Transitions/Generalization of Skill

Transitions Between Staff and School Years

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Sometimes individuals with severe disabilities communicate in ways that are best understood by communication partners who know that individual well. Practical strategies for providing information about how a child or adult learner communicates include developing

  1. a list of things that the individual likes and dislikes so that communication can focus on those preferences;
  2. a communication signal inventory that lists behaviors that the person uses to communicate, what the behavior means, and how to respond to it meaningfully.

Social networks offer another tool that can be used to provide a comprehensive overview of an individual's communication abilities from the perspectives of persons who know that person best. Social networks also help the clinician identify areas that need further assessment, especially in a new situation. The social networks tool uses a structured interview format to identify and document how a given individual communicates (e. g., gestures, vocalization, AAC devices); the important communication partners in the person's daily life (family, friends, people at school); the topics she or he likes to communicate about in conversations with various people; and the strategies people use to support the individual's comprehension and use of communication.

Bottom Line: Transition is a process that occurs as individuals move from one classroom, program, or educational setting to another. Careful planning for all transitions can ensure that an individual's communication skills are supported and that new skills continue to develop.

Generalization of Skills Between Home and School/Work/Placement

When an individual is generalizing communication skills in one setting and not another, this may occur because a holistic approach to contexts in not being used. Another common reason may be that some communication partners may be more familiar with the individual's communication behaviors. A person's familiarity with the individual's unique communication style and idiosyncratic behaviors that convey meaning will influence communication exchanges. Another influence may be that some professionals or family members are supporting the communication that promotes interactions (for example, initiating all communication in the form of simple questions and interpreting affect changes as meaningful indicators of agreement or disagreement).

The recommended course of action is to gather evidence about the communication behaviors, preferably through direct observation but also through parent report and staff feedback. It is important to document the details of the situations leading up to the individual's communication behavior (the antecedents), the characteristics of the behavior itself, the consequences of the behavior (e.g., the parent's response), and the individual's reaction to that response. The analysis of authentic communication behaviors in specific familiar situations may reveal communication strategies that the individual uses effectively, which can then be incorporated into the individual's school, community, and home program and can serve as the foundation for facilitation of more conventional communication skills through holistic interventions.

A holistic approach to service is imperative, given the difficulty individuals with severe communication have in generalizing skills. Traditionally, service providers have worked one-on-one with students in isolated treatment contexts, and this has resulted in less meaningful outcomes for persons with severe disabilities. Intervening more holistically means creating a broader group of individuals from school, home, or community settings who are invested in facilitating an individual's communication success. This extended group works in consultation with the speech-language pathologist to create, implement, and evaluate treatment plans.

Bottom Line: There are times when an individual demonstrates communication skills at home, but doesn't use those skills at school (or in a vocational placement) or vice versa. Communication services and supports can be provided using a holistic approach to meeting the communication-related needs of individuals with severe disabilities rather than the traditional approach of providing interventions within isolated treatment contexts.