To learn a language is to learn the activities, practices, actions and reactions within characteristic contexts in which the rule governed use of words are integrated (Hacker, 2003). Words are integrated into activities and practices such as asking, telling, naming, directing, promising, describing, explaining, cajoling, negotiating, refuting, refusing, agreeing, correcting, teasing, tattling, inviting, etc. To learn a language is to learn to manipulate symbols (words, gesture) according to the conventions for their use; to learn their meaning. Having a language grants many benefits: to be able to reason, deliberate, to talk about our pasts and futures, hopes, wishes, disappoints and joys...etc. It only makes sense that the goals within a language-based program be those things we do in language. This is a fundamentally different conceptual framework than the current popular Stimulus-Response/ Verbal Behavior approach. At Nexus, we teach language.
At Nexus, children learn language according to their capacities. Children are taught systematically within an Early Intensive Behavior Intervention framework and are taught with the benefit of behavioral tools, strategies and techniques which, when applied expertly and appropriately, lead to effective and efficient learning. At Nexus, mastery of a language occurs outside the constraints of popular conceptual approaches.
Learning a language is not reducible to science
The bedrock of science is prediction and control. It's silly to think that language can be reduced to such terms; control and prediction. Language scoffs at such efforts and such efforts lead to an inevitable and incomprehensible muddle (the VB approach). A descriptive accounting of language frees us from this fly bottle. An 'ordinary language' framework requires that we simply survey what we do as a language users and teach what is in front of our noses.
The conceptual system for teaching children a language, whether children with autism or not, is not found in theories. Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles etc. showed us, guided us - indoctrinated us in a cultural practice. They taught us how to do all kinds of things with words... to make promises, to ask, to describe, to provide directions, to tell, to invite, warn, assert, proclaim, negotiate, confirm, disagree, offer, refuse, etc.....not to tact, mand or intra-verbal. They helped us learn the rules for the use of words that are used to express the many concepts that are a part of our language such as "what", "where", "when", "how", "why", "car", "ball", "carry, "climb", "red", "three", etc..
This is what we, as children, learned in our indoctrination in the practice. Guides in this practice don't need to have mastered a theory of language or possess a masters degree in order to guide well...it requires only their own mastery of the practice. Our job, as interventionists, is similar. Except in our case, rather than wait for situations or conditions to occur naturally so that we might guide children in what they might do/say under particular circumstances, we first need to contrive situations which allow for pointed practice and guidance around particular circumstances in which appropriate linguistic forms and accompanying words can be used... whose uses are determined by convention, not theory or science. Within those circumstances, there are no 'fixed responses' (i.e., responses "controlled" by antecedent stimuli) but rather, appropriate ones - those appropriate within the practice. Therefore, the situation in which someone greets someone by saying "Hi", does not predict or control "Hello" in return. Any number of appropriate responses can be imagined such as "Where've you been?", "How's your Mother?", "I like your hair" etc. What constitutes a 'correct' response is determined by context (circumstances), history, activity and the practices of the verbal community.
It takes a great deal of time, training and careful engineering for a child to begin to master a linguistic practice. There are constituents which need to be first acquired and elements need to be learned even before training in the practice can begin. Just like when learning to play chess...first one learns the names of the pieces, then basic moves and eventually, to consider any number of possible moves. So too in learning a language. And, the game of chess can't be reduced to science any more than the 'games' in language. To work outside of this framework is to only scratch at language.
It takes a great deal of time, training, practice and study for a practitioner to artfully construct an intervention program that will bring this all together for young persons with ASD; for those persons who can't manage to do it without extraordinary assistance.
What we mean by language
Language and Skinner's Verbal Behavior:
They are not the same