Q&A: Supporting Students Who Talk Out of Turn

In this episonde, Ashley Belknap responds to this question:

We have a student who transitioned into our youth group this year. He is super excited to be in the student ministry, and we are very eager for him to be completely part of the group. But, he has a hard time raising his hand and not blurting out everything that pops in his mind. I should add that most of his comments and questions are “on topic.”  What can we do to make the learning environment easier for him, the other students, and the teachers? 

Big-picture thoughts

  1. I applaud the youth ministry for enfolding this student. This is huge. We want these kids to have peer friends. We want them to get to know the rest of the church and receive age-appropriate teaching, as much as possible. We also realize that the transition from children’s to youth ministry can be really challenging.
  2. This question applies to students of all ages. I’m going to provide answers that are stage-of-development-appropriate, and you can choose what might work best in your setting.
  3. Always look for positive supports. Most teachers naturally respond to talking out of turn with correction: “Stop, talking. It’s not your turn. Wait, we need to hear from others. I didn’t see your hand raised,” etc. But students on the autism spectrum and others with similar unique needs likely will not understand what NOT to do and be able to follow through. Instead, we need to make it really easy to understand—and visually seewhat TO DO. Positive supports mean teaching replacement behaviors instead of telling a student to simply stop the undesirable action.

Why students talk out of turn

There are several reasons students may talk out of turn, but here are two of the most commonly encountered causes:

  1. Memory weaknesses. Many children with unique needs have difficulty with short-term memory which helps you remember what you want to say and then say it at the appropriate time. This can be especially true for students who are visual learners. In contrast to auditory learners, they may remember what they see but have significant difficulty remembering what someone says. Sometimes a child cannot hold onto what they want to say long enough to wait for their turn to talk. They may compensate by interrupting to get your attention or talking louder over other noises to be sure they are heard.  
  2. Social skill weaknesses. Many students with special needs have a hard time picking up on social cues. Things that may seem very obvious to you, such as when someone else is talking. They may simply not notice that another student or adult is talking. They may be lost in thought or have very loud thoughts in their own minds that keep them from being able to hear or pay attention to others.

Positive supports for students who talk out of turn

  1. For older elementary students and youth groups, have a clipboard, notepad, or dry erase board available to write their questions on.
  2. Have a teacher available for 2-5 minutes (or more) for one-on-one time before and/or after class.
  3. Utilize a non-amplified microphone.
  4. Pair with a buddy, either an adult or peer.

A note to parents

What can you do to help your student acquire the skills of waiting and remembering what they wanted to say?

  1. Practice with memory games like this: The first person says, “I’m going to the store.” The next person says, “I’m going to the store to buy bananas.” The next, “I’m going to the store to buy bananas and milk.” The next, “I’m going to the store to buy bananas and milk, but first I stopped for ice cream.”  And so on.  
  2. Use a microphone at home, around the dinner table and family devotions Focus on the positives and create incentives for hard work.

New to Q&A with Engaging Disability? Our videos are designed to answer questions we frequently receive. We share practical insights we think you will find helpful at home, especially for teaching students with unique needs. We encourage you to share these videos with others!  
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