I attend a large church and we are fortunate to have a couple of classes for our kids with special needs to join while their parents go to services. I volunteer in one of these classes, and I have come to know and love the children in my room. Several of these friends are former students of mine as well, so it is a treat to see them changing and growing into young adults! I am in the younger classroom, and we join a larger group of K-2nd graders for a whole group dance party/bible lesson for part of our morning.
Some of my friends can be a little loud and wiggly, and at first, it stressed me out a bit to try to make sure they were not distracting the other kids during our big group time. But as I looked around, the other students were equally (if not more) loud and wiggly! They are being kids, in all their silly glory that comes along with not being concerned about what others think of you. I learned to relax and enjoy the fun of watching these littles worship with wild abandon and joy!
A few weeks ago, I noticed two little girls watching one of my students sing and dance. They stared at her and then looked at me. I walked over and asked if they wanted to come meet my friend. They were shy but said yes, and walked over. The girls chatted for a bit and soon were jumping and singing right next to her, three peas in a pod. The world will tell us that we are different and separate, not enough and too much, apples and oranges. But don’t listen to the world, fruit salad is delicious!
The Buddy Bench has been in the news for a while, but if you missed it, here’s the gist. A special bench (the “Buddy Bench”) is designated on the playground for kids to sit on if they don’t have someone to play with. It is a signal to others that they should come and ask that child to play. I first heard about this idea on the news, when they picked up a story about a little boy named Christian (you can read his story HERE ) and his idea. There is an entire website (www.buddybench.org) with ideas, a teaching video and a buddy blog with stories of the benches around the world.
My school installed one of these benches on our playground, but I heard one of the students say that he sat there, but no one asked him to play. My heart hurt for him and I started thinking about why that may have happened. Many of my friends with social language impairments struggle with the unstructured time at recess. Too many hidden rules, social anxiety with initiating conversation or play, and the fast pace of social interaction outside are all hurdles that make it easier to wander around the periphery of the playground alone. And just like any new concept in school, the kids have to be taught the rule of how to use the bench.
It made me so happy to walk down the hall a few weeks later and see that our counselor, Christina, had made a bulletin board (see pictures below) to do just that! She had the kids make mini-posters of how to use the bench and even social scripts on what to say and do! The information that I read about the bench also encourages schools to designate peer mentors (aka play pals) who will watch for kids on the bench and actively include them. This is a strictly voluntary job, but oh how it warms my heart to see so many kids have empathy for others! In an increasingly academic focused environment, it is nice to see kindness and inclusion being fostered as well.
I love this teaching video and this one to share with a class, and prep the kids on how to use the Buddy Bench. These videos really function as social teaching stories (and can be shared at home with families for carryover). How great would these be in a public park to generalize a skill taught in school? If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call our local Parks and Recreation department and invite our Mayor to propose we do just that!
Does your school have Buddy Benches and if so how are they being introduced?
My first post CF job as a SLP in a rural Florida school many years ago, was a bit interesting. The SLP before me had apparently gone a bit off the rails, by choosing to not do any IEPs for the year. Yikes! I worked through my caseload of more than 80 kiddos that year by getting creative, setting up centers in my tiny room and slogging through that towering pile of IEPs to get them up to date. It was a huge learning curve for me!
One of the things my littles told me was that the aforementioned SLP would also tell them “no talking” in speech as she put in a movie for them to watch every day. “No talking in speech???” I thought in a huff. While that “therapy” is definitely not effective or appropriate, it sparked a memory of the Hanen Program that I had used in my hospital internship. “It Takes Two To Talk” is still such a great resource for families working on language development and they have added the “Make Play Rock” series for supporting language growth in kids on the spectrum. The concept of OWL: Observe, Wait and Listen, has stuck with me all these years. Here’s a great info-graphic from Hanen about this technique HERE .
To generalize our field, we love to talk and we are word nerds extraordinaire! However, with many of my students on the spectrum, constant talking is like turning a fire hose on their brains. They need quiet and time to process all the language demands headed their way. I try to share with the teachers that I work with, especially when my kids head into inclusion classes, that the premise of OWL is really important…and hard to do!
Less language is also crucial when our kids melt down. Talking is often not helpful in these circumstances, in fact, it tends to tick them off more. Reducing sensory input, including language, can calm a situation down and give the child the ability to reset themselves emotionally. You can find a time later to process what happened without the emotion of the event, and it is much more effective!
I have also found with my students on the impulsive side of the curve, that teaching them to use this technique results in people wanting to engage with them more often. When they see that the student isn’t going to talk over them or interrupt them, and will actually listen to what they are saying, that makes them a valuable friend. Good listeners are hard to find these days!
It may feel like the opposite of what we are supposed to do, but in reality sometimes it’s okay for the SLP not to talk! Share your thoughts here….