Currently, there are no speech and language assessment instruments that evaluate communication. Many test the content (semantics) and the language form (syntax). Others are available that test pragmatic skills. Most of the testing protocols are inappropriate for determining communication goals and objectives for children with autism. The following is a presentation of a communication assessment for children who have disordered language and communication deficits:
Every communicative act has three components, content, form, and use. These three areas are based on the language model developed by Bloom & Lahey in 1978. Since language is a part of communication, the model is modified to encompass language and communication. When examining disordered language and lack of communication in children with autism it is important to complete a thorough communication assessment.
Three components of communication:
Content is the meaning of the message. It is also called semantics.
Form is the structural aspect that includes attaching some symbol to the meaning. The symbol can include the spoken word, a picture, or a sign. The form/symbol is effective as long as the communicator and listener both agree on the meaning. Another part of form is the length and word order that includes syntax.
Use is the purpose, function, or reason for the communication. It includes pragmatics and social communication.
When one of the areas is missing, a communicative attempt has been made but most likely was ineffective. If the listener and speaker are familiar, then the message may be translated. A communication sample can identify the student’s strengths and weaknesses in these three areas during communication. It will give the observer a picture of the student’s communicative ability.
Behavior is communication. Much of the student’s behavior may be unsuccessful communicative attempts. When completing a communication sample, behavior should be analyzed using the content/form/use model. Once the missing component is identified, it can be taught and may well lead to successful communication. The goal is to determine what the student does to communicate and what is missing when the communication is unsuccessful. The student can then learn the missing component to make the communication successful.
A communication assessment should combine observations, anecdotal information and parent information. The observer should watch and document communicative attempts throughout the day. If there are a limited amount of attempts (less than 10) situations should be setup to encourage communication. You can download a communication sample form in pdf format .
After compiling the communication information an accurate picture of the student’s communicative ability will note strengths and weaknesses. Goals and objectives can be written that are specific or general, based on the information from the assessment.
If the communication sample reveals an overall weakness in form, but strength in content and use, an objective targeting learning an appropriate form of communication can be targeted for development. Many students with autism understand the meaning of picture symbols but not use them when attempting to communicate.
When the communication sample shows all three components are being used to communicate, it becomes important to determine which one is the weakest. If the student is lower in content than the other areas, building vocabulary can be targeted. When the area of use is decreased, then the pragmatic functions can be expanded upon. When form is the lower area of the three, then expanding the utterance should he targeted. Combining pictures, combining signs, or combining another symbol can address expanding the utterance for nonverbal communicators.