Sarah: I’m doing what Eli needs, but it’s still painful for me. I’d rather sit outside.

Therapist: It’s important that Eli recognize his own areas of strength so he doesn’t fall into the trap of evaluating his worth based on one area alone.

Eli: Manny doesn’t care that I’m not smart.

 

I

don’t hear from the Beckmans all week. The day before their next session, my secretary calls to confirm. “They’re coming,” she says.

When Eli walks in, Sarah lingers awkwardly in the doorway. “I’m willing to give this a try, but I don’t really want to be in the room. Is it all right if I wait out here?” [When parents sit in on sessions, they see their child’s progress — and how to carry over the work at home. However, it’s counterproductive if the child is embarrassed or the parent uncomfortable.]

“Sure.”

I pull out an article about how Oreo cookies are manufactured, but we don’t read it yet. First, I show Eli a series of photos of the Oreo cookie factory. After we examine them, I explain to Eli that when you describe something, you’re communicating the “WH” information — who, what, when, where, and why. With the photos still on the table, we take turns spinning a dice. On each side is a WH question. I land on “what.”

“What does this factory manufacture?”

Eli tosses the dice and lands on “where.”

“Where are Oreo cookies manufactured?”

Together, we write a list of questions. I put the list down next to the article. “What you just did is predict what this article is going to tell us,” I tell Eli. [Prediction is important because it primes the child on what to listen for as he reads. He’ll then absorb the information better. ]

We read the article together and then answer a few questions at the end. Eli does pretty well, especially on the questions that also appear on our list.

When we’re done, we fill out a graphic organizer. It’s designed like a flower, with a circle in the middle, and petals around it. I point to the middle. “What was the main idea of the article?” [Organizing the information into main idea and details helps Eli process what he reads.]

“How Oreo cookies are made?”

“Great.” We fill it in.  “See these petals? They’re for the details.” [Organizing the information into main idea and details helps Eli process what he reads.]

Eli needs some prompting here. “Think of the WH questions.”

On one petal Eli writes, “Oreo cookies are manufactured in a 1,800,000-square-foot facility in the state of Illinois.” It’s a sentence he recalled verbatim from the article. [Eli is used to relying on his memory, but spit-back answers do not equal comprehension.]

“Not so many words,” I redirect him. “Tell it to me in your own words, just a short phrase.” Eli writes, “Factory is in Illinois.”

“You’re doing great!”

Eli gives me a disgusted look. “This is for babies.”

“Eli, do you know what your strengths are?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Yes, you do. What do your friends like about you?”

“Uh… Manny likes to have me on the team because I don’t fight.”

“You’re flexible and easy to get along with. What else?”

“I’m good at fixing things.” His eyes darken again. “Who cares?” He looks up as Sarah walks back in. “My mother doesn’t want me to be an electrician.”

Sarah opens her mouth but I don’t give her a chance.

“Ever seen a diamond?” I show Eli a picture. “See all the different sides? You have many different sides to you, Eli. You need to acknowledge your personal strengths. You have value.”

Both Eli and Sarah look thoughtful when they leave.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators.