Working with students with complex communication needs often times means you are working with students who struggle with some level of problem behaviors. These can range from mild non-compliance to extreme assaultive behaviors. I have been fortunate to spend most of my career working closely with behavior specialists, so I have not had to walk this path alone. So, always consult your student's behavioral case manager before implementing any new behavior plan- and check out if there is a plan already in place.
That being said, here are a few simple strategies that have served my well in my practice.
1. Don't ask- tell! :: Oh the golden rule, don't ask your student to do it tell them what to do. Asking always leaves room for him/her to say no. "Don't you want to go to speech today?" vs. "it's time for speech, let's go get the Dr. Seuss game you love." It sounds so simple, yet I kick myself multiple times as day as I hear that little question slip out!
2. Prepare the student for what is coming, even if you aren't sure they will understand :: The analogy was once made to me about being in a doctor's office. Would I feel comfortable if I did not know what the doctor was doing, what was coming next? No, and it would probably make me more anxious than I already was. The same is true for our kiddos. Remember, time concepts are really hard and so is delayed gratification. Finish your work then you can play may simply not be concrete enough. Show them the time on the clock work will be done (when the big hand is at the 4) or where they can stop reading (draw a line or use a post-it). Giving a concrete number or time (depending on what will work for your student) gives a tangible stop time. We all work a little harder when we know there are only two more, but might give up if we thought we would have to go on forever.
3. Make the reward something your student is really motivated to work for. Let's be real for a minute. We all work for external motivators. Yes I run for the endorphins and so my heart stays healthy and shiny- but I really run because I live in San Diego and summer is all year round. We work for a pay check, got good grades to get into college, passed tests to get into the right clubs. When our kiddos are working for something they really want they are more likely to participate. 7 great minutes of hard work followed by 3 minutes of a break is a better use of time then 10 minutes of unengaged participation in my book!
4. Decide on a reinforcement schedule and stick to it. Are you going to use a fixed reinforcement schedule (every 5 answers, every 10 minutes) or a variable schedule (random timer or changing number of answers).
5. Remember to praise positive behaviors all of the time. Our kiddos want to please us and want to see us happy with them. Praise them for what they are doing right as simple as it may be (feet on the floor, or staying at the table).