When a child has language delays, oftentimes their processing time is longer than we actually give them. We may say something like “get your coat on” and then when they don’t immediately respond, we say “put your jacket on.” Then when they still just look at us blankly we say “why aren’t you doing what I asked?”
Autism Behavior Intervention: Increasing Wait Time
We think that we’re giving them plenty of time to respond, but we’re not. I’ve always had a goal to learn Spanish, and I know enough to get by, but not enough to have a conversation. I usually say I can speak like a 3-year-old. I can speak in 3-5 word sentences pretty well. When I have been traveling and people are talking to me (usually much faster than I can process) sometimes I look at them blankly as I try to figure out what they just said. Then just as I’m about to figure it out, they rephrase what they just told me. So now, not only am I trying to figure out what they said initially, now I have to figure out a new sentence (which actually means the same thing as the first sentence, but I don’t always know that). And so it slows me down even more. By the third sentence, I just kind of give up and say “I don’t understand.”
I think this can relate to some of the kids we work with. We need to check ourselves to see if we are givng them enough time to process what we’ve said before we assume they’re not listening. Counting to ten may feel like forever, but it may also give enough time for a response rather than prompting a response. Repeating instructions verbatim may also be helpful for kids who take a longer time deciding what you said the first time.
Sometimes one of our greatest tools can just be our wait time. We don’t always have to be in such a hurry 🙂