Excellent New Ways to Help Your ASD Child Talk at School

We were chatting before our IEP (individualized education plan) team meeting.  Michael, Jacob’s Dad, was narrating the special moments he shared with his son.


“Every morning Jacob and I wake up at 5 am. It’s Daddy-son time.  Jacob and I laugh as we play cars and Bat Man. Even when I don’t understand Jacob, it doesn’t hold him back from chatting. About 6 am, Jenna, his twin, wakes up and joins us.  As if a light bulb is flicked off, Jacob shuts down and hardly speaks for the rest of the day.  I’m at a loss for what I can do.”

Quick confession:

As a therapist, my goal during team meetings is to persuade parents and the teacher to follow through with my recommendations for a child.

What if instead persuasion came from a caring parent?

Looking into Michael’s watery eyes, we saw his pain. That worried look when you have NO idea how to help your child catch up. You’re trying not to compare your creative, kind and caring son with his confident, chatty, social sister.

How can a four-year-old know that he can’t compete with his twin sister?

Jacob avoided his twin at preschool.

He visited every play center and played briefly with his classmates. But Jacob hardly spoke with them unless his teacher, Miss Kristina helped out.  As our team went over goal after goal that Jacob needed help with, I thought about Miss Kristina.

The kids idolized Miss Kristina and they followed her compassionate lead. The outgoing kids help out their quieter classmates by directing their play in the house center and joining kids who were playing alone at other centers.

Thinking about these kids gave me an idea, which I bubbled to share with our team.

“I want to lead a circle time with the whole class. The outgoing kids can help with an idea that I’ll demo. After circle time, I’ll practice the idea with Jacob and these kids.”

Miss Kristina eagerly agreed.  We chose the same date that Jacob’s mom, Susan was volunteering in class. (A bonus to have Susan learn the idea too.) To our surprise, Michael announced he’d take time off work to videotape circle time.

What if classmates were shown how to help?

Circle time was beginning on a caffeine-induced high.

Miss Kristina and I became the characters of our puppets. We acted as quieter kids letting friends know they want to play. We acted as outgoing kids including quieter kids in their play.

As the kids clapped, my puppet’s character gave them a quick pep talk.

“You’re all wonderful play partners!

Your quieter friends want to join in your play and talk with you.

They need your help.

Let’s cheer for being helpful friends!”

As the roars of cheers turned into fits of laughter, I began a Follow the Leader game around four classroom centers. I chose one lucky child to be my partner at each center. The other kids circled us and watched our demos, vibrating in hopes they’d be chosen next. I played the role of a helpful or a supportive friend. My partner was coached through role of a quieter friend. Together, we made play dough creations, we told a story with the pirate toys

The kids giggled as they recognized us playing and chatting just like they do at each center. They watched how to invite their quieter friends and how to get invited.

I even coached Jacob into being my partner at the house center. He was such a trooper, performing for his whole class and proud parents!

What if the team listened and learned from each other?

I rushed over to chat with Michael before he headed out. The worry in his eyes was replaced by a look of gratitude. Michael’s thoughts exploded. “I can’t wait to include Jenna in our Daddy-twins time. Jenna can learn to be a better friend who lets Jacob talk.”

Including Jenna in the special moments that Michael and Jacob shared?

Hmmm… Michael had a point. The only way that Jenna will become a supportive friend for Jacob is by joining in with help from Dad.

Back at the snack center, Jacob sat beside his buddy, Eric. The boys showed off their snacks, chatted and shared hilarious sound effects; I didn’t join in. By watching the kids, I knew they were fine communicating on their own.

After snack, it was time to head outdoors.

Jacob made tracks in the dirt with a long stick. I headed over to coach a group of girls playing “ice cream stand” on being supportive friends for Jacob. Then I stood back and watched the girls invite Jacob over. They treated him like a prince and helped out as needed. As the girls pampered Jacob, they took turns asking and getting what he wanted for his ice cream creation.

Walking into the classroom, I held my breath. The toys and activities that Kristina was cleaning up were the evidence from our extraordinary team’s efforts.  Kristina ran over for a hug and she read my out of control mind. (Read at a frantic speed…)
“We did well today! We took that painful look of worry out of Michael’s eyes.

Did you see how excited he was to include Jenna in their special playtime with Daddy?

Oh my goodness, Jacob’s classmates are amazing friends for him!

I’ll keep encouraging them to include Jacob and their quieter friends to join in their play.

Anytime you want. Come back and lead circle time or just hang out and play with us!”

As I drove home confident that Jacob would soon start to speak more in class, I thought of YOU.

Before your next team meeting, agree on one big victory for your child.

Helping your child achieve this victory requires your whole team to help out, problem solve “outside the box”, and to work together.

Remember, you are advocating for your child.

You CAN persuade your team to care enough to believe in your child’s success.  Success with that victory means your worrying will change to gratitude.

This article was featured in Issue 44 – Strategies for Daily Life with Autism

Keri Vandongen

Keri Vandongen is a speech therapist (SLP) who loves making speech fun with young kids and connecting with their families. She enjoys listening to, collaborating with and supporting parents who are practicing speech, so it can be fun and easier to carryover speech progress. Visit Keri at http://myspeechparty.com/fun-blog for inspiring ideas and helpful ways to carryover speech.

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