Power of Silence, Valuing Relationship-Building Time & Growing into Advocacy – Strategies for Neurodiversity Affirming Therapy for Autistic Children

Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast – Episode 16

by Adina Levy

Play. Learn. Chat - Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast Logo

Show Notes:

Sharing 3 key strategies for therapists supporting Autistic children:
๐Ÿคซ The Power of Silence
๐Ÿค— Valuing Relationship-Building Time
๐Ÿ—ฃ Growing into Advocacy

This is a shortie version of my free webinar for Speech Therapists who support Autistic Children – Turning Affirming! Speech Therapists โž You’re welcome to register to get the full webinar free – https://playlearnchat.com/free-speechie-webinar/ย – it’s available on-demand

My course for speech therapists ‘Affirming Communication for Autistic Children‘ is open for enrollment (at the time this episode is out!) and doors close on 1st August 2023. If you’re seeing and hearing this after that date, no worries, get on the waitlist to be first to hear when doors open next & get super duper offers!

Learn more about the course here: https://playlearnchat.com/acac-course/



Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast. I’m Adina Levy from Play. Learn. Chat. I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. And I’m obsessed with creating a world when neurodiversity is understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. Join me as we have conversations about autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent experiences, and I share how you can support neurodivergent children in your world.

Let’s all work together to make change where change is needed so that the world can be a more friendly place for neurodivergent people and for everyone.


In this episode, I’m going to share with you an abridged version of my webinar that I shared with speech therapists at the start of this week. It’s called the Turning Affirming Webinar. If you’d like to access the full one, you can check out the recording and I’ll share the link in the show notes. And here today, I’m just going to share some of the key points with all of you, whether you’re a speech therapist, a different kind of therapist, whether you’re a teacher, an educator, or indeed a parent supporting a neurodivergent child. I’m sure you’re going to find something in one of these three strategies that I share that will be useful in supporting your interactions with the neurodivergent kids in your life.

Today we’re covering three key neurodiversity affirming strategies and ideas that you can use immediately.

When you’re supporting your autistic clients, your students in neurodiversity affirming ways, remember, of course, this may apply to any of the kids that you’re supporting or any of your client caseloads, or even how you interact with the families around these kids or, you know, people in your own personal life too.

We’re going to talk about, now this is really maybe counterintuitive for speechies potentially even for me, we’re going to talk about the power of silence. We’re going to talk about valuing time spent building relationships, and we’re going to talk about growing into your role as an advocate. So I’m going to give you a few tools and ideas for each of these points.

So you’ve got something really practical to take away with you today.

Silence. How does it feel? How does silence feel for you? Are you good at it? I’m not. I love a chat, unless it’s after a certain hour and I’ve chatted too much that day, then I love silence.

I want us to think about the power of silence in our sessions with our autistic clients and students. A big part of it is this idea that we need to be responding to a child’s sensory preferences and their socialising preferences, rather than coming from this ableist, neurotypical first approach, which is sort of ideas like we should talk to our kids all the time or all kids should play with other people at all times.

You know, all of these ideas about what interactions might look like or even the pressure that we feel as speechies to fill the gap. It’s a very cultural thing. It’s also a very personal thing to you. how you go about dealing with silence. But I want us to recognise that really our job, I think speech therapists, speech pathologists, speech language therapists, speech language pathologists, I think all of our terminology for our job titles is wrong.

It’s all got the word speech in it. And I don’t think speech is the most important thing. I think our highest, goal that we’re all supporting kids and families with is communication and connection. So I’d love a rebrand. That’s for another day. Most important for us to be thinking about is communication and connection can often come from just being.

With someone, seeing someone, taking time to get connected with them, and that can happen in silence. So here’s some big ideas. It is okay to have silence in speech therapy sessions. Sometimes it’s needed and sometimes it’s beneficial. You may need to support a child to co regulate, to come down if they’re feeling very heightened.

You might need to use your silence to help them come to a place of calm and balance and regulation. Maybe. It’s very dynamic and it’s very individual.

