When a Teacher Speaks the Student's Language: Effective Approaches to Bridging Language Barriers for Nonverbal English Second Language Students in the Moderate to Severe Classroom

This study is an examination of a student in a moderate/severe classroom who is nonverbal, and an English language learner. It tells the story of how one student responded to specifically designed instructional strategies to acquire knowledge and communicate. The study answered the question: “What happens when ‘auditory primary language – meaning both a language different than English, and a language different than English and oral’ – is used for both instruction and directions with a child identified as nonverbal and both an English Language Learner (ELL) and in Moderate/Severely Special Education? The participant in this study was a non-verbal English learner with a diagnosis of autism instructed by a credentialed moderate/severe teacher, instructional assistant, and a bilingual instructional assistant to speak in the student’s primary language when needed. Results indicated more correct responses when instruction or direction was provided in student’s primary language, which was; Spanish, although there were some challenges related to Spanish dialects, differential gestures that accompanied instructions to the student, alternative weekly teacher schedules, medication variability, and intermittent student attendance and behavior. Data was also collected on the use of pictures to assist with learning and communication. Results using pictures as a part of instruction as well as a means for the student to communicate their needs were mixed. The student utilizes an interactive device which has a communication application downloaded. The communication application consists of picture icons labelled with the English word above the picture.