Johnny is speaking very differently in different situations and depending on who he is with. When Johnny is comfortable he speaks in complex sentences, often starts a conversation, and speaks clearly enough to be understood much of the time. When he’s uncomfortable like in when he’s with his peers or in the classroom, he becomes very quiet, speaks in single words, and doesn’t try and start communication. I raised my concerns with Johnny’s Speech and Language Pathologist who administers motor speech therapy treatment blocks and who he is very comfortable with.
These are some strategies that she suggested that helped him display his best communication skills with her:
1) Make a comment, and then wait. Comments almost always get more conversation from Johnny than questions. i.e. looking at photos from a zoo trip:
Adult: My favourite animal is a lion. [waits, up to 10 seconds]
Johnny: I like the the polar bears. The polar bears are big and white. I like their fur.
2) Respond to/ reinforce all attempts at communication, even if the speech sounds aren’t accurate. For example:
Johnny: Tan I try? [Can I try?]
Adult: Yes, you can! I’m glad you asked!
3) Avoid correcting his speech sound errors.
4) Model a slow, smooth rate of speech (think of the television host, Mr. Rogers, for a nice example!).
The SLP hopes that if all the teachers and staff who work with Johnny try and use these strategies that it will help to decrease pressure on Johnny to ‘perform’ as a speaker. Speaking is still very hard work for Johnny, and he is extremely aware of his difficulties. He seems most willing to take the risk of speaking when he finds himself in low-pressure opportunities to speak, and the person he is with acknowledges his effort by:
1) responding to what he is trying to say (rather than how he is saying it)
2) acknowledging his effort (as in “you are trying so hard”).
Already we have received news from teachers that Johnny is more “chatty” in the ISP Autism classroom which is fantastic because with success more teachers will use the strategies consistently. Now Mommy has to remember to take a deep breathe and…..wait.