In one of the early chapters of Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, Melody talks about her neighbor, Mrs. V., who was one of her caretakers. Mrs. V. as the person who first pushed Melody out of her comfort zone and built up many of her skills. She details one particular experience where Mrs. V. did what is known as scaffolding. The end goal of reaching her favorite toy was achieved through a series of much smaller steps, each one building on the previous one.
It reminded me of one of my favorite success stories. I will call this girl Vicky.
She definitely exhibited many characteristics of being on the autism spectrum, but was never evaluated during her time with me.
One day, we were getting ready to play outside. Most of the other children had already gotten their coats on. We always encourage independence, of course, and I really felt like five-year-old Vicky was finally going to be successful that day.
Just like Mrs. V. did with Melody, I broke down the process of putting on her coat into tiny steps for Vicky. She cried the entire time, frustrated at yet determined at the same time. She would keep crying, “I can’t! I can’t!” as she pushed through each step. I am sure that anyone peeking in thought I was torturing this poor child. But I just kept encouraging her, because I knew she could do it. I feared that if we stopped, I would completely lose her. Plus as she achieved each milestone, she would burst out laughing, proud of herself. “I did it!” And then the cycle would begin all over again for the next step.
The entire process took probably 15-20 minutes. I admit that both me and my assistant were starting to worry about getting the other children outside. However, they were all engaged in watching Vicky persevere and were quietly encouraging her in a way that only children can do.
And then that magical moment happened. Vicky got her coat on all by herself. She let out the biggest yell of, “I did it!” and had the largest smile I had ever seen. The entire class burst into applause and cheered for her. She was successful at independently putting on her coat from that point forward.
Remember, these kids were ages 3 to 6. It was a beautiful moment and one of my favorite memories and accomplishments as an educator.
Be aware of what a child can do. Scaffold those goals so that the child can be successful and adjust as necessary. The results will be worth it, especially for that child.