What I think a lot of us do as speechies, one of our key strategies is things like narrating a child’s actions. And just describing what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, what they’re experiencing.

That’s okay, that’s a great strategy, but sometimes. Key word is sometimes. Sometimes, just be quiet. Joining in with a child is okay. Sometimes, again, sometimes we want to let them do their thing, explore, do their play. We may want to just observe them and let them experience things. And from a sensory and socialising perspective, they may need that space to do the thing on their own.

And sometimes. Sometimes joining in is appropriate and really lovely. So sometimes is our big key word there.

There are so many ways to connect and communicate that don’t involve talking.

Where are you at? What is your current status for how you go about dealing with or feeling okay with silence and letting a child do their own thing sometimes in sessions?

Five is like, you are totally an ace at having silent moments and just letting the child do their own thing in sessions. Five is like, I’m really, really good at this. I do it all the time. Zero is like, I never, ever do that. I’m always filling the gaps. I’m always jumping in. I’m always talking. So anywhere between 0 and 5. Where are you at?

So, here’s something that you need to consider when we’re thinking about, do we need silence, do we want to do it? Consider each person in that whole dynamic. Maybe that’s you, maybe it’s the child, maybe it’s the parent. Maybe there’s a sibling, you know, see whoever is in that scenario. Consider everyone’s sensory differences, sensory preferences, social preferences, play preferences, therapy expectations.

That can come from a parent, it could come from a child, a teacher even. And the value that each person brings to the table about the idea of building relationship and connection, which happens to be the next topic we’re talking about a bit more too. And definitely you need to be reflecting on your own sensory preferences, differences, social preferences, play preferences, your therapy expectations and where you place that value of building relationship and connection. Even just the reflective process is really, really important. So let’s sit with that for a moment in our silence. Silence is weird. I had the absolute pleasure of going to see Lizzo in concert yesterday. She’s an absolute queen. I’m just going to take a little sidebar here, but she really inspired me today.

She actually kind of paused in the middle of the whole concert. To do a little meditation. So there’s probably like 10, 000 people doing meditation together. It was beautiful. And I think it’s so wonderful to just take a moment and pause and collect ourselves and go.

Here we are. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Or how am I in this moment? What do I need? So, you know, maybe take that into your sessions as well. Thanks Lizzo.

Strategy two is about valuing time spent building relationships. And then I’m going to talk briefly about these ideas that you connect and then you model that connection and then you share the big ideas behind it, which actually will leave us heading neatly into our strategy number three.

You want to take time to get to know a kid and to just kind of hang out with them before diving into an assessment or therapy tasks or whatever that might be.

But you find yourself hesitating and saying things like, or whether it’s, you know, say it to yourself, I don’t want to waste time in our sessions. Or the parents are going to want me to get outcomes and you’re feeling a bit of pressure. You’re feeling a rush to kind of do things and achieve and help that child move forward, move forward, move forward.

And feeling pressure to get work done. Yes, okay, yeah, this is resonating with a lot of you.

Guess how I came up with these. A, from listening to people like you, but B, I’ve said them to myself before as well. Very relatable.

These are some of the questions that I think you need to ask yourself to challenge these beliefs.

Where have the beliefs come from? Which of those beliefs do you want to challenge? You don’t have to take my word for it that we want to change all of them. You may just decide that, you know, you’re actually comfortable in the way that you work with some of these and that’s okay, they can stay that way.

But maybe you want to have a bit of a go questioning some of them.

What do you need to know and believe to truly value time spent building relationships with your clients and students? That you don’t then feel that that’s a waste of time or not the main thing. And what do your clients’ or students’ families need to know and believe, to value relationship building time?

So unpacking perhaps this one. thinking that there’s a pressure coming from parents, for example, that the parents are going to want something out of therapy, they’re going to expect a certain thing. So, you know, what do they need to know and shift to be able to understand the value of first building that connection and relationship.

