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Structured Methods in Language Education (SMILE)

by Dana Walt What is the treatment supposed to address? Individuals with autism often have difficulty communicating. SMILE, or Structured Methods in Language Education, was developed by Dr. Enid Wolf-Schein to teach functional language speech, reading and writing to students with autism and other severe language impairments. The system can be used for teaching typical preschoolers, as well as for teaching students with severe language-learning disorders arising from autism, auditory dysfunction, impaired hearing or a mental handicap. What is the theoretical foundation for the treatment? SMILE is a systematic, multi-sensory program for teaching language and communication skills, derived from the association method of teaching. It is a series of structured classroom-type lessons using a "bottom up" approach to literacy, based on first learning phonemes, the smallest unit of language and the building-blocks of words. It is believed that SMILE can be successful for students with ASD because the program is structured to inform the pupil what is expected at every moment. Continually throughout the lessons, the student is conditioned to give a correct response, is rewarded for that response and is not permitted to deviate. SMILE has been particularly successful with students who do not imitate or generalize readily and with those who have problems with auditory memory. How is the treatment done? SMILE lessons are taught to pupils in small groups of not more than three, or in individual tutoring sessions. The program introduces a hierarchy of language decoding skills following precise, structured lessons, each lesson building upon previously learned material. It incorporates consistent teaching methodology, use of structure and routine, immediate reinforcement and successive approximations leading to exact repetition. Throughout, information is presented in a combination of actions, Bachman & Rogge, 2006 gestures, pictures, objects and experiences. Ordinary words and conventions are used to support the students use of language in a descriptive and conversational manner. There is ongoing attention to generalization so that the pupil does not end up with splinter skills not broadly applicable or useful. The sequence of lessons taught starts with attention getting exercises and phonemic awareness. Phonemes are immediately associated with their written symbols (i.e. letters and letter combinations). Once mastered, students move on to sound and letter sequencing, and then to word recognition. From there, students practice associations of words with pictures, developing sentences, and finally reading/writing short concept stories. Syntax is taught through linguistic string formulas and sentence patterns. The program provides record-keeping templates to provide teachers with a structured sequence for teaching the concepts and for data collection. Lessons can be conducted by teachers, education assistants or parents who can refer to the program's manual, teacher guide, workbooks and flashcards. However, to ensure

correct and consistent application of the program Dr. Wolf-Schein recommends attendance at one of her two-day training workshops, which are held regularly in major cities throughout North America . Can the treatment be combined with other treatments? SMILE can be the primary literacy instruction approach or it can be combined and embedded with other components of the curriculum. These lessons form only part of a student's day there would also be opportunities for informal language exposure in classroom and/or social settings. SMILE could be combined with other treatments without compromising its effectiveness. What evidence supports or refutes the treatment? Dr. Wolf-Schein developed this program from her teachings in a large county school system in the 1990s and early 2000s. No published study specifically documenting SMILE's effectiveness is available. Is the treatment potentially dangerous? If so, how? The treatment is not potentially dangerous. Where and by whom is the treatment being done locally? In the world? The SMILE method is being practiced throughout the United States and Canada. A complete set of teaching materials can be purchased for approximately $250 from Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at http://www.agbell.org. Dr. Wolf-Schein conducts workshops throughout North America, including Vancouver and Victoria several times in recent years. Workshops are advertised on the Autism Community Training (ACT) website http://www.actcommunity.net. In 2009, ACT videotaped a presentation by Dr. WolfSchein, and promises that it will be available soon through their online library. There are presently no Behaviour Consultants listed on the Registry of Autism Service Providers (RASP) who indicate that they are trained in SMILE. References ACT (Autism Community Training) Annual Report 2009. Retrieved from http://www.actcommunity.net. Bachmann, R. & Rogge, R. (2006). SMILE, based on the Association Method by Enid Wolf-Schein [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Panhandle Area Education Consortium PPAEC) web site: http://www.paec.org/fdlrsweb/seaturtle/SMILEoverview.ppt Edrisinha, C., & Sigafoos, J. (2006). Structured methods in language education (SMILE). [Review of the book Structured methods in language education (SMILE), by E. Wolf-Schein]. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 21, p. 124. Wolf-Schein, E. (1995). Structured Methods in Language Education: SMILE. Paper presented at the International Congress on Education of the Deaf, Tel Aviv, Israel. Retrieved from http:///.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED391282.pdf.