Alphabet therapy is a technique that is used to enable communication for children with Angelman syndrome, a serious genetic disorder that causes profound developmental delays. It involves teaching the alphabet and a series of keywords, and showing the subject that by indicating keywords or by enunciating concepts, he or she can communicate with other people.
This technique was developed by Terry Jo Bichell and Cristina Valle. The two women joined Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles and the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) to teach Bichell’s son the alphabet, stimulating the creation of a study to research the possibility of using Alphabet therapy on other children with severe developmental disabilities. While specifically designed for people suffering from Angelman syndrome, a condition caused by the partial deletion of the genetic material on the 15 chromosomes, Alphabet Therapy has potential for other people with developmental disabilities as well.
Applied Behavior Analysis involves the use of known information on behavior and learning to facilitate a productive educational session. The session leader explains what works and what does not for the individual student, and uses existing information on how people learn to make the lesson as effective as possible. For example, people tend to repeat behaviors when they are rewarded for them, and to abandon behaviors that respond with a neutral or negative response, and this can be used to encourage learning behavior. ABA is used in a wide range of fields beyond treatment for people with developmental delays, and in addition to teaching people, it also encourages them to maintain and use the skills they acquire.
The Rapid Prompting method is a technique for teaching autistic children developed by Soma Mukhopadhyay to communicate with the autistic child. This technique involves a very rapid, subject-focused session, focused on providing instructions that stimulate a response. RPM is supposed to facilitate learning, reasoning, and communication skills, with a focus on showing people that they can make choices, and these choices have consequences.
In the case of Alphabet Therapy, teachers combine the tools used in these techniques to teach a child of the alphabet. Once the child learns the alphabet, the teacher can start stringing the letters together to form key words and concepts. To communicate, the child can point to labeled cards, or individual letters of the alphabet, if they wish, to clarify things.
The idea behind Alphabet Therapy is that people with Angelman syndrome have the potential to communicate, if given the opportunity to do so. By focusing on a child in a one on one session and using innovative teaching techniques, you can give the child a voice of his or her own.