And that, that is actually the most important thing you can do in the child’s world is, be a therapist that. understands this child and respects this child and sees them as a whole human and really gets to know them rather than just rushing through that process and doing some standardised assessments and ticking some boxes and jumping into isolated work that doesn’t feel so relevant to the child and things like that.

There might be some bad habits that we might need to unpack a bit and we might have pressures also from the systems that we work in so I fully recognise that. You may want to work in a different way so this might be an even bigger question about how do you… Make your work life. Allow for this type of work.

Lots to think about. I just wanted to highlight here what I think some of the biggest challenges are with these phrases. The things we might want to challenge is that concept of wasting time. So why does it sometimes feel like you might be wasting time if you’re getting down on the ground with a kid and just watching them play with a car and spinning the wheels and you’re grabbing your own car and you’re spinning the wheels and you might have silence, you might not be adding language.

That is still valid. That is still connection, relationship building time. That is building the future capacity for you and that child to connect and relate to each other and to take that interaction further in time. So if any of you feel that sort of time wasting just really pause check it out Maybe write yourself a note to go.

I need to think about this more or perhaps discuss with a supervisor something like that. The parents are going to want me to get outcomes So like that’s a lot about parent beliefs or perhaps even our expectations of parent beliefs our expectations of their expectations You know plain and simple straight communication with parents to discuss how you work and how they are needing support and how you can meet in the middle or connect together.

And in some cases you may find that you’re actually not a fit and you’re not the best service for them and they’re not the best client for you. But hopefully in many cases we can actually get aligned just by communicating our approach to families.

The feeling pressure to get work done. Work. Hmm. What do you think your job is? Like, sometimes our goals are written in a way that they might have just been pulled out of, what were incorrect answers from a standardised assessment, for example.

And you think, well, the work we’ve got to do is work on these target areas. Maybe, maybe not. What does work look like? Do you think that it is about sitting at a table doing worksheets? Maybe. Do you think that it is about ticking boxes and taking data? Maybe, or do we think that actually we could redefine work and that the work we do with kids comes back to that, connecting, relationship building, all of that stuff.

So the approach that I want us to think about is first. Connect. First, you build that connection with the kid. You build that relationship.

And in doing that, you’re modeling that for the other parents in their world. You’re modeling that when you get that connection, wow, brilliant stuff happens. Amazing language and communication and interaction and play and learning and all of that good stuff can happen when the connection is there.

You’re modeling the power of that approach. And then share is about explicitly sharing that with the parents, carers, teachers, educators, other team members in that child’s world. So, that’s where I hope in the next moment I’ll give you some ideas about how you can have these conversations to share your approach and to help bring people around and so they understand why you are sitting there playing with sand for an hour rather than sitting at a table and ticking those boxes.

I’ve never been good at sitting at tables. I’m not sitting right now, I’m standing up. So. That’s our strategy number two.

Strategy three is all about growing into your role as an advocate. How confident do you feel? Being an advocate for a neurodiversity affirming approach for your autistic clients and students at the moment.

Zero. Not confident at all. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. I just don’t feel that I’m ready to explain to someone else how I work and why I work that way. Five. I’m super duper confident. I’ve got this. I’m all good. I’m going to have a nap through this section. So yeah, rate yourself zero to five.

How confident do you feel in your role as an advocate supporting a neurodiversity affirming approach for autistic kids, students, clients? I want to leave you with a few ways to frame these conversations to build up your advocacy confidence.

I think we first need to recognise that it really is a core part of our jobs as speechies to be advocates. It’s not enough for us to just be working directly with kids one on one, even if that’s the setting where you mainly see and support children. I still want you to be thinking if there’s service based limitations, how can you be an advocate in that child’s world or in the broader community, even for the neurodiversity affirming approach for the rights of each child to connect and communicate and have beautiful well being and relationships.

It’s really important that we’re sharing with those other people in these kids lives the strategies and the approaches that you use to maximise your impact. These one to one sessions that are traditionally part of how we do our jobs, they’re, you know, maybe half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour a week, maybe.

