Helping Kids With Special Needs Get the Picture

Cartoon illustration of a mother talking to her son about apologizing to his sister who sits at a nearby desk
Nathan Yoder

One of my students, Chris, had a crush on his tablemate, Mallory. Unfortunately, he showed his affection by kicking her under the table.

"Don't you think it hurts Mallory when you tap her under the table with heavy boots?" I asked him.

Chris, diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, needed frequent redirection. After a moment, he agreed that kicking can hurt. But he wasn't sure what I wanted him to do.

As a special education teacher, I know children with special needs don't typically pick up on innuendo or indirect questions. They often need a direct approach — something I hadn't given him.

I decided to try again, only this time I used pictures to help get my point across.

Cartooning is a fast, easy and fun way to correct mistakes and clarify your message. Don't worry if you aren't an artist — you can use simple stick figures. Here's how the process works:

  1. In the first frame, write the words you want to say in a speech bubble coming out of your mouth. It might also help to draw a thought bubble above your head to let the child know what you're thinking.
  2. In the next frame, draw the child using a bubble to show how he or she responded. Draw a thought bubble above the child's head. The child can fill it in to let you know what he or she thought about your comments.
  3. Use as many frames as necessary to demonstrate how you can resolve the issue together. Some children like to take over the cartooning themselves, which helps them accept responsibility.

As I drew what I wanted to communicate, Chris' eyes lit up with understanding.

"I won't kick Mallory anymore," he told me.

"Thank you, Chris," I wrote in my cartoon bubble. I reiterated it to him aloud.

Problem solved.

I've experienced the effectiveness of cartooning with children who have all types of special needs. If your words aren't getting through, a picture can sometimes make all the difference.

Leann Reid is a freelance writer and a special education teacher.

This article first appeared in the August/September 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2018 by Leann Reid. Used by permission.