Alphabet Therapy is a technique which is used to enable communication for children with Angelman Syndrome, a serious genetic condition which causes profound developmental delays. It involves teaching the subject the alphabet and a series of key words, and showing the subject that by pointing to key words or spelling out concepts, he or she can communicate with other people.
This technique was developed by Terry Jo Bichell and Cristina Valle. The two women combined principles from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) to teach Bichell's son the alphabet, spurring the creation of a study to research the possibility of using Alphabet Therapy on other children with severe developmental disabilities. While expressly designed for people who suffer from Angelman Syndrome, a condition caused by the partial deletion of genetic material on the 15th chromosome, Alphabet Therapy has potential for other people with developmental disabilities as well.
Applied Behavior Analysis involves using known information about behavior and learning to facilitate a productive educational session. The session leader looks at what works and what doesn't for the individual student, and utilizes existing information about 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 abandon behaviors which meet with a neutral or negative response, and this can be used to encourage learning behavior. ABA is used in a wide variety 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 her autistic son. This technique involves a very rapid, focused session with the subject, focused on providing prompts which 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 those choices have consequences.
In the case of Alphabet Therapy, instructors combine the tools utilized in these techniques to teach a child the alphabet. Once the child learns the alphabet, the teacher can start to string together letters to form key words and concepts. To communicate, the child can point at labeled cards, or individual letters of the alphabet, if they wish to spell things out.
The idea behind Alphabet Therapy is that people with Angelman Syndrome have the potential to communicate, if they are given a chance to do so. By focusing on a child in a one on one session and using innovative teaching techniques, it is possible to give the child a voice of his or her own.