Imagine the impact, and I know some of you don’t have to imagine it because you’re doing this anyway, but when you’ve got these other people on board, you’ve got parents understanding the strategies, you’ve got teachers, educators understanding how you’re working and how they can support the child and it’s a really collaborative, shared approach.

The impact is throughout the whole week of that child’s life, not just your little sliver of time. It’s so, so, so important. Bang for the buck.

Yeah, so it’s important that you’re also recognising what are your barriers to being a good advocate. So if you’re like a zero, one, two, three, and you’re thinking, I’m not quite there with advocacy confidence, what is making it hard for you? So just reflect on that yourself. And again, it might be something that you can sort of work through yourself or with some colleagues perhaps with me, if you join my course, and also just if you have a supervisor and things like that.

Do you make a plan to address your personal barriers to being a more confident advocate. Maybe it’s about getting more information. Maybe it’s about practicing role playing. That’s not my groove, but you might like to do that. Maybe it’s about just debriefing. You know, having those conversations with somebody who you can trust as well.

So the big thing I think we can do to progress our skills as advocates is to get good at asking questions and being curious. So that is a really solid way to have these conversations with people. Rather than give you a list of things you can say to parents, I’m going to give you a list of ideas of questions you might ask that can really frame these conversations.

So it’s all about coming to, we’ll say parents here as the example, but anyone else, any of these other grown ups in the child’s life. coming with curiosity, trying to think, why do they believe that? Or where are they coming from? And having the conversation build from there. One common example of a bit of, let’s say, pushback or a challenge that we might get.

Our pediatrician said we should do X type of therapy. Let’s just say X in this case is ABA therapy, which we know broadly in almost every case is not neurodiversity affirming. P. S. It’s a very complex issue.

We can’t just paint a big broad brush over it. So I do have a deep dive webinar, all about affirming approaches to supporting behaviour, where I go into quite a lot of depth about this question of ABA therapy. But let’s just take that as the example here, our pediatrician said we should do X therapy and you feel that it’s not aligned with a neurodiversity affirming approach.

You could ask these questions, not in a drilling kind of way, but just, it could be part of your conversation with the parent asking things like, what do you know about that type of therapy? What are you or your child finding challenging right now? What kind of help or support would have the biggest impact for your child right now?

Where do you like to get information to help you guide your choices for your child? those conversation prompts can help you find those next steps, help you understand where they’re coming from, where the gaps are, how they get information is really important. If they’re a parent who loves podcasts, then great, tell them about my Exploring Neurodiversity. If they’re a parent who doesn’t know what a podcast is, don’t bother sharing that. Help them find information in the way that they learn best. So that’s one little example. I just thought I’d plug my podcast there. But really, we want to make sure that we’re meeting families where they are, and we can’t do that if we don’t know where they are.

Here’s another common question that comes up in therapy especially, you know, relating back to this idea of like, well, if we’re doing a play based child led approach, we might be worried and we might have indeed encountered these kinds of comments from parents. How is she going to learn anything if she’s just playing?

So here are some questions you could ask there. What are your expectations for her learning process at this stage? What is your understanding or your beliefs about how children learn? What kinds of skills or knowledge do you feel are most important for her to learn at the moment? Have you observed any specific instances of her learning through play? If so, what did you notice? So just some prompt questions to keep you kind of thinking through how you could frame these conversations with, families who are giving a little bit of not pushback, but different approaches, or you’re just trying to untangle each of your approaches and share that with them.

I hope that these ideas will get you thinking, right, I can now build on these advocacy skills. I can just have these conversations, but it starts with that curiosity, and really just thinking, you know, parents are doing the best with the tools that they have. And sometimes that might mean that they need more information or support or value challenged.

And we might need to help unpack that as well. So I’m going to recap our three strategies that we’ve talked about today. which Of the three strategies do you think is going to be most important for you? Maybe it’s the one you need to think about most. Maybe it’s the one that made your stomach turn a bit and go, Oh, that’s really hard for me.

Maybe it’s the one that you just really got excited about. So, strategy one was the power of silence. Strategy two, valuing time spent building relationships, and strategy three, growing into your role as an advocate.

