“Whisper me, Mom”: Autism and Supporting Development

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…

Tree Guy

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))

Related Posts:

Together: Vygotsky, connections and the tipping point

Diagnosis: AUTISM … part 2


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)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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15 Responses to “Whisper me, Mom”: Autism and Supporting Development

  1. Hannah says:

    I really love how you’ve described this Leah, x


  2. 1funmum says:

    Ah Leah! Very wonderful as usual. ” say it as he would say it, if he could say it” was what my boys speech path would say. An old technique that should be in any autism mom’s tool box when they have achieved early language. This was how we increased echolalia and spontaneous speech. A very ” more than words” approach to speech and language. Write it as they would write it should be next. Or sign it as they would sign it lol. How far they come eh Leah how far they come. One minute your saying it for them first so they can repeat it the next minute they are saying it for themselves. Technology has brought us so far as well. Now we have digital cards that record the sayings so kids can memorize different sayings. Our world is different. Our parenting unique. Our experience in both very special. Enjoy your new year! Much love and respect.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Aw… thank you so much for taking the time to comment and respond. You are right about how far we our kids can come. We may measure differently – where even the tiniest thing can be so hard-won… but then it is also so appreciated.

      “Our world is different. Our parenting unique. Our experience in both very special.”
      I love that!!

      ((Hugs)) and much appreciation for your kind words of encouragement, and best wishes to you for the New Year as well!


  3. You explained the scaffolding so well 🙂


  4. “Whisper me, Mom.” This is so beautiful, Leah! I love the concept of ‘scaffolding’. Must check out Vygotsky and Awakening Children’s Minds: How Parents and Teachers Can Make a Difference by Laura Berk (2001, Oxford University Press))


  5. mystikchick says:

    Such a familiar story! It’s so neat to hear it from another parent, because no one else gets it. They are amazing little treasures! I do the whisper as well! Great project!


  6. Pingback: "Whisper me, Mom": Autism and Supporting Development | Social Skills & Autism | Scoop.it

  7. segurry says:

    I agree totally….scaffolding, supporting the child, the ‘zone of proximal development’…these are hallmarks of good parenting and good teaching.


  8. nisha360 says:

    It is so difficult to find the balance between supporting and crippling I applaud you for finding it.


  9. Stephanie James says:

    I am so glad I have found your blog! My daughter is now grown and your story reminded me of how she learned to speak and later to express herself. She memorized Dr. Seuss’ book, “The Cat In The Hat,” and applied the nouns and verbs to her environment, sounding out “cat” and pointing to a cat, etc. Around and around the coffee table she would walk, repeating parts of the story until she memorized the entire book. Later, when she had more expressive language skills she would tell me her own stories about her favorite toy/friend, Woody, from the movie, “Toy Story.” She made up some incredibly sweet adventures for Woody. You are correct that we, as parents, even when our children are grown, must move to their rhythm of learning and what wonders that holds for us and them!


    • Leah Kelley says:

      “…we, as parents, even when our children are grown, must move to their rhythm of learning and what wonders that holds for us and them!”

      Yes! I love that!

      Thank you, Stephanie, for your beautiful comment and for sharing your experience with your daughter.


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