In our autism therapy sessions, therapists do something we call “pairing” or “building rapport” with the child. In layman terms, that just means we are building a relationship with the child by caring, playing, and showing interest in what they do. We sometimes laugh at their antics, get annoyed by their cheekiness, or smile at their naivety or innocence. Any connection between two human beings would entail the same in varying degrees.
Essentially, such pairing is the foundation of the teacher-student relationship, and as such is a crucial aspect of therapy sessions. In fact, it is so important that pairing is done in all sessions as an ongoing process that may be difficult to distinguish from the rest of therapy.
I have met with parents who seem confused or anxious when we spoke repeatedly about building rapport instead of the kind of tasks we should be tackling with the child. In their minds, a teacher should be teaching and not playing with the child. Some are tolerant so long as it is done sparingly, and a small number of parents may even think it’s entirely a waste of time. Yet, I have come to firmly believe in the importance of the process of pairing.
Especially in the beginning, behavioural therapists may have to spend a significant amount of time pairing with the child. This is because every child is different in their temperaments and may respond differently to different people. By taking the time to build up a good relationship with the child, the therapist will then be better able to create a nurturing and positive environment for them to learn skills; ones challenging to them in a way beyond our imagination. It is my firm belief that the quality of relationship between the therapist and child can make a significant difference in the eventual success and progress of therapy.
Now, I would like to appeal to parents, therapists or teachers, regardless of whether you’re one to a child with special needs in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or to a neurotypical child – prioritise building a relationship with your children. Go back to the foundations of your relationship with them. It is never a waste of time to build on that crucial relationship that connects one human being to another.
Teach and play with them when they come to you and shower them with as much attention as you can spare. Through this process, they will not only learn that you love and care for them, they will also learn to be happy to learn as they grow in their knowledge and become motivated to keep on learning for themselves. Eventually, our end goal is for our children to be happy and motivated to study, so that they can truly become the best versions of themselves, and fulfill not our greatest hopes for them, but their greatest hopes for themselves.