside? Yes!” “You are upset, aren’t you? Yes.” "You want this? Yes." When you say yes, model that head nod!!
yes/no questions are deceptive in their apparent simplicity. Questions serve many different functions:
- Do you want your juice? Acceptance/rejection; in the here and now
- Did you go swimming today? Confirmation/denial; in the past
- Typically developing children have difficulty reliably answering yes/no questions before the age of 30 months. By about 18 months, they recognize a yes/no question and respond, but usually in the affirmative because that is what is expected as a response.
- The typically developing child is introduced to “no” in terms of prohibiting his action. Children with severe disabilities hear the word “no” much less. When asked a yes/no questions, typically developing children give some kind of feedback about whether or not they understood the question.
- Communication partners of children with CCNs frequently have to guess whether or not the question was understood.
For teaching strategies, please visit Kate Ahern's blog. She provides teaching strategies that I know I embrace. Kate also provides some fun ways to teach yes and no along with some resources worth exploring. She also provides you with strategies for using books to teach yes and no.Linda Burkhart's process of teaching yes/no with the use of recordable switches is my favorite and Kate describes it well: The Yes/No Series and 10 Steps to Teach a Head Nod and Shake
But please consider: Life is more than yes and no. Encourage and accept many forms of communication. Do not always focus on these two simple words that are not so simple and remember - there is so much more to communicate than yes and no anyway! I encourage you to explore Multi-Modal Communication Strategies. And remember, As ASHA Shares: "In summary, "yes" and "no" are very important vocabulary that all of us use often. However, it may be difficult for children with severe disabilities to learn these responses at the beginning stages of communication. Alternative symbols and signals that indicate a desired or an undesired object or event may be easier to learn."
What is Multi-Modal Communiction? EVERYTHING an individual uses to communicate or enhance communication. Different strategies may be needed for different situations and communication partners. Strategies and tools may be combined to meet a wide variety of communication functions.In essence, all communication is Multi-Modal: we use language, gesture, posture, and other non-verbal modes often at the same time as we use objects in the world and the environment itself in order to communicate.
Please visit the Bridge School Website and take a few minutes to watch their short and to the point videos in each section. Every teacher, educational assistant and parent of a student with severe communication challenges should take the time to explore life beyond yes and no.