Best of friends

When Billy came into the room, he was very shy and withdrawn. The boy barely spoke and the no one could really understand him in either Spanish or English.

Billy rarely smiled. The child had been in the general education program for the kindergarten program but was falling steadily behind in first grade. The teacher had gone in to his classroom to watch him and see how he was doing. Billy avoided eye contact. He didn’t understand the material being presented to him and seemed generally sad.

Yet, she could see the hunger to understand and learn in the boy. All the ingredients were there but the large group setting and lack of individualized attention wasn’t working for the boy. She was pretty sure that Billy had ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Testing proved that Billy did indeed have ASD. He needed help with his academics. The teacher thought about putting him in a resource class but his lack of communication and inability to relate to other children raised a big red flag. Billy needed help.

The first year in Room 622 was hard for the boy. The teacher knew he had the ability to read much more than he had in general education. She placed him on the Edmark Reading Program and the door began to open.

The intense one to one program began to give the boy confidence. Plus, the small group setting didn’t allow for the boy to be hidden.

He was called on frequently and pushed. Constant rewards from tiny M&Ms and his favorite gummy bears began to show results. Within a few years, he was moving ahead and was ready for resource reading and math. He was also making friends!

Billy had no friends when he came into Room 622 from either the general education or special education settings. He would sit quietly in the corner of the room when the children had choice and sensory times. He would often play near the children but not with them. Slowly that began to change.

One of the boys who had been in general education part of the day, had come back for additional support in Room 622. Rory was a bit similar to Billy except that the boy had started out in special education gradually going out for more time in the less restricted education settings. That included resource and general education.

Rory had been withdrawn, too, but with lots of support, the boy had blossomed. He liked Billy. Billy liked the attention.

Before long, Billy and Rory were inseparable. They loved to do pretend play with lots of stuffed animals. The boys also liked to hang out at the playground and play football with two of the older boys. Billy’s speech began to increase steadily. He moved from one word utterances in English to seven and eight word sentences.

The boy even used proper verb tenses, prepositional phrases and plurals correctly.

During Christmas, Billy asked his parents if he could buy a special present for Rory. He came in with a “Build a Minion” stuffed animal. Rory was thrilled. Not to be undone, when it was Valentine’s Day, Rory came in with a “Build a Dinosaur.” That was a big hit. Billy loved dinosaurs.

When the teacher had the children do an activity about friendship, Billy announced, “Rory is my best friend.” Rory questioned back, “I am?” You are my best friend too!”

The DIR Model with Floortime Therapy approach provides an excellent opportunity for children to learn creative play. That translates into healthy emotional development for all children, regardless of any intellectual disability or physical limitation.

Structured and creative play leads to higher order thinking and improved communication for all children. Billy and Rory are perfect examples of how interactive play leads to academic improvement and the wonderful gift of friendship!

Pamela Gross Downing, a special education teacher can be reached at