If you see them looking at the buttons, standing near the buttons, or pawing at the buttons, get excited! Give them praise and attention (but no treats) for showing interest.
Step 3: Your learner is finally starting their journey!
Here are some key tips:
Tip 1: Every learner is unique.
You know your learner best! Some of these tips and hints might not work for you. Your learner will have his/her own pace and own style of communication. Avoid comparing your learner with the other dogs and cats out there who are using buttons as well.
Tip 2: Motivation matters more than you think!
Behavior driven by internal satisfaction is called intrinsic motivation. The desire to do the task comes from within. Extrinsic motivation means behavior driven by the desire for external rewards or incentives, such as treats.
Help your learner maintain intrinsic motivation.
When you communicate with your friends and family, you usually aren’t speaking to them with the hope of getting a reward. Unless you’re requesting free ice cream. Part of the joy of being able to communicate is getting to tell someone what you want or need.
They will communicate to you when they find it meaningful.
Let your learner explore. Using the buttons itself should be rewarding, so don’t lure them with treats. They’ll tell you what they need when they need it.
Tip 3: Celebrate small successes to encourage them.
Your learner might ignore the buttons for the first few weeks. Some of the most famous button-using learners took weeks to begin acknowledging their buttons.
So just try rewarding small successes. If you see them looking at the buttons, standing near the buttons, or pawing at the buttons, get excited! Give them praise and attention (but no treats) for showing interest. When your learner starts paying attention to the buttons in the right context, that means they might be ready to start using them soon.
Tip 4: Prompt casually.
If they’re trying to communicate with you by looking, whining, or pawing, you can walk over and stand near the buttons. Give them time to respond (count slowly to 10 before doing anything else). If you decide you need to prompt more, use natural behaviors such as pointing or tapping near the buttons. If they don’t react after 10+ seconds, go ahead and demonstrate the button use and continue the activity.
Try not to ask them if they want something specific (“do you want to go outside?”) even if you think you know what they want. Instead, you can say “use your words” to remind them.
DON’T reward with a treat unless the button represents “treat.”
We recommend avoiding treat rewards (check Tip 2 for why).
If you find yourself trying to get them to come over or if you’re trying to get their attention again and again, you might be over-prompting. This might backfire and end up making your learner less interested in the buttons. Instead, wait for your learner to show interest for a slow count to 10 before modeling the buttons yourself.
DON’T force your learner to press the button.
This can be very harmful. Imagine being forced to give a speech when you’re not ready. Communication should always be up to your learner. Instead, model the words verbally and by using the buttons yourself at appropriate times.