A blond, curly-haired two-year-old, Sullivan was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a language delay. An easygoing and active kid, Sullivan occasionally surprised his parents when he would walk away from certain activities. His parents wondered if Sullivan walked away because he didn’t like the activity, or if he just needed to move around.
Sullivan’s parents told his SLP about an instance during which his dad found a puppet in a toy store that made funny noises when its beak was squeezed. Each time Dad squeezed the puppet’s beak, Sullivan ran away, but when Dad backed away, Sullivan still eyed the toy warily.
The therapist brought this real-life situation into Sullivan’s session, and introduced a duck puppet that quacked. When Sullivan ran away from the puppet, the therapist yelled “Go away, duck!” in a stern voice and dramatically stuffed it into a nearby can. Wouldn’t you know, that pesky duck kept coming back? And each time it did, “Go away, duck!” was modeled. It didn’t take long for Sullivan to realize the power of these words and start to imitate them. Over subsequent sessions, other puppets and toys were introduced. Eventually, Sullivan spontaneously said, “Go away alligator!” to one particularly irksome toy, much to the delight of his therapist and parents. By teaching him a way to share his dislikes using language, the Clinic’s expert therapist provided Sullivan and his parents with an important tool for his communications tool belt. Sullivan realized he could make unpredictable creatures disappear by commanding them to do so, identifying his wishes to another person so that he was understood.