The Autism Society Event and Education Recordings Archive

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5680 Teaching Speech to Young Nonverbal Children with Autism

Thursday, July 7, 2011: 3:15 PM-4:30 PM
Sun 3-4 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
This session will provide the learner with an overview of the VBT (Verbal Behavior Therapy) Program, an evidence-based program designed to rapidly teach speech production to young children with autism who are nonverbal and who may have poor vocal imitation skills. Results of four nonverbal children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder are reported. One of the most challenging tasks facing professionals working in autism intervention is teaching vocal imitation and speech production to young nonverbal children with autism who may have poor vocal imitation skills.  The VBT (Verbal Behavior Therapy) program is an evidenced based program designed to teach rapid acquisition of expressive speech. Speech is taught in the context of activities that incorporate preferred objects and actions.  Unlike most other ABA or Verbal Behavior programs, in a VBT program initial speech acquisition targets are sounds that the child may be producing operantly during the course of the day rather than exclusively targeting early developing speech sounds.

Initially, the therapist must conduct a reinforcer inventory. Specific reinforcers are then paired with specific sounds that the child has been reported or observed to produce.  The child is then prompted to imitate a sound to gain access to a preferred object or action.  If the child is not able to imitate the initial target sounds, then to increase sound production he is then rewarded for any vocal response. Using shaping procedures, including differential reinforcement of successive approximations, sounds are shaped into words and word approximations.  After an initial verbal repertoire has been established, receptive language targets are introduced.  Increasing utterance length is targeted as well. Single word responses are then shaped into longer utterances using differential reinforcement. Additionally, VBT utilizes a very engaging, fast paced, and animated instructional presentation style which differs significantly from traditional ABA programs.  

Children receiving VBT are typically seen for 1-2 two hours per week by a VBT trained therapist.  Parents are involved in the therapy sessions and work with their children at home 2-4 times a day for 20 to 30 minute sessions.  The cost for a VBT is typically about $3,000 to $5,000 per year. In comparison, a typical ABA or Verbal Behavior program can range from $30,000 to $50,000 per year.  VBT program outcomes often match or exceed outcomes for more traditional ABA and VB programs. 

This presentation presents case studies of four subjects who were diagnosed with ASD. Ages ranged from 18 to 28 months.  Three of the children had been receiving more traditional speech therapy for 6 months on longer and were still nonverbal.  The fourth child received only VBT starting at 18  months of age.  At three years of age, as the children were aging out of early intervention programs and into public school programs, none of the subjects qualified for speech therapy because their receptive and expressive language skills were too high. 

In recent years, the VBT program has been utilized to prevent a diagnosis autism or at least decrease the severity of the disorder in children at risk for a diagnosis of autism.  

During this presentation, participants will learn how to select initial target sounds  for speech production.  Participants will also learn how to conduct a reinforcer inventory.  Participants will learn how to pair specific sounds with specific reinforcers.  Participants will also learn strategies for teaching sound imitation and for shaping sounds into words  Participants will also learn how to help children gain receptive language skills. This session would be appropriate for Speech-Language Pathologists,  Behavior Analysts, Teachers, and Parents.   


Learning Objectives:

  • The learner will be able to discuss how to determine initial target sounds for speech production in a nonverbal child with autism.
  • The learner will be able to discuss how to select appropriate reinforcers to pair with target sounds for echoic manding.
  • The learner will be able to discribe how to shape from single word responses to phrase and sentence production.
  • The learner will be able to discuss how to incorporate reasoning and problem solving into expressive language activities.
  • The learner will be able to discuss shaping speech production using reinforcement of successive approximations.

Content Area: Communication


LorRainne Jones, M.A., CCC-SLP, Ph.D.
Director, Kid Pro Therapy Services
Kid Pro Therapy Services

Dr. Jones is the director of Kid Pro Therapy Sevices in Tampa, Florida. She is a licensed speech-language pathologist with a Ph.D. in Education. Dr. Jones specializes in the treatment of young nonverbal children with autism and has used VBT successfuly for over 20 years.