By Stephanie Dille-Huggins, MA, BCBA and Sign Language Coordinator
In the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we as practitioners in the field of ABA have been challenged to ensure that the clients we serve are continuing to have complete access to the same tools, resources, and therapy techniques that they had access to prior to the infiltration of this virus. A part of our new normal now includes wearing a personal safety mask daily while delivering ABA based therapy to protect our clients from the threat of COVID-19. In order to ensure that all of our clients can access their native language while receiving our essential and critical services, our registered behavior technicians that serve our Deaf children living with autism wear masks that provide a clear covering on the front, which allows for the same access to communication while still maintaining our novel standard of protection.
Many individuals living on the autism spectrum demonstrate challenges with daily communication and struggle to accurately and appropriately express their wants and needs. Functional communication and mand training make up a significant part of the therapy day here at Cornerstone in order to increase communication abilities. Clear masks are critical for our Deaf children living with autism, which allows for grammatical access when using American Sign Language (ASL). Although critical, wearing personal safety masks causes the mouth to be blocked, which plays a significant role in the communication of ASL. According to ASL University, “the facial expressions you use while doing a sign will affect the meaning of that sign” (Facial Expressions in American Sign Language, n.d.). Head movements and facial expressions support the linguistic structure of American Sign Language and many of those direct signs have obligatory facial components, that if not made correctly, could cause the sign to be miscommunicated (Elliott and Arthur, 2013). In addition to this, facial expressions in ASL promote language modifiers such as adverbs (i.e., a slight change in a facial expression can change the sign for happy to mean VERY happy). Without complete access to observing their therapist’s facial expressions, our Deaf clients may not be able to adhere to demands accurately during programming, as facial expressions in ASL allow the recipient to know if they are to follow a command or share information about a statement made. Our clients would also potentially struggle to read affect accurately on faces, causing a higher likelihood of miscommunication.
For more information, please visit the reference pages below and be sure to follow us on Facebook at this link for the latest autism resources.
Facial Expressions in American Sign Language (ASL). (n.d.). Retrieved May 15, 2020, from https://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/facialexpressions.htm
Facial Expressions, Emotions, and Sign Languages (Eeva M Elliott and Arthur M. Jacobs) Front Psychology (2013; 4:115) Published online March 11, 2013
May 26, 2020, Stephanie Dille-Huggins, MA, BCBA