How Sabotaging Your Students Creates Independence

Level 2: Expressive Language

This title sounds a little mean and devious. We evil teachers are just sitting and plotting ways to make life harder on our students. But honestly – you should. If you want your students to grow up to be functionally independent adults it is essential and critical to make life harder on them now. We don’t want to coddle them. We don’t want them to rely on us. We want them to do it for themselves. I tell teachers and paraprofessionals all the time – your job is to lose your job. We want our kids to not need us.

A great way you can start to do this is by sabotaging your students. Again – it sounds mean but in the long run we’d rather have twenty year olds who can advocate for themselves versus twenty year olds who need an adult to follow them around. It’s time to get tough.

On a daily basis, we need to create situations in the classroom where the student runs into a problem.

When the student runs into a problem, we can teach them how to respond to this problem. We need to do this on a daily basis because there a loads of different types of problems that our students will encounter in their lives. We can never plan for and teach each and every scenario. But we can teach the steps to approaching a problem and give our students exposure to a wide range of types of problems. We want this skill to generalize. So when they are faced with a novel problem – they can relate the novel problem to a problem they have previously solved in order to find a solution.

So what does this have to do with language and communication? Typically we use communication skills to solve a problem! We ask for help, we say we do not know, we advocate for ourselves using language. We need to teach our kids to do the same.

Ways we can sabotage our students to evoke independence building language skills:

  • Don’t give them all of the materials they need for an activity. Give a worksheet with no pencil. Give paint with no paint brush. This requires the students to advocate for themselves and use expressive language skills to request the needed item. Wait them out if they don’t ask right away and provide high-magnitude praise when they ask on their own!Screen Shot 2015-06-27 at 4.12.11 PM
  • Keep electronics passwords protected. You tell them to do something on the computer or they get to do an activity on the iPad – guess what? They have to figure out how to get in a password protected computer. We are living in the day and age of password mania. If you don’t know a password – you ask for help. Our students should do the same. You can even create an anchor chart or password cheat sheet and teach them to reference it themselves. IMG_5796
  • Give your students work that is too hard for them. Is every task placed before you something you know exactly how to do? Absolutely not! If your school placed a student in your classroom with a disability you had never heard of – what would you do? Refuse to take the student? Stand there stuck with fear? (maybe for a minute…) You would research! You would ask questions! You would reference different source. Teach your students to do the same. When the work is too hard – how should they react? Teach them to ask for help and reference anchor charts or reference pages to find the right answer!IMG_6772-300x225
  • Offer them or give them something they don’t like. Think about how often you have been at a friends home and they served something for dinner you absolutely hate. You have learned how to politely decline. You solved that problem and avoided eating sardine pizza. Our students need to learn how to say no to something in a socially acceptable way. Unknown-2
  • Give them something that belongs to another student. Pass them the wrong lunchbox or pass back the wrong spelling test. How do they react? Can they advocate for themselves and tell you that their name is not Jack it’s William or do they silently accept the incorrect workbook. Encourage your student to speak up and use those communication skills to stand up for themselves! picnic-font-b-lunch-b-font-bag-insulated-cooler-bag-two-font-b-compartments-b-font




This post is part of the Cooking Up Communication Summer Series!

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The Autism Helper


  1. Great suggestions! I did this all the time in my classroom. If you take the time to set these situations up, you are more likely to be watchful and collect the necessary data. So, when a parent asks you “How do you know Joey asks for help 60% of the time in difficult situations?” you will be able to explain various situations like you describe that you set up and collected data on. I think too many of us are scared to rock the boat with our kids who have autism. I certainly have had my fair share of those, but those challenging behaviors will never go away if we don’t practice new behaviors in a controlled and predictable (by us) environment.

    Thanks for the great tips! Will share with my fellow teachers.

  2. Great point! So important to actually know how our kids will react!


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