Individualize the Response
For each of your students, determine an appropriate method of communication for greeting peers. You need to individualize this. Don’t have everyone use a visual if half of your students can talk. And don’t leave out your student who is nonverbal by not having an appropriate communication system for him. It’s all about individualization. It’s also all about balance. We want to push our students to utilize the highest level of communication they can do but we also don’t want to make it so challenging that they give up immediately. Think outside the box. Use visuals, AAC devices, or hand gestures if needed!
Make it Age Appropriate
If your students are verbal, make sure that teach response discrimination and make sure those responses are age appropriate. Response discrimination means we respond in different ways depending on where we are or who we are with. Just like you don’t wear a bathing suit to black tie wedding, you also don’t fist pump when you have a meeting with the principal. So teach your students how to change their greetings based on who they are talking to.
If they are talking to their peers, what does that response look like? If you aren’t sure, spend a few minutes in the jungle of a middle or high school hallway during passing periods. It’s a dangerous place so be ready. Observe how your student’s peers greet each other. They probably don’t high five or shake hands. Teenage boys are all about the head nod. Or even just eye contact is a greeting. Other kids may say “hey.” Take note of the intonation and tone of the greeting. Teach your student how to greet in a similar way when talking to his peers.
Make it Reinforcing
At first, your student may not enjoy practicing greeting. The naturally occurring reinforcement of someone saying hi back to them after they say hi – may not work as a reinforcer. Remember this post on reinforcement? Yea, it still applies. You may need to add some contrived reinforcers when practicing this skill. That means your kiddo will earn a token, candy, or other reinforcer when he correctly greets someone. That’s okay. You can fade that out later. Still make sure that the naturally occurring reinforcement – the person greeting back – is there.
Make it Routine
The key is routine! Teaching the process of engaging in the greeting may be easy but the hard part is teaching when to greet and then having them greet on their own without any prompts from you at times when it is appropriate. We want this to be a functional skill! We do not want kids saying hi mid-morning or constantly high-fiving all day. We want this to be something that is natural and functional! Add this process into your routine so students have a cue on when they should greet. Make it part of your morning meeting or once they first enter the room or when they enter a new class (think gym and music!).