Christian Teaches Us the Importance of Visuals

Christian is a charming, articulate, loving little boy. He attends a small parochial school where the staff not only accept, but thoroughly enjoy him. Like any other student, when situations arise that suggest Christian has a gap in his knowledge or skills, they work hard to understand and address the problem.

One day, Christian came home from school and announced, “I do not like school anymore. It is not friendly anymore." When questioned further by his dad, Christian acknowledged that classmates and teachers continued to be nice to him. The generalized misery he ascribed to the entire school experience was actually the result of an issue with one of his closest friends, Travis. 

After a great deal more questioning, Christian’s dad pieced together the following tale. Nearly every day, since the beginning of the school year, Christian had played soccer with Travis. However, last week, in an unprecedented break from his routine, Christian had played with some other boys during recess, rather than playing soccer with Travis. According to Christian, Travis said, “If you don't play with me, you are not my friend.” 

The teacher talked with Travis about different ways to deal with disappointment when a friend doesn't want to do what you do. Realizing that this was a good opportunity to teach Christian a lesson about friendship and social skills, she also attempted to talk with Christian, as described in the email she sent to Christian’s parents:

“I talked to Christian about Travis, however, Christian was way more interested in scaring people with his jack-o'-lantern picture so I'm not sure he heard the message. I took him down to talk to the school social worker. She told him that children sometimes do say mean things to each other, but Travis is a good friend and that they will probably be friends even after they get married. Of course, Christian said that he couldn't marry a man. I think the intent of the conversation was definitely lost…”

Sally’s Follow-Up: Christian’s parents and teachers spent a great deal of time and energy piecing together what, for most children, would be a simple and straightforward description of an interaction on the schoolyard. For Christian, the story was anything but simple. Christian did not tell any one immediately. His first description of the problem was that his school was no longer friendly. Had his father taken this at face value and failed to question further, the experience would have gone unexamined and unprocessed.  Fortunately, parents and teachers communicated well and both intervened and discussed the situation with Christian. However, Christian did not seem to be listening.   

The - I won't be your friend any more - TrickLike many Aspies, Christian can best explain, sequence, and reflect on his experiences, and distill lessons from them, when a language-based, visual format is used. To teach to this strength, Christian and I made a simple book. Click to download.

This not only allows for repetition but shows Christian’s parents exactly what was discussed in the therapy session and what language I used. This increases the likelihood that we are all calling the same thing by the same name. If every adult has a different name for the same thing, children, especially those on the spectrum, can become extremely confused. In this case, Travis’s behavior was conceptualized as “bossy” and the specific technique of bossiness was referred to as the “I won’t be your friend trick.”  The next time Christian described that type of situation, he said, “Travis tried to pull the ole ‘I won’t be your friend trick’ but I told him it wouldn’t work!” 

After creating the story with Christian, I typed it in Word so that I could more easily share it with his teachers and perhaps, with some modifications, use it with a child with similar issues in the future.

— S.B.


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