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Will He Speak? – Part 3 – Intentional Fun

Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan

Sometimes silliness sets the tone for safe risk taking.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has insinuated to me that all we school counselors do is play games. I admit. We do play games. Purposeful, fun, social skills and emotional regulation building… games. That’s certainly not all we do (but that’s a post for another time.)

Let me ask you this, if you were to take lessons from someone, and they made it engaging for you, would you be more likely to go back? How about if they made you laugh? Would you feel more comfortable? There is something about laughing together that builds connections and puts us at ease.

The Goal:

To encourage my student with selective mutism make approximations and eventually speak with me and/or the students in our lunch group.


Fun, lots of fun.

  • Intentional fun included setting up a lunch group with peers the student is willing to take risks with. He talks with them outside of school (and sometimes whispers to them in school.) They are such a sweet, silly, encouraging pair.
  • Intentional fun included starting with a basic round of the classic game “telephone” during a lunch group.
  • This traditional game of telephone progressed over a few sessions to using a voice changer when the person at the end of the chain announced our jumbled message. (Commence silly 7 year old laughter.)

During our first lunch group, my buddy was happy and excited to be with his friends. We sat at a circular table. He was across from me and the two friends were in between, intentionally. This day’s goal was comfort and setting the tone. With a friend on either side of him, he was willing to whisper messages through the chain. When his turn came to announce the message, he whispered to one of the friends. The friend announced the message for him.

Session 1 Success: He whispered to peers in front of me during a teacher lead activity at school.

Session 2: Same process as Session 1, but this day’s twist was a seat change halfway through the group. The friend who I switched with paused and said to me, “But then he has to talk to you…” she trailed off and smiled. “Oh I get what your doing,” she laughed as she switched. I just gave her the “interesting point big eyes,” and smiled back at her. I think I was more nervous than he was, but I wasn’t going to let on. When the turn came for him to whisper the message to me he leaned over. I cupped my hand around my ear and looked away. The other two friends side chattered with each other. I waited, and waited. (How long would I let this go for before giving in?…)

“Unicorns are pretty,” he whispered. In my ear. I wanted to dance. To celebrate. But I kept my cool and repeated aloud, “UNICORNS ARE PRETTY!”

The friends laughed, he laughed, we all laughed. The students who visit my office know that I over-identify with unicorns. It was the perfect first message to hear.

Session 2 Success: “Unicorns are pretty…”

Session 3: This unicorn was going to push the envelope. My little lunch friends liked silly. Silly brought just the right comfort for my buddy to take chances. Next up: a voice changing toy. This thing was nothing fancy, but made everyone sound like a robot or alien. The twist on this week’s group: speak through the voice changer to announce the message at the end.

Friend one’s round: laughs, silliness…

Friend two’s round: repeat laughs silliness, add eagerness to use the toy.

My buddy’s round: laughs, silliness, and TALKING THROUGH THE TOY!

It got so silly, he kept going. Sometimes the toy didn’t work, so we all heard his voice, but he kept going.

Session 3 Success: From Silliness to Speaking

Session 4: We sat down and reviewed the rules of lunch group. The plan for session 4 was Chatterpix. I asked my buddy is he was ok with sharing the video he made last year with his friends. He emphatically nodded.

We showed his friends the video he made with his example of Chatterpix at the end. While they ate their lunch, I gave them a brief tutorial on how to use the APP. We made a silly plan to share them with the teacher and the classroom. When they finished their lunches, they drew their pictures.

My buddy used a “private studio” in my office (a sheet fort – I don’t get too fancy). He went in and quickly came out to share what he made with all of us. As I helped one of the other students, he pulled me down and quietly asked, “Can I make another one?”

Heart stops. Inner voice says, “keep breathing, don’t show a reaction.” Outer voice, “Absolutely. Keep going.”

So my group went over time, but sometimes you don’t put a time limit on progress.

Session 4 Success: Direct speaking to adult, sharing voice through Chatterpix, lots of more silly group vocalizations through voice changer.

Next Steps:

I now have a small group of Chatterpix experts who are willing to share their voice through their pictures. Collaborating with the classroom teacher, we plan to do a classroom lesson that incorporates the APP.

To be continued…


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