How would you teach: Give me the red cup.

That simple statement has inspired and motivated me for almost two decades. It has enriched my personal development and has inspired my professional life. That simple question began a pilot Applied Behavior Analysis program designed by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Kennedy-Krieger Institute.

Let’s consider the incremental steps required to teach:

Give me the red cup.

CUP – Can the person identify the object – cup?

Communication requires a mutual system of symbols. We need mutual understanding of the object/subject about which we are communicating.

RED – Can the person identify and discriminate – red?

Categorizing, as in color, is a systematic way to organize information. It provides clarity and distinction.

GIVE – Can the person understand the request – give?

Teaching give begins with an open hand to prompt the response. That open hand invites sharing.

One final thought…

ME – Can the person identify the me and the not me?

When I am aware of the not me as separate from me it is the beginning of relationship. I must understand each of us as separate before I seek to relate.  

Give me the red cup becomes a declaration of autonomy and relationship. Learning occurs and relationship begins.

These incremental steps began my experience of 20,000 hours in the field of autism and behavior. Those hours have been joyful, challenging and rewarding. They have inspired me to attend to my intentions and my words; the must strive for mutual understanding. They must provide clarity and distinction, invite participation, honor the Other. Attending to intentions and words creates and sustains meaningful relationship.

One step at a time. And then we take the next step.