Learning Environment that Mirrors Real Life
You can tell from the above picture that Nicole is not very comfortable holding that frog. When asked why she held the frog, Nicole responded, “The kids made me do it! That’s the only reason I held it, for the kids to learn.” The joy of seeing Nicole step out of her comfort zone was the encouragement some of the children at the camp also needed to step out of their comfort zone. Too often we shelter children from situations that make them uncomfortable. Children need opportunities to take risks and learn to solve problems for themselves.
To help children with special needs, we have to factor in real life situations even in therapy. In the clinic we try to encourage and expand on our clients language and problem solving skills using evidence based approaches. For example, we use the Milieu teaching strategy along with other strategies to teach language and problem solving in daily incidents that we create within the clinical environment. Milieu is used widely in preschool settings, but it can be adapted for children with special needs, regardless of age. With Milieu teaching, you manipulate tasks in the natural environment to create situations to target the skills you want the child to learn. Using a practice like Milieu you can help children struggling with ASD, Downs syndrome and other developmental delays, learn social relationships and use language naturally in given day to day situations. Milieu approach uses four steps: modeling, mand-modeling, incidental teaching, and time-delay. Modeling basically means creating situations for you to model and instruct the child on desired behavior or language. With the Milieu teaching the target behavior must be of high interest to the child and also initiated by the child. For example, the child performs a task and you reinforce it both verbally while also modeling the desired behavior.
This approach works great in our Summer Camps, as we have typical peers provide expected behaviors and we then facilitate them. Manding-model is another step in this approach and it is one we use in our social skills programs. Once again you wait for the situation to occur naturally and then you facilitate the appropriate response by providing the needed phrases or cues to the child. With incidental teaching you provide instructions within ongoing typical activities based on child’s interest and motivation. Incidental instruction is used frequently in our Tweets groups, as we give clients steps, we might pause between step the steps and look expectantly to see if they can problem solve or we need to repeat the directions. We also incorporate other strategies such as ‘The Thinking Zone’ in the social events.
Uduak Osom, MA. CCC-SLP, created ‘The Thinking Zone’ approach. It aligns with Lev S. Vygotsky’s social cognitive learning development theory that “Every function in the child’s cultural, development occurs twice”(1978). It first occurs at a social level and later at individual level. ‘The Thinking Zone’ was created to teach reasoning, thinking and problem solving using a language based approach. Like the Milieu approach, all tasks are taught in a naturally occurring environment. For example, during tasks we encourage the children to create a thinking box to assist in thinking through difficult situations. The therapist or teacher narrates an event occurring during a game or activities, then the students create a thinking box for the event. This we call zone one of our thinking, recognizing that there is a problem.
In zone two we identify the problem and analyze if the problem relates to our emotional state or if it is just a general problem that does not affect us emotionally.
If the problem impacts us emotionally we use the emotional thinking to create a link of emotions and relationships. Basically, while the person or child is struggling to understand how and why a problem exists, simplifying the magnitude of the problem into smaller units helps the person analyze the problem more independently. It is also important that you know the zones of the ‘child’s size’ of the problem and the degree as to how independently the child can solve the problem before you assist the child. Give the child choices as shown below and help the child determine the degree of help needed.
In zone four the child is able to define what he or she needs in order to resolve the problem.
The student has to use SPACE independently to create the sequence and problem solve, just as you had done when you were introducing the skill. SPACE is a conversational strategy that comes directly from a language technique created by Barbara Hoskins, Ph.D. Research shows that increased generalization of learned skills occurs more often when the person learns to initiate the behavior and solve the problem independently, than when adults directly solve the problem for the young learner. Therefore, we need to provide strategies that encourage children to independently use language and socialize in everyday situations.