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Speech in the Schools

Find the Smile

Published August 1, 2016 9:35 AM by Teresa Roberts

Everyone enjoys something. It might take us a while to find out just what will make another person smile, but if we watch closely, we can find it.

Some years ago I was working with a student who had significant cognitive delays and behavioral challenges. He attended his neighborhood elementary school, however, the staff was not sufficiently equipped to manage his needs. Teachers alternated shifts throughout the day providing one-on-one supervision. He would dart away from staff, run throughout the building, and one a few occasions, even run outside of the building. There were safety concerns that led to a discussion about increasing supports and/or changing educational placements to a new school.

A meeting was convened with the family, teachers, staff, and administration. The mood was tense. It was expected that I would speak first. I sat silently for a moment during the introductions and thought about this child. I thought about what he had been doing that day and I thought about what made him happy. He frequently walked in the hallway with a staff member. He always waved and greeted the other children and staff. Whenever he saw another person, he would smile with a wide grin. He was socially motivated and his greetings were sincere.

At the start of the meeting, everyone at the table turned to me. I said, “He has the most beautiful smile. Everyone lights up when they see him. He loves to visit with people.” The sense of relief was immediate. The parents smiled. The father laughed. It was as if we had all been holding our breath and we suddenly began to breath again. The child’s parents had expected to hear only negative comments. We did eventually share the extent of his needs, but we didn’t share that information first. The meeting proceeded well and everyone was in agreement about the child’s needs.

The way that we describe our clients shapes how they are viewed. This child demonstrated behavioral concerns, but these were not his only defining characteristics. When we are able to describe people from multiple perspectives, we recognize strengths and individuality.

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Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize positive traits when you are overwhelmed or frustrated. We can find strengths, skills, and preferences through focused observation by looking for a smile. At some point during the day, in some interaction or within some activity, a child will smile, even if it is fleeting.

•    Note when the child smiles: describe the activity and communication partners
•    Note when a staff member smiles at the child: describe the style of engagement and type of interaction
•    Note when a peer smiles at the child: describe the events leading up to this shared exchange

A smile shows you happiness. Find the smile and it will guide you to the positive moments!

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About this Blog


    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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