The Role of "Yes"

If you interview 1000 parents of typically developing kids, 999 will say that their children learned the word “NO” before they learned the word “YES” (Anyone have the real statistic? I made up numbers to make a point, but then I have editorial privilege here). Because this is the typical pattern for learning these two words, I have long advocated that we teach these words in the developmental order of NO first, followed by YES. You can read about that here.
I still maintain that this is true. However, there is some interesting discussion going on in the AAC circles about this order right now.
Pati King-DeBaun, whom I greatly admire, is a long-time authority and advocate for children with severe communication needs. She posted an interesting discussion on her blog about “yes” on its own. You will find it here.
What Pati says is that acknowledging a child’s “yes” response gives them the ability to communicate through partner-assisted scanning. If you aren’t familiar with this communication procedure, it means that a partner lists off choices for the speaker, whether verbally or with symbolic choices (pictures, line drawings, or objects) or both. The partner indicates when the item of preference is offered. PODD, or Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display, typically uses partner-assisted scanning.
Traditionally, we have asked kids during partner-assisted-scanning to tell us “no” for each of the non-preferred items and stop us with a “yes” (as in, “That’s it!”) when we reach the item of choice.
But Pati says “yes” alone will give the kids the ability to use partner-assisted scanning. She suggests kids don’t even need a “no” response to be able to successfully communicate using this system.
Does this conflict with my opening statements about teaching the word NO before the word YES? I say not. They are compatible practices and here’s why.
Pati is acknowledging the child's signal of affirmation of desire. This is innate in infants; just watch them. When baby sees Mama rustling up the ingredients to make up a bottle, he starts squiggling with anticipation. At another time, he reaches and kicks his feet when Daddy holds up a favorite toy. This occurs long before the child is developmentally ready to begin conventional word use.
This same baby will likely not respond when Mama gets out the cat food and can opener to feed Kitty. He has no interest. He does not yet pay attention when Daddy picks up the newspaper (give him a few months and that will change!).
These are the same innate reactions Pati talks about in her blog post. If we observe our kids, they have signals to affirm their desire for something. By ignoring what they don’t want, they are withholding affirmation and that is adequate for us to know they don’t desire it.
I really appreciate Pati’s thinking for several reasons:
            1) It allows children to communicate successfully before they have two consistent responses. All they need is an affirmation response. It is our job to observe what that response is. For kids with strong motor challenges, this need for a single resonse is such a gift.
            2) It saves a great deal of physical energy, since the child only needs to respond once out of all the choices offered. It also speeds the rate of communication…a LOT! Again, what a benefit to kids with motor planning issues.
            3) Developmentally, this is consistent with the ability to affirm desire before the acquisition of words (or, for non-verbal students, symbolic expression, including sign, picture symbols, etc). How wonderful that it allows kids to communicate before they are ready to leap into more complex developmental stages!
Now, all that said, I still maintain that when teaching the words yes/no expressively¸ “no” is most easily learned first. This is because word acquisition typically develops at the same time that autonomy rears its little developmental head. “No,” as a means of rejecting, is concrete and easily grasped and gives Little Miss Autonomous a way to voice her new interest. “Yes,” on the other hand, often represents more abstract concepts, such as things that are intangible (feelings, for example), future events, or simply agreeing with that Mother-Who-Threatens-My-Autonomy. And what toddler would want to agree with that awful lady?
For all the good things that acknowledging the affirmation of desire signal alone can do to help kids communicate through partner-assisted scanning, I am so grateful Pati opened up this discussion!
What do you think about this? Does signalling an affirmation of desire without a corresponding “no” work?
And if you haven’t read Pati’s post yet, please do. It gives us important things to think about.
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You might also be interested in reading "Yes, No, Maybe so..." 


Anonymous said...

I don't know that I agree about teaching, "No", first. Children say, "No", because parents say it so much. I doubt they understand the absence of something before they understand its presence.

Rose-Marie said...

Anonymous, Thanks for taking time to comment; I always appreciate hearing people's ideas.

You bring up a very good point about kids hearing "NO!" so often and the role that may have in making it an easy word to learn.

I think we are all in agreement that kids first understand the presence of something they want. That's what I'm calling "affirmation of desire" and what I believe Pati is acknowledging with partner-assisted scanning.

This is different, in my mind, from mastering words, whether verbally or symbollically. I see "yes" being pretty abstract, especially for non-verbal kids who don't have the same luxury as speaking kids of testing out their ideas/words with verbal patter. "No" is easy to teach and learn, because kids latch onto a way to symbolize rejection of something they don't want. In fact, we introduce "no" in contrast to that affirmation response seen from infancy on. From there, "yes" becomes the opposite, a way to indicate that they don't reject something.

Unknown said...

That is very interesting. My daughter is non-verbal and uses a dynavox now. Before the DynaVox, she initiated communication with a "no" by putting her hand out firmly like a stop sign. When we tried to teach communication to her, though we did what you blogged about above with the affirmation with 'yes' through scanning through choices and getting a smile or hitting a switch for her choice. Still works now when she doesn't have her dynavox available!

Rose-Marie said...

ChaneyM, thank you very much for contributing your experience here. Your daughter is clever to have come up with her own way to communicate "no." The ability to refuse seems like a strong drive in kids.

That is terrific that your daughter is able to fall back on a "manual" no and yes for times when she doesn't have her device. Every device user needs a supplemental system like that, so that is perfect!