Assessment and intervention of severe language delays in children

James W Halle, Joe Reichle, Erik Drasgow, R. Bruce Reinoehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The assessment and intervention of communicative repertoires of children who have substantial language deficits are relatively recent undertakings. The experimental analysis of behavior and operant principles, established in laboratory settings, were the precursors for the applications of behavioral research on language that began in the 1960s. These applications produced clear but limited success. It was established that words or gestures could be taught to children with severe intellectual disabilities, but functional use and generality of these newly acquired responses were restricted to the conditions under which they were taught. Much of this manuscript focuses on these two phenomena- functional use and generality of communication. New issues of increasing complexity have emerged as we have continued our program of research over the last 10 years. The maxim "the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know" has characterized our work. Many of these issues that have intrigued us and their complete analysis has eluded us. The ones we have chosen to highlight here include: (a) distinguishing between pragmatic and operant functions of language; (b) suggesting necessary prerequisites for teaching a tacting repertoire; (c) documenting responsiveness to social partners as a crucial consideration in communication assessment and providing an approach to establishing responsiveness; (d) uncovering a subtlety of stimulus generalization; and finally (e) manipulating environmental variables to occasion and to support newly acquired communicative responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-188
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Behavioral Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995


  • generalization
  • language functions
  • motivation
  • severe language delays
  • social responsiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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