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Fluency

Tammi Reynolds, BA & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

It is not enough to teach children with autism spectrum disorder new knowledge. If knowledge is not maintained, it will fade away over time. Fluency methods assist with this necessary maintenance task. They help children retain the basic skills and information they have learned, and to generalize those skills to new situations.

Fluency training events happen outside of children's normal learning routines. They require children to demonstrate previously mastered skills or knowledge that are no longer practiced during everyday therapy. To make things more complicated, they may be required to demonstrate previously learned but no longer actively taught skills or knowledge while distractions are present. They may be asked to demonstrate knowledge or skills across a variety of settings unlike those in which the skills or knowledge were originally trained. Fluency methods promote the generalization of skills (across settings) in addition to keeping those skills fresh and sharp.

Therapists introduce fluency exercises shortly after skills or knowledge have been acquired. For example, a child might be taught to use language to name numbers printed on cards. During this initial learning phase, time is not limited, and trials are repeated as necessary until mastery occurs. As the task switches to a fluency exercise, a time limit is imposed (usually 30 seconds), and the child is asked to name as many numbers as possible within the allowed time. The process is repeated until the child can name a pre-set number of numbers within the allotted time (say 30 numbers correctly identified and named within thirty seconds). In this example, the competitive aspect of the fluency exercise helps the child to retain and strengthen this skill.

Fluency exercises are typically indicated for higher-functioning students with ASD who have previously learned many skills. They can also be useful for lower-functioning children who have only become proficient in only a few skills.