Jordan’s reading tutor came to me at the end of last year with a bemused expression on her face. “Jordan would like to throw a pie at me when she reaches Wilson book 12,” she explained. “I’ve said no several times, but she just keeps asking.” We looked at each other, trying to comprehend where THAT came from. “What book is she in?” I asked. “Book 3,” she replied. We both breathed a sigh of relief. Surely she would forget over the summer.
But no, over the summer the requests continued and even accelerated once school began. It was a real motivator to Jordan, the thought that just maybe her tutor would change her mind and let her throw a pie. The tutor explained that she was very uncomfortable with that, but Jordan kept on asking. She’s not an unkind child, so it was very puzzling why she would want to do something so hurtful.
Luckily this year we added Katie Reily, speech and language pathologist, to those who work with our students. The time when SLPs worked only with kids who stutter is long gone; she also works with children who have language deficits, both receptive and expressive, and those who have social thinking deficits. Jordan seemed to have both language and social thinking difficulties, and so we arranged for Ms Reily to work with her each day.
After a few days, Jordan asked Ms Reily if she could throw a pie at her. Katie is skilled in hearing the words that don’t make it out, and she probed further. “How do you think I would feel if you threw a pie at me?” she asked. “Happy!” Jordan replied. “Watch my face,” Katie said, and she pantomimed being hit by a pie, her face expressing sadness and fear. Jordan was confused. “But on youtube she’s happy,” she said. Katie and Jordan pulled up the youtube video in question. Sure enough, there was a smiling woman being hit by a pie.
Katie realized that this student was trying desperately to connect with her tutor and thought she’d hit upon something that would make her really happy. Because of her receptive language difficulties, the tutor’s words did not penetrate. Ms Reily took her step-by-step, explaining how she would feel and demonstrating with facial expressions. She then asked Jordan how she could connect with her tutor with a pie. With some coaching, Jordan came up with the idea that they could make a pie to give her.
Over the last two days, I’ve watched Ms Reily and Jordan in the kitchen, first making a pie shell, and today mixing pudding and fresh strawberries. Tomorrow the pie project will be complete. Jordan’s work in utilizing language is not complete, but it got a big boost this week when she was understood and helped to find a better way to connect.
Many of our students have language and social thinking deficits that make navigating the world very difficult. Katie works, not only with the kids, but also with the staff to coach us on strengthening our students’ ability to make sense of the world. We are excited to watch the kids make progress, and in the process make friends, some for the first time in their lives.