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The Importance of Being Silly

December 02, 2019

Savannah Hellewell

Imagine back to your eight year old self. You wake up at 7am. You go to school for 7 hours. 7 hours of sitting. 7 hours of listening. 7 hours of answering questions. 7 hours of following instructions. 7 hours of a loud and unpredictable environment. You come home from school to see your RBT…for another 3 hours. Hard stop. What? But you just did that all day! You are tired and hungry! This is no fun.

SO MAKE IT FUN! Your life and your clients lives will change for the better if you are having a good time during your session. If you are not having a good time then your client is not either. The energy we bring into a session affects not only the client but their whole family. We must be mindful of what kind of attitude we bring into the home. Many of the clients we see have already had a very full day. They are tired. They want to have dinner and play. If we do not be proactive about making session fun it is more likely that negative behaviors will occur. My keys to a fun filled session are: silliness, movement, and messy play.

Let’s get silly! About a year ago I had a mentor that pointed out to me that I was saying “good job” every time a client got a correct answer. This is technically appropriate verbal reinforcement and “good job” certainly has its benefits. However, I realized that this was incredibly boring! Now I like to react like I am completely stunned by the genius occuring before me. Jump up and down. Fall on the floor. Do a little dance. Wave your arms in the air. Call a parent or sibling into the room to celebrate with you. Make it a really exciting experience when a client gives a correct answer. This will motivate them to keep giving those correct answers and secure you as a fun person that they want in their life.

Thanks to your awesome attitude and silliness, your client officially thinks that you are weird and hilarious and they feel really good about themselves. Congratulations! Now it is time to get moving. Remember that your client has likely spent the majority of the day sitting. If the weather and client are willing, try to get outside (or to another room in the house). Find a movement activity that is very reinforcing for your client and run programs as you are doing that activity. For example: I have a client who hates to write. She will glare at me if I even approach her with a pencil. However, if I tape a piece of paper to the window outside and let her go swing as soon as she is finished writing, it is no problem. Find music that your client loves and have a dance party (I have one client who goes absolutely wild over the opportunity to hold my hand and run around the backyard singing Baby Shark). Scatter target cards around the ground for your client to find; moving your body several feet away so they have to bring the card to you. Bring a ball and throw it back and forth. Set up an obstacle course for them to run through. Try a few yoga moves. Write targets in sidewalk chalk and have them jump to the correct answer.

Now that your client has expelled some energy and you have Baby Shark stuck in your head, it is  time to make a mess. My favorite messy items to bring to session are slime, moon dough, and shaving cream.


Slime: ¼ cup water, ¼ cup borax, 1 oz glue

Moon dough: 1 part conditioner and  2 parts cornstarch

Shaving cream: unscented and all natural


It can be fun to add food coloring, glitter, or confetti to the mess. I like to use this opportunity to run any verbal programs (vocal imitation, social questions, intraverbal fill ins) with the client. At the end you have a really fun product to use as reinforcement for the remainder of the session! Shaving cream is wonderful because it makes a huge mess that is easy to clean up and will not stain. Spread it all over the table (or on a cookie sheet or mirror or window) and let your client play! This is a great opportunity to practice pre-writing and writing skills. Writing sight words in shaving cream is significantly more fun than writing them on paper. Disclaimer: consider your environment and others in the home before bringing things that will make a mess into the home. Every home has different standards of cleanliness and we are still professionals, even when covered in slime. Always clean up the mess before you leave and take the finished product with you. Use your knowledge of your client to determine whether it is best to have them help make it or to do it outside of your session.

Voila! You have acted like a fool for a childs’ entertainment, moved your body, and made a mess. It sounds like you have had a fun day that you, your client, and their parents will remember and look back on fondly.

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