I also really love helping you get accountable so that you make a change or you write in your calendar to have a discussion with someone or to think about it more. You know, maybe give yourself a reminder if the silence one was your big one today. Pop up a reminder every lunchtime on weekdays to go remember to be silent sometimes.

Whatever’s going to help you keep that going. But also for keeping it going, I would love to help you as well.

I now have opened up the doors for my course Affirming Communication for Autistic Children, which is for speech therapists who support any autistic kids aged up to about 12.

If you want to understand what goals and strategies and activities are aligned with a neurodiversity affirming approach and why, then this will probably be helpful for you. If you want to become more confident in supporting your autistic clients and your students using affirming approaches, you want to actually just make it happen and get your confidence up.

My course will be helpful for you. And if you’re seeking really clear guidance on how you can advocate for your autistic clients and students with their families and with all the other people in their support team, I’m going to give lots more tools and examples and resources. It’s really, really, really practical.

A lot of my other webinars and workshops are a bit theoretical, a bit of big ideas, big thinking. Here we’re going like very clear, specific, practical, I’m providing tools. I’ve got checklists. I’ve got quizzes. I’ve got mind maps.

In total, it’s about six hours of professional development. The modules are going to drop weekly through August, 2023. So the first module comes out on Monday, the 7th of August, and they come each week on the Mondays. You can pace yourself and go week by week if you want to, if that accountability works for you, but you can also catch up.

So you get 12 months access. So if you’re really, really busy, then you’ve got 12 months to get through everything. And like I said, there’s so many practical tools that I’m including in this course because I just want to make your lives easier.

We’ve got a Facebook group to keep you accountable and answer questions and provide support and chat with others doing the course as well. And a certificate because we love certificates, don’t we? I do. I love a certificate. You gotta have that. Recognition of all the hard work and the reflection that you’ve put in and all of that time.

So, this is what we cover. Module one, we cover affirming approaches to assessment.

We’re going to talk about communication, interaction, and play in Module 2. So I’ll share a lot more detail about what these kind of play based, child centered sessions can look like with your autistic clients and students.

Module three, we are sticking with therapy and we’re heading into what social support looks like and other communication areas. So we are going to touch on speech and fluency and literacy and other areas that we support in communication.

And finally. 4. We zoom out. We’re changing the world around the child. So this is where all that advocacy stuff comes in. A lot more of how you can deal with those tricky, frequently asked questions. How you can coach parents. and teachers and other people in the child’s world.

Thank you so much for taking the time and the processing power to rethink your practice, to learn new ideas, to listen, to share, to be vulnerable. I think that’s just so impressive and I really think that changing practice and reflective practice is It’s hard.

It’s really, really hard. And it’s one of the most important things we can do for our autistic and neurodivergent clients. So. Thank you.

So speech therapists, if you are interested in joining me for the Affirming Communication for Autistic Children course, it is currently open and registrations close on the 1st of August, so please don’t hesitate, I’ll pop the link in the show notes. And you can also go to playlearnchat.com/acac-course.

And if you do have any questions to help you work out if that’s the right next step for you in your professional journey, please hop on the chat, which you can find on my website.

If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend and join me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m @play.learn.chat

that’s Play.Learn.Chat, you’ll find all the links that we discussed in the show notes. Have a beautiful day.ย 

๐Ÿ’ฌ Get in touch

If you are enquiring about a workshop, webinar, training or a speaking opportunity, I will respond soon. Please note that it can take me a few days to get back to you as I juggle many roles!

If you've registered for a webinar or workshop and can't find confirmation or access information, please check your junk/spam email and add hi@playlearnchat.com to your safe senders/contacts list.

I am not able to provide personalised advice, resource or service requests/recommendations. You can view my resources & links page here, and view therapy services that I've worked with here. Please note that I no longer take on new speech therapy clients.

I am not able to reply to all feedback comments, but I do read them and appreciate you taking the time to share!

Thank you for your understanding!


For anything else - please feel free to contact me using the form below