Yes or No… Not so simple!
So this seems like such a simple concept… Yes or no! How many times a day do we respond to or ask a yes/no question? I don’t have any scientific data, so I am going to just estimate that it is a ton! Since we use this so much, it would seem like a simple thing to teach, but I have found that this is not always a case.
Types of yes/no questions
When I see a goal for yes/no or write a goal, I ask, is this a yes/no question regarding a request or yes/no to information. They are two very different skills. A child may be able to emphatically say YES they want a cookie or NO they don’t want peas, but what if you ask them a yes/no question regarding information. Is this a cookie? Can the child answer an informational question with a yes or no?
Be clear the type of yes/no form you are working on.
When we contemplate working on yes/no, we should be clear about what type of yes/no are we looking at! We also need to discuss whether a child is ready for the concept of yes vs no!
So to recap, I am talking about two types of yes/no questions:
- Yes/no in regards to a request or desire
- Yes/no regarding information
So how do we teach children to respond to yes/no?
- Yes/No with a request or refusal: When teaching yes/no in response to a question like, “do you want a cookie”, the following is a possible scenario.
- Using a highly reinforcing item, ask a child if they would like a cookie, including YES in the model. For example, “do you want a cookie, YES?” or you could say it “YES… do you want a cookie”. We are prompting the correct answer. This is a form of errorless teaching.
- If the item is reinforcing, they may be saying YES because they know this is the correct response. It may be more of a rote answer.
- I do multiple trainings with a YES item until the child is responding with a verbal (verbal approximation) gesture, or picture choice of yes. Some children may pick this up in a few trials, and some may need many trials.
- Once I feel they understand the concept of yes meaning that they want and get an item, I introduce the foil.
- I introduce NO with a “foil” or item that I know the child does not want. I would use the same question form, “No…do you want the washcloth” or “Do you want a washcloth, NO”? If I were to say, “do you want the washcloth?” and the child responded YES, then I give them the washcloth. It is important to know that the child is asking for what they want! Yes/No can become a rote response like “want”, “please”, or “thank you”. It can lose the meaning if we are not careful in our teaching.
- When teaching yes/no regarding information: This is a task that I find challenging to do, so I started using a system of prompts. I have found this a positive technique for teaching yes/no.
- One of the issues that I found is that our children aren’t always used to the yes/no sentence format. They may have been taught to label or to give the function, but they might not have learned the form for a yes/no as a response for information. So we need to teach our students the sentence form for information.
- First, I start with 10 items that I know that they know!!! It’s important that the student knows the item. We aren’t teaching them that the dog is the dog, they should already know this.
- I go through each care individually and ask “is this a dog?” “Yes, it is a dog”. I then prompt the sentence again, “is this a dog”. If the child doesn’t say yes, I will prompt the child to say YES.
- I do this activity over multiple sessions, depending on the child, until they start responding with a YES.
- Now comes the tricky part. Do they understand yes/no or did I just teach them to overgeneralize YES?
- So next, I take the same 10 pictures and ask them a NO question. I model the statement, “is this a horse, NO it’s not a horse its a dog” Is it a horse?
- We go through this activity over multiple sessions, depending on the child.
- Once I have gone through teaching the question form for yes/no, I start mixing it up. This let’s me know if the child is understanding of yes/no for information.
I am currently work with a student on the autism spectrum on this activity. I went through teaching him YES and NO. Now we are in the process of mixing us yes and no. If he is not able to do this task, I will go back to teaching YES to known items and NO to known items. YES, this is a challenge, but NO I won’t give up. I know this student has the ability to understand this concept, so I am excited to see how he grows!