TEACHING FFCS IN THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
FFCs refers to "features, functions, and classes". Once the child is able to mand a great many items as well as receptively identify them and label them, we can start FFC training. These types of responses teach the child to talk about things rather than just label them. What we are trying to teach the child is to form "intraverbal links" or associations between objects and their parts, features, functions as well as different classes or categories to which the item can belong. There are different target skills in the ABLLS under the receptive, labeling (tact) and intraverbal sections that refer to this process of teaching FFCs but we actually teach them together.
One of the best ways for parents to begin teaching their children FFCs at home is to teach within the contexts of their daily activities. This is the way that typically developing children learn language. Children with Autism can also learn this way but often require more specific teaching procedures in order to be successful.
Some parents mistakenly assume that if they are going to teach their child, they need to be sitting at a table, working. This is not true. What we want to do instead is take advantage of all of the "teachable moments" throughout the child's day. Teaching the child in the environment in which you want the language to occur in the future avoids the need for as much generalization training in your program.
The Partington and Sundberg teaching manual contains a list of common things that can be taught but parents can create their own lists by thinking about the types of activities during which they interact with their child throughout the day. For example, think of all the different things you can teach your child as part of getting dressed, toileting, eating meals, going places in the car, shopping at the grocery store etc. and write them down on data sheets.
Then, pick two or three of these things to focus your teaching on at one time. This does not mean you will only talk about these targets during these activities but that you will provide concentrated teaching on them. If we try to teach too much at one time, the child may have difficulty remembering everything. Instead, it's better to provide focused teaching on a few things at a time and once those targets are mastered, add new ones. Once targets are mastered, it doesn't mean we don't talk about them anymore or ask the questions any longer. It just means we may not ask the question quite as often as we mix it in with new questions the child is learning to answer. Some parents actually write the current targets on a piece of paper posted in the area that the activity most frequently occurs so that everyone involved with the child will remember to teach them.
When teaching FFCs, we are going to transfer from the label (tact) so it's very important that the child is able to label all of the items you are using as targets. Some children may be able to label the items on pictures or in books but not be able to name the actual item in the environment! To check this out, ask your child to name the items and only include them as targets if the child can name them quickly with no prompts (fluently). If not, review the sections on teaching the child to receptively identify and label objects and teach those skills first. Wait until the child can fluently label the item before beginning FFC training on that target.
Some people always begin FFC training with receptive tasks. This can also be done in the natural environment by using a game type format. For example, maybe you could ask the child to "find the thing you sleep in" when playing in the bedroom and run with him to the bed to show him what you want him to do. Receptive training is not necessarily required before learning to respond to questions about the items because we are looking for a way the child can already respond to use for the transfer and a receptive response (pointing, touching, finding) is different from actually saying the name of the item (tacting).
When beginning FFC training, start by getting the child to say the name of the item (tact) in whatever way he has been typically successful in the past then transfer it to the FFC condition. Some children, especially those who may have a negative history with questions, may perform best if the "Fill-in" is taught first.
Example: (at night when the child is getting ready for bed)
Parent: "We sleep in aChild: bed In this case, the child is more likely to say "bed" because he just said it! Again, gradually add more time between the "old way of asking" (fill-in) and the "new way of asking" (Wh question) until the child can respond to the question alone. For other children, the use of "fill-ins" may be just too much language. They may respond better if we just ask the child to label the item then ask the question right afterward.
Parent: What's this?
Parent: What do you pee-pee in?
Whichever way works best for the individual child is fine. The important thing to remember is that the item is always present during the initial part of the teaching. (Tact by Feature, Function or Class)
Once the child can easily answer the question when the item is present, we can transfer this to a condition where the child is answering the question without the item present.
Parent: What do you sleep in?
The parent may continue asking this question throughout the day so the child has multiple opportunities to practice this new response.
Another way that FFCs can be taught easily in the natural environment is through requesting (the mand). Since the child already has a desire for something (EO), this is a good opportunity to teach!
Example: (child has requested juice and has requested a cup. Parent holds the juice over the cup, ready to pour)
Parent: What do we pour juice in?
Finally, FFCs can be taught while engaging in a reinforcing activity with the child such as reading a book or playing with a train.
Example: (parent and child, playing with a train)
Parent: Choo! Choo! Here comes the train! Choo Choo! Says the (while pointing to train)
Parent: What says "choo choo"?
(This would be continually taught mixed in with other questions throughout the playtime. Then, when the train is put away, the parent would again
ask, "what says Choo Choo?
It's important to keep some sort of data on your child's mastery of the different questions so that you know what he has learned. As stated above, you'll mix in mastered targets as you teach new ones. Some parents prefer to keep data on each step of the process and others just take data on the intraverbal. It depends on the individual child and how quickly he progresses through the process. For example, one child may be able to learn the intraverbal response in one day but another may require multiple trails on responding with the item is present before beginning the transfer to the intraverbal. If you decide to take data on the TFFC (when the item is present), ask the child the question and record whether or not (correct or incorrect) he can answer you the first time of that day, with no prompts. To take the data on the intraverbal, you would do the same thing except the item wouldn't be present. This is called "probe data" and is only collected the first time you ask the question that day. The probe data is used to tell us if the child can respond quickly and fluently to the question when no teaching has occurred and no prompts are given.
The "criterion for mastery" is also different for each child. For some children, one day of "correct" on the probe may be enough but for others, 3 consecutive days of a "correct" response is better. It depends on how quickly the child is learning the targets as well as how well they retain the information. For example, if you've chosen to have 1 probe with a correct response as your mastery criterion but find that 3 days later, when you ask the question again, the child can't respond, you may want to increase the mastery criterion to 2 or 3 days of correct probes. Some people just collect probe data once per week and spend the rest of the time teaching. Use whatever is easiest for you but be sure the system you choose gives you enough information to know when to add new targets or recognize any problems that are occurring.
If you take probe data on intraverbals only, try to do so within the context of an activity that your child enjoys but is not necessarily "thematic". For example, you could collect the probe data on all of your targets while playing with a ball or swinging on a swing but you wouldn't want to ask unrelated questions while playing with a toy farm or reading a book. We don't want the child to learn to ask "random" questions so lets not model it for him!