The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Month: January 2018

Hurry Up and Wait!

Hurry Up and Wait!

By Jules Csillag


Inspired by my colleague Allison Brown’s post about waiting, I decided to delve deeper into this subject since waiting can be one of the trickiest things to do (at least for me!). As a strategy, wait time can be powerful for autistic children.  Also dubbed “the 30-second rule” or “the 45-second rule,” wait time refers to the idea of providing children with sufficient time to process information, particularly language.


Why to wait:

Research on autistic individuals shows that many have difficulty integrating information from multiple senses (e.g. listening and looking simultaneously), particularly when the auditory information is linguistic. Wait time, therefore, aims to provide students with enough time to process information (particularly linguistic information), to produce linguistic information, and to process information in novel situations (which necessarily include many social situations).


Wait time also allows for autistic individuals to separate the “signal” (i.e. important information) from the “noise” (i.e. irrelevant information), as studies suggest that autistic brains are both hypo- and hyper-connected when it comes to processing visual or auditory information. While this can require time, it also can mean that some individuals with autism are skilled at seeing or hearing details, that can be beneficial in many ways (e.g. for artists, musicians, designers, engineers, etc.).


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Scientists highlight that “the brain of a typical learner quickly allocates information-processing resources to the most salient information with minimal awareness on the part of the learner,” whereas individuals with autism require additional time to determine what is most salient or relevant. Wait time provides this time, although there are ways of supporting salience through visuals and routines as well.


Judy Endow, an autistic self-advocate, author, and social worker writes about having to “translate” visual thoughts into words. She writes, “Most of the time these days, after decades of practice, my speaking appears quite fluid, though sometimes a delay is still apparent. It is often hard to translate because the world of English words is much more limited than my visual thought.”


yellow hour glass timer with clock on top of it


How to wait:

  • Some activities naturally allow for processing time: crafts, sports, and science experiments often include pauses that do not feel contrived.
  • You can also “buy yourself time” by thinking out loud. You can model how you are thinking of solutions or what you are thinking about. For example, if you ask a math question, you can narrate, “I see the word ‘each’ so I think this is a multiplication problem, and that means I’ll set up my work like this…”(while drawing on the board).
  • Use timers– this can help you wait “long enough,” and it signals to students when you are ready to take their responses/questions.
  • Writing: whiteboards, post-its, or other means of writing provide students with time to think and generate new ideas, allows for all students to think at once (total participation!), and can therefore lead to increased participation.
  • Pause while you are speaking or lecturing. While it is not ideal to bombard students with language, sometimes teachers need to speak for a few minutes here and there. While speaking, pause to allow students to think about what you have said, without requiring a question or thought, but just to allow students’ brains to reload.

Share other “waiting” tricks in the comments!

When You See Your Teacher In Public

When You See Your Teacher in Public

by Christina Annunziata


“Is he one of yours?” my husband asked as we waited at a bus stop.  I looked up and saw one of my fourth grader’s dead in his tracks, mouth open in awe. It was indeed. We had been spotted in the wild. He approached with his mother and while the adults chatted, he stood, mouth still open in awe. As they walked away my husband chuckled and commented on the boy’s reaction to seeing his teacher out in public. “It was you he was interested in,” I pointed out. Yes, there is a certain shock to seeing your teacher beyond the context of the classroom but I kept a close eye on my kiddo during our exchange. I watched as he gave my husband a once over, then return to study each detail further. The legend that was often featured in my classroom stories had come to life. Confirmation came that Monday during morning meeting. “Is it true, does your husband like the Mets? He was wearing a Mets hat…” News spreads fast in the fourth grade and I had a wonderful opportunity for engagement and connection.


It felt like a trick. Starting out a lesson with a quick story about myself, friends, or family instantly captured the attention of my class.  Sharing with my students was an effortless method of engagement and made the curriculum feel relevant and relatable. It was also an opportunity to connect. Letting students learn about who you are as an individual builds trust and camaraderie. Writing personal narratives- make it a real one from your childhood. Teaching measurement- start with a picture of you cooking in your kitchen (proof that you don’t live in school!).


I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was some actual science behind that engagement and connection. When we listen to stories, we activate the parts of our brain necessary for language processing but any other area in our brain that we would use when we experience the events are also activated. For example, if a story includes motion, our motor cortex becomes active.  My students were engaged because that story that I was using as a hook was getting their whole brain warmed up.


Sharing stories with students is a simple way to build authentic relationships and encourage students to relate.  It’s an opportunity to build community by sharing an experience and inviting humor and creativity into the classroom. Plus, the look on their faces is totally worth it.



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