Teaching Greetings for Students who are Verbal

Level 2: Expressive Language

Two weeks ago we chatted about getting our nonverbal learners to greet their peers and teachers. Now let’s discuss how to get the skill rolling for kids who are verbal. Now before you check out saying to yourself, “all of my kids can greet” – let’s be clear what this skill of greeting actually is. Many of our learners don’t really have this skill. They have the skill of following directions and imitation but not the skill of greeting.

So let’s be clear – there is no mention of an adult prompt. For this skill to be mastered – it should be independent. Additionally, the student must be able to discriminate when they should be greeting someone. Usually we only say hi to people who are in close proximity to us. It would be weird for someone to entire your classroom and you shout hello from the opposite corner of the room. Think about if someone did that across a Starbucks. You would think that’s weird. If you want to greet someone – you move closer to them before doing so. These are all tiny little skills that we need to ensure our kids have mastered and generalized. Situations are always changing and our kids have got to learn to roll with it.


How to Teach this Skill:

It’s all about the model, prompt, and fade here. We want to model the correct response. Model it all day. Luckily there are countless opportunities for greetings throughout the day. Snag them all. After you model, prompt your student to imitate what you just did, and then immediately start fading those prompts. Prompt fading is key here. Your student should not be reliant on you for when to greet people. Fade your prompts from verbal to gestural quickly. Then start delaying your prompts to see if the student will respond on his own. Delaying prompts is key because if you always provide a prompt your student will never have the opportunity to respond on his own.

Embedded Social Rules to Teach:

  • How to greet someone who is close to you. Start with greeting people who come in close proximity to you. Work on teaching your student to physically turn his body and face the person before greeting.
  • How to greet someone who is far away from you. After your student is more independent greeting people that are close by – you can now begin to teach how to greet people who are far away from you. Other children may pick up on the social norms of this behavior on their own. Whereas some of our learners will need to be directly taught this. When someone is down the hallway or across the cafeteria, how do we greet them? We start by trying to get their eye contact and then waving at them. If they wave back, that can be a sufficient greeting. If we are unable to get their attention, we walk over and greet them once we are close.
  • When you should not greet someone. There are situations when greeting people would not be appropriate. Those situations include when you are taking a test, when you are in the library, when the person you are trying to greet is clearly involved in a conversation. There are many more. Do a little test and write down all of the times in your day when you refrain from greeting someone. It may be hard to do because we are so used to avoiding those situations where a greeting is not welcome. We need to teach out students that distinction.
  • What to do when someone doesn’t hear your greeting. I have these awkward moments almost daily where I say something to someone and they don’t hear me. I get this in this back and forth situation of – do I say it again? do I move on? Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do next in this situation. If these times are complicated for us – think about how confusing it is to our students! Make some clear rules for your student. If someone doesn’t greet you back after you say hi, you can repeat it one time while engaging in one attention getting behaviors such as tapping them on the shoulder, moving closer to them, or leaning over to be within their eye gaze. Be specific and explicit about these rules. It would not be functional for our guys to jump in front of someone wildly tapping them on the shoulder while loudly saying their second hello.
  • Using age-appropraite greetings. This is a pet peeve of mine and something that I think a lot of people forget about. When you are teaching greetings, be sure that the greetings you are teaching are age-appropriate. Listen to what same age peers say to each other. Fourteen year olds do not greet each other by saying, “hello.” That would be weird. Fourteen year olds say hey, whats up, or even just nod at each other. Teach the age level norm. The goal is for these greetings to be functional and the first step towards a meaningful social interaction or friendship. If your student starts out with a far too formal greeting – it will make the possibility of friendship much less likely.




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

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The Autism Helper

1 Comment

  1. The reminder about age appropriate greetings was good for me to read. I just moved up to the Middle School level this year (6-8 grades) and I have been making greetings MUCH to formal. It also gave me the gentle reminder that only should I be paying attention to age, but also culturally acceptable greetings, such as: the head nod, fist bump/head nod, ‘sup man,’ etc. I love all your resources and blog posts, they are so user friendly and easy to implement (when I tend to try and make things more difficult) :).

    Thank you!


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