the push and wait

(Random, gratuitous picture, credit David Land)
Team Brooke,
I wanted to let you know about a major breakthrough last night while Brooke was doing her reading. She was reading aloud from a book she loves called, Harry and the Lady Next Door. (She’s heard it, but hadn’t read it herself.) When she got to the word ‘shrieked’ she got stuck. Normally, she would follow one of three paths – make up a word and keep reading (most likely), ask for help (once in a blue moon) or try to figure it out once or twice, get frustrated and demonstrate that particular word rather than read it.
Last night looked entirely different. On her own, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROMPTING, she went to work on it. She did everything she could to sound it out. She started with Shh, Shh, then moved on to Shr, Shr, then tried adding a bunch of different vowel sounds to come up with a word that made sense. She tried Shry, Shree, Shruh, Shree-ih, Shree-uh, then Shrake and Shrike. She finally settled on Shriked, apparently deciding that it must just be a word she didn’t know. She fit ‘shriked’ into the sentence and moved on. It wasn’t until then that I interrupted and asked if I could take a peek at the word with her and told her what it was. She didn’t resist. She repeated ‘shrieked’ and continued to read.
As those of you who have been working with our girl for a long time know, this is a HUGE step for her. One of the biggest challenges standing in the way of her progress has always been a very low threshold for frustration and therefore for attempting things she didn’t already know how to do (tough to learn when you can’t tackle anything you don’t already know!)
Ms C wrote to us last week to tell us about a similar incident. She had asked Brooke a ‘Why’ question – ‘Why did you give this to me?’ and had gotten her typical ‘Because you opened it’ kind of answer. BUT, she continued to push her to find the ‘real’ answer. Brooke withstood five or six different rounds of Ms C asking the question and forcing her to really dig within herself for the answer. Ms C can add more I’m sure, but the bottom line is that Brooke got to the answer. She was able to push through the anxiety and let her formidable little mind chew on the problem.
All of this makes me incredibly hopeful. Brooke is an extremely bright kid who has always been held back by her anxiety. If she’s able to work through – or around – it, well, anything is possible. I wanted to let you all know for so many reasons, but mostly because I want to ensure that we’re taking full advantage of the opportunities that this will present.
If her first answer to a question is rote (as they most often are) or doesn’t make sense (as they very often don’t) I hope that you will gently prompt her to keep trying.
I’ve also noticed a LOT more self-correction when she’s given time to think without us prompting her in between. She still feels pressure to answer questions immediately, so her first answers are not always what she really wanted to say. If given an uninterrupted moment to process, she’s been able lately to independently change her answer – kind of an ‘Oops, that’s not what I meant’.
I’d be grateful if you all could join us in our efforts to give her a little more processing time (since she’s doing amazing things with it!) and gently pushing her to really dig for what we all know she’s got in her.
Thank you so much for all that you do to support our kiddo every day. We are so grateful.
Jess (with Luau, of course)

20 thoughts on “the push and wait

  1. Love this! And love the progress! We’re dealing with something similar with one of my students, and find that “pressing” (repeating the question) really helps that one as well. Kudos to Miss Brooke, and to all those who help guide her! (Oh, and you and Luau, natch!)

  2. I love this too! It’s so easy to take that first answer from our kids, especially if it’s quick and seems to make sense in context. But the pushing to get the real answer, instead of the automatic answer, is so powerful and empowering to our kiddos. Hurray for Brooke for pushing through with that word, and hurray to her team (her WHOLE team – including her family) for giving her that extra moment to get it on her own.

  3. Wait time is so very crucial for all kids, not just our angels. I experience much of the same with my older NT son. The anxiety is debilitating. The push ever so gentle and often yields fabulous results. Way to go, Brooke! I love the Harry books too! He’s just too cute!

  4. How long have I been a reader here (reader just doesn’t do how I feel justice)? Two years? Brooke’s progress has been nothing short of amazing!

    When I was studying to get my teacher’s cert., a very wise prof. said that we ought to count to five silently after asking a question. It can take that long in what I now know is an N.T. class for all of the children to process the question.

    Oh, how I look forward to Bells reading!

    • Great advice to count in your head! I tell parents to count to 30 seconds..with my own children I was amazed on how much giving them that time would allow them to process and then respond. We cut kids off when we jump back and reword the question, etc or try and drag things out of them in the name of getting them to talk. Pausing….helps them to be mindful that we are going to wait for them because we care what they are thinking and when then know, they have the time…they build up that resilience. Honestly, my RDI consultant years ago told me to count 45 seconds before responding….I role play with the families I now work with just to give them the feel on what waiting actually feels like. PLUS you will be amazed how much thinking you do in 45 seconds! 🙂

      • By the way, with my own children, giving them that time… it was only a matter of months that their processing improved ..It is no longer an issue for them. If there is a huge piece of advice for any parent..with a child with ASD…is to stop talking at them so much and let them process what you are saying 🙂 Slow down ( Pausing/more deliberate experience sharing language) to speed up ( building mindfulness and processing ability)

  5. Hi Jess and all,

    Did you see today’s Motherlode in the NYT on “Ratcheting Back on Autism Therapy?” A good point buried in a bad and misleading headline
    (and a bit of that from the author, too).

    Here’s my comment, linking to this wonderful post today about giving Brooke time and space to handle what she can clearly now (hurrah!) handle.


    Comment–Nothing is Something/ being Relentlessly Intentional.

    I applaud any parent of a kid with autism who is as articulate as Lorraine Duffy Merkl, but I think she’s underselling what she’s done and in a way that misleads us.

    One thing I know about the community of Autism Moms (and Dads) is that we are not a casual people. We don’t just give something a whirl. The stakes are too high. The research on brain plasticity and our kids’ potential tells us how important it is that we make good use of every moment.

    Which doesn’t mean every moment has to be spent in a therapy. Lorraine has made a fabulous choice for Meg, but she’s not making a choice to do nothing. She’s making a choice to play games, hang out, and decompress. For Meg, right now, this seems to Lorraine a good choice–one that will benefit Meg and her development right now.

    This is what I think of as the kind of Relentlessly Intentional parenting we do. For a wonderful example, see today’s post at by the amazing Jess. It’s all about making a choice to pause–but it’s not about doing “Nothing.”

  6. Wow!! The sky is the limit, we just have to give them a little gentle “push and wait” to get there!! Such a great post!!

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