One in 68 Children has Autism

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Some considerations when working on improving communication deficit

November 18, 2013 2:21 pm Published by

Children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder have persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts as one of the symptoms. This impairment is usually manifested in lack of social-emotional reciprocity, poor integration of verbal and nonverbal communication and difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts. Delays in communication usually vary in severity ranging from monotone speech about preferred topic to a total absence of verbal communication. Often individuals with ASD do not effectively perform the single most important task of communication and language, and that is expressing their wants and needs (i.e. making requests, exhibiting mands) and, as a result, they have very little control over what happens to them in their daily lives.

Further, multiple researches has shown that communication impairment is correlated with an increased risk of challenging behavior and reduced opportunities for community involvement and therefore it is understandable why a huge amount of intervention research has focused on developing successful procedures for improving communication skills of individuals with ASD.

 In most cases, the traditional developmental model of language represents the basis for teaching communication and language skills, however in this model, the primary unit of communication and language is the word and words, signs, pictures, or symbols are taught without much regard to the circumstances present during instruction. For example, some expressive language is taught as “labels” (“car”, “table”, “spoon”), some as “answers to questions or responses to statements” (“more”, “fine”, “please”, “hello, my name is___ “) and some as “generalized requests” (“eat”, “drink”, and “break”). For children and adults with ASD, the words, signs, or pictures they learn in one circumstance, don’t tend to occur in other circumstances without additional instruction. In many cases, this result in little to no expressive language or communication responses that are useful or important to the person, in other words, the person does not learn how to make specific requests (i.e. “no mands”).

Very often, this also results in problem behaviors. Individuals begin to communicate by screaming, dropping to the floor, hitting, spitting, kicking, biting, etc. and, if these behaviors result in what the individual wants, even intermittently, these same behaviors function as either specific or generalized requests (“problem mands”) and tend to occur again and again…Then, usually a clinician is asked to conduct a functional assessment in order to develop a plan to reduce the frequency of the problem behaviors and replace these behaviors with more appropriate alternatives. Often, these “replacement” behaviors are either a limited array of receptive skills (following directions or completing assigned tasks) or “generalized requests” for attention, escape, or access to categories of preferred items and activities (i.e. eat, drink, play, more, please, etc.)

When the only “replacement” behaviors are receptive skills, we are teaching poor speakers to be better listeners and when the “replacement” behaviors are generalized requests, we are teaching poor speakers to be non-specific speakers.

Neither is adequate…

Ideal practice should include teaching individuals to make specific requests (SPECIFIC MANDS) and expanded array of receptive skills (following directions, completing assigned tasks, waiting, sharing, and accepting no) (GENERALIZED COMPLIANCE).

In other words we should be teaching poor speakers to be effective, specific speakers who have more control over what happens in their daily lives while also teaching them to be good listeners in a wide variety of commonly occurring situations. Under these circumstances we could expect to see that when individuals have more control and power over what happens in their daily lives they tend to exhibit far lower rate of problem behavior.

Nevena Savic, MA


From Avoiding Eye Contact to Hosting Tea Parties

December 29, 2011 9:58 pm Published by
When four-year-old Jaden entered the QSAC preschool in January 2011, he experienced major difficulties socializing, speaking, making eye contact and acknowledging his peers and teachers. Less than one year later – through persistent efforts of QSAC teachers in collaboration with Jaden’s family – Jaden has achieved remarkable progress. He will now answer who, what, and where questions as well as ask questions spontaneously. Jaden loves to host pretend tea parties for his friends. His teachers are proud of his ongoing accomplishments and will continue to help Jaden achieve great things in the future! 

A Lot Can Happen in Seven Years

December 27, 2011 4:50 pm Published by

Crimson enrolled at the QSAC Day School when she was nine years old. Although a capable learner, Crimson had difficulty tolerating many academic tasks or even short delays in having requests fulfilled. As a result, she exhibited a wide range of disruptive behaviors such as dropping to the floor, screaming, and crying. Highly-intensive intervention was required. Rewards were provided for every correct response to academics tasks and for very short durations of time without problem behavior. Gradually, she learned to tolerate longer and longer delays. More and more, she tolerated frustrations throughout the day that had caused intense outbursts in the past. As her behavior improved, more and more focus could be given to her social and academic skills. Now, as a 16-year-old, Crimson demonstrates that a great variety of improvements in many areas. She no longer exhibits intensely disruptive behavior. She speaks at appropriate volumes and with appropriate tones. She learns quickly and is largely independent in a wide variety of self-care and vocational tasks that are a part of the school’s transition program. She is social with her peers and instructors, shows an interest in her daily activities, and is a regular performer at our annual graduation festivities! We’re proud of the progress that Crimson has made and look forward to seeing the possibilities for her future unfold.

Working Towards Independence

December 23, 2011 7:30 pm Published by

Aaron has been receiving QSAC services since he was two years old. He began with QSAC’s Early Intervention class at age two and is now four years old and attending the QSAC Preschool. His teacher remembers the first day he arrived to Class 10, where he was crying because he was so scared. He didn’t talk much and needed a lot of help to eat, get dressed, and complete class activities. Through working with teachers alone and in groups, and through continual repetition and practice, he progressed substantially and has become very independent. His family was especially happy when he was toilet trained and didn’t have to wear diapers anymore. More recently he has been working hard to improve fine motor skills. Aaron will be missed by his many friends and teachers when he graduates from the preschool in August 2012. 


QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, together with their families, in achieving greater independence, realizing their future potential, and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way by offering person-centered services.

QSAC pursues this mission through direct services that provide a supportive and individualized setting for children and adults with autism to improve their communication, socialization, academic, and functional skills.