You might remember Bob Yamtich from Episode 2, where he talked about improving relationships using nonviolent communication principles.
Since that interview, Bob has been working as a guidance coordinator at the Knox School of Santa Barbara, where he helps kids with their social and emotional development.
In this interview, we’ll talk about communication strategies you can use to teach autistic kids confidently.
7 Tips To Help You Teach Autistic Kids Confidently
Tip #1: Decide
Decide to apply the 1% rule for personal growth. Aim to improve your communication with autistic kids a little more each day, or each week.
If you improve just 1% each week, you’ll have improved 52% by the end of the year!
When we decide to become excellent, our subconscious mind looks for strategies and opportunities to improve.
Tip #2: Learn The Non-Violent Communication Framework
Bob learned about a powerful, yet simple method of effective communication while doing volunteer and therapy work in schools and prisons.
The method is called nonviolent communication
Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist, created this four step communication method.
Bob has found that both he and people on the autism spectrum like the simple and yet profound steps:
The model teaches people, partners, and families how to both express themselves effectively while also being able to understand and validate the other person they are communicating with.
In order to better understand nonviolent communication, check out this Wiki How: How to Practice NonViolent Communication.
For each of these steps, you check in with yourself, and then you check in with the other person.
First, Observe –
What do you see, hear, imagine, and feel that a) contributes to your well-being and b) does not contribute to your wellbeing.
What does the other person (for example, the student) see, hear, imagine, and feel that a) contributes to their well-being and b) does not contribute to their wellbeing.
Second: What are your feelings?
NVC (Nonviolent Communication) teaches that feelings and thoughts are separate, but Bob acknowledges that he and others on the spectrum can struggle with identifying specific feelings. See Cynthia Kim’s article for more on this topic.
Once you’ve identified your feelings, think about the other person’s feelings.
If you struggle with labeling your feelings, go to the next step —
Third: What are your needs?
What do I need/value that causes my feelings?
What does the other person need/value that is causing their feelings?
Here are a couple of helpful links to help you label needs and feelings:
Fourth: Make a Request
In this step, you clearly request that which would enrich your life, rather than demanding.
Name the specific actions you’d like to see taken:
“Would you be willing to…?”
Here’s a video that puts all the concepts together:
Tip #3: Be Humble And Curious
It’s easy, as teachers, therapists, and parents, to take a constantly directive approach.
Bob states, that in his experience, autistic kids often haven’t been valued or listened to.
So when you and I take the time to show interest in how their minds work, what their special interests are, and what they think about things, and when we’re willing to admit our own mistakes, it makes a big difference.
Tip #4: Help Your Student Learn Self-Awareness
Bob shared how he helps students “check in” with themselves during different emotional states.
He helps them notice when their shoulders are tense, or their brows are furrowed.
One second grade teacher taught her students to associate different emotional states with different colors.
For example, if you’re feeling relaxed and loose, you’re probably in a good place to take a social risk of playing with another person.
As you learn about non-violent communication, you’ll become more self-aware, and you’ll be able to teach autistic kids how to become self-aware.
Tip #5: Help Your Student Learn About Sensory Overload
As students learn more about themselves, you’ll want to teach them about sensory overload.
Bob tells kids to think about batteries.
As a kid (and as an adult), you may be practicing empathy, identifying your needs, and making great requests.
But there comes a time when our emotional battery runs low and needs to be recharged.
We may need time alone, or to go for a walk in nature, or a variety of other things.
As teachers and parents, the more we can incorporate sensory diets into our teaching, the more our students will benefit.
Tip #6: Be Okay With “Why”
Bob shared that he often needs to know the “why” behind requests. It’s not that he’s trying to be difficult, but rather that he’s trying to understand the logic of the request.
In the same way, we teachers and parents need to understand that autistic kids aren’t trying to resist as much as they are trying to understand when they ask, “Why?”
Tip #7: Positive Reinforcement
I know this is a given for most of us. But never forget how powerful praise can be in a child’s life.
Autistic kids often are misunderstood.
When you and I take time to notice and praise an autistic kid’s choices and actions, we build her self-esteem.
Here’s a video that teaches makes positive reinforcement easy to understand.
Bob Yamtich’s Background
Bob started out earning his degree in civil engineering. He completed his coursework toward a PhD in that industry, but enjoyed his volunteer work using the principles of nonviolent communication so much that he switched to studying counseling psychology. He’s got his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.
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photo by London Scout