by: Frank Frias, Ph.D, BCBA-D, LBA
- How do we learn to listen?
- What experiences build the foundations for children to attend to different features of their environment?
- How can we identify the fundamental skills needed for children to continue to learn throughout their life?
Answering these questions will serve as the starting point for a continued effort to help parents and professionals, responsible for the care and education of young children, with the tools they need to identify potential sources of learning deficits and respond appropriately.
What are the 6 Pre-verbal Developmental Foundational Skills?
- Attention to voices: which has been found to occur even before birth. Infants learn to not only attend to their mother’s voice while still in the womb, but there is evidence of babies responding to culture specific music, and their native language at birth.
- Attention to faces: which has been observed with infants as young as a few of days old. Interestingly, even preference for attractive over unattractive faces and own-race faces has been observed in newborn infants.
- Visual Tracking of Objects: This is a necessary skill for children to visually scan their environment and attend to different objects in their field of view. This skill is essential for children to learn to match and identify objects in their environment as listeners.
- Attention to Printed Material: As one of the most important prerequisite skills needed for later reading ability, this behavioral cusp allows children to come into contact with 2-dimensional pictures and text in their environment. This includes letters, numbers, books, and community and safety signs, to name a few.
- Generalized Imitation: Although the terms are used interchangeably, generalized imitation differs from imitation in that imitation occurs as a result of performing actions that are already in a child’s skill set or have been taught through direct teaching of specific movements, whereas generalized imitation refers to the capability that allows a child to learn new and more complex motor movements through observation and no longer require direct instruction to learn new imitation responses. Generalized imitation establishes the conditioned reinforcement for seeing and action and performing the action.
- The Capacity for Sameness: This skill encompasses a child’s ability to match things that they hear, see, feel, smell, and taste. The capacity for sameness across their senses extends beyond visually matching pictures, to matching specific sounds that are heard, smells and tastes of preferred or non-preferred foods, and pleasant or unpleasant textures. This behavioral cusp sets the foundation for more complex matching and discrimination skills and has been found to result in the acquisition of new and untaught speaker and listener responses across the senses.
When a child has had the appropriate instructional histories and experiences that have led to the acquisition of these 6 foundational skills, they move past a learning plateau that could hinder further success. These six foundational cusps/capabilities have been found to be the source of learning difficulties for children, even when they have been receiving instruction that has been designed to measure and evaluate every learning opportunity between a child and a teacher or caregiver.
What is “Good Teaching”
One of the questions I’m asked most frequently by parents and professionals working with young children is “Why is my child/student not learning this skill?” In response to these questions I ask the caregiver multiple questions that provide me with information to determine whether the instruction or teaching moments they are trying to capture were optimal for their child’s success.
Good teaching: At a Glance
How can Teaching be Informative for a Parent or Caregiver?
Here is a brief overview of the major components used to inform instruction.
- Is objective, and does not rely on arbitrary assumptions about learning progress
- Relies on the long-term benefits of the skill taught as opposed to focusing how the skill looks initially
- Considers every aspect of each teaching moment.
- Is programmed to ensure reinforcement and corrective feedback that is effective in maintaining or shaping responses
- Is adaptable to immediate changes within instruction
- Is evidence-based and involves a scientific process
It is important to determine whether there are solutions for a learning difficulty that can be addressed by analyzing how you are teaching, before attempting to identify a missing foundational skill that may be the source of a learning plateau.
When Good Teaching isn’t Enough
Now that you’ve learned how Informative Teaching can help when analyzing the sources of learning difficulties, what do you do when you’ve ruled out the type of instruction your child is receiving as a potential indicator of learning deficits?
The Verbal Behavior Developmental Cusps/Capabilities described at the beginning of this article have been conceptualized and empirically tested in multiple studies with children with and without disabilities. The procedures for testing for or inducing some or most of these foundational skills can be found in Verbal Behavior Analysis: Inducing and Expanding New Verbal Capabilities in Children with Language Delays by Greer & Ross. Alternatively, there are several more recent studies which have replicated and extended the procedures from that text. Many professionals with the appropriate training in the identification and induction of new verbal developmental cusps and capabilities have come from schools following the Comprehensive Application of Behavior Analysis to Schooling (CABAS®) model developed through the graduate research program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Typically, graduates from the Teaching as Applied Behavior Analysis program at Teachers College, Columbia University have demonstrated competency in the delivery of Learn Units and in the implementation of procedures to test for and induce new verbal developmental cusps and capabilities.
Here at SPBS/SCI, nearly all of our directors have received training in identifying and inducing VB cusps/capabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University. This makes our team unique in that we are experts in early Verbal Behavior Development and exceptionally capable of treating your child.
If you’d like to learn more or talk to Dr. Frank Frias directly about this, please give our office a call at 480.410.4040, or send an email to [email protected]
Kisilevsky, Hains, Jacquet, & Granier-Deferre, 2004;Kuhl, Williams, Lacerda, Stevens, & Lindblom; Moon, Cooper, Fifer, 1993; Soley & Hannon, 2010
Kelly, Quinn, Slater, Lee, Gibson, Smith, Ge, & Pascalis 2005; Slater, Von der Schulenburg, Brown, Badenoch, Butterworth, Parsons, & Samuels, 1998
Du & Greer, 2014
Frias, 2017; Longano & Greer, 2014; Lo, 2016