Throughout my experiences I have had the privilege to observe and assist many children with varying skill levels. During my first interaction with the kids I usually try to just hang out and see what skills they currently have. It almost always surprises me when I notice a kid (and these are children of ALL ages) that has little to no functional communication skills, i.e. children without the ability to request desired items (through sign language, vocal language, PECs, etc). Then I take notice to the types of activities that people want to teach these kids: games, puzzles, identifying number, money, and more. This got me to thinking…by what means are we measuring “success” for our kiddos with intellectual disabilities? Does “success” mean the ability to complete a puzzle? Is it the ability to sit quietly at a table while the teacher talks? What about the ability to color within the lines?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) focuses on behaviors that are socially significant in an individual’s life. We, as behavior analysts, choose to teach skills that will directly impact the quality of life for that child. So, with this being said, the next question then becomes: What skills are most important for this child? It has been my experience that the skills that benefit my kids the most are… MANDS, this is the ability to request preferred items and activities. Could you imagine a life without being able to communicate with others your top 3 wants (for me that is chocolate, bread, and cheese). For our kids with no functional communication, they currently do not have the ability to tell others what they want. This is why, for these kids, our priority needs to be teaching them to ask for these items. Because, in their lives, I am fairly certain requesting cheese, bread, and chocolate (if it were me) would be more of a success then learning to complete a puzzle.