Teaching Greetings for Students Who Are Nonverbal

Level 1: Expressive Language

When we get down to the most basic and foundational social skill that we engage in it comes down to one word – hi. Greeting our peers is the first step towards¬†developing and maintaing a friendship. It’s beyond a critical skill – it’s a must-have. Just because your student is nonverbal doesn’t mean that they can’t get in on all this social skill fun. You just have to get a little creative!

Visual Greeting Cards

Visual greeting cards are a great way for students to engage with their peers! A simple “hey” or “hi” card can go a long way. Add on student photos so students can greet peers specifically and match the photo to the face. This is great for students with emerging verbal skills to practicing trying to say their friends’ names!




Teaching High-Fives and Waves

A super simple thing to teach? High-Fives and Waves! No muss, no fuss. You must work on the skill of imitation first (learn more here). Once imitation is mastered you need to teach your student when to engage in this response. We can’t just have kids waving all day. Model appropriate greetings when adults enter the room or first thing in the morning. Use hand over hand prompting and then fade to less prompt as needed.


Using Communication Systems

Have your students using their communication systems to greet peers and adults! Most AAC Devices have greetings built into one of the main pages. Teach your student how to navigate the device to find the greetings. Model the correct response and then have your student do it. Keep it routine. Do it during morning circle every day or every time they enter the room. The hard part is the discrimination of when to greet not teaching how to greet. Give them clear cues such as a routine or visual prompt of when greetings should occur.


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!).


Make it Reinforcing!

The naturally occurring reinforcer for greeting someone is attention. When you say hi to someone – what happens? They say hi back! You get attention. So make sure you load on that attention to your kiddos. When they greet you, pretend it is Beyonce calling you on stage to do the Single Ladies dance with her on stage. You are that excited. Add in some additional reinforcement (ie. edibles, stickers, etc.) when starting this skill because for many of our learners – attention and praise is not enough.




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

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The Autism Helper

1 Comment

  1. This is a good idea. I sometimes forget that the simple ideas work the best.


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