When H was tiny I used to whisper words to him when we were out, because he lacked words of his own in an unfamiliar environment, or with unfamiliar people. I would lean in seamlessly – almost invisibly – so the words were still ‘his’ to share.
When I began to withdraw that support and he still needed it he would quietly say, “Whisper me, Mom,” and I would support him again with my words.
As H progressed and his language developed, he would change my whisperings and put them into his own words. I would see the unfolding of his own take on my whisperings and how they were being translated to be uniquely H’s words. That helped me to know that it wasn’t over-prompting or over-scripting – but, rather, matching the support to what he needed at the time.
This scaffolding provides the support needed to assist someone to attain or practice a skill that would otherwise be ever so slightly out of their reach. It is through the mentor/apprenticeship relationship with the competent adults in their lives that our children learn the skills they need. We need to be there to support them… to model… to whisper when they need it, to be attuned to pull back when they are ready to use their own voices or their own words in their own way.
Each of us may be on a slightly different path – but the big picture is that we are there to support development – whether it is in spoken language, or written communication, or…
Along with that support comes the need for us to learn to be in step with our children in an almost intuitive dance of sensitivity and co-regulation. We work to pace ourselves, likely not without a few mis-steps, to the shifting and changing needs of our children… and we carefully step back when they are ready to dance on their own…
or climb to unimagined heights…Please Note: The concepts of scaffolding, the zone of proximal development, and the role of the competent adult in teaching a child about their culture and society are from Vygotsky. For those who wish to read more on this, I’d recommend Awakening Children’s Minds: How Parents and Teachers Can Make a Difference by Laura Berk (2001, Oxford University Press))
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)