It feels like every day we are reminding both ourselves and client families about the critically important concept of “wait time.” Wait time refers to an intentional pause or period of silence between communicative exchanges, whether a question or a response. This seemingly simple therapy strategy actually plays a crucial role in fostering a positive therapeutic environment and enhancing communication outcomes for our clients. Let's delve into why wait time is so essential in speech and language therapy.
1. Processing Time:
Clients often require additional processing time in highly variable amounts. Wait time allows the necessary space for clients to organize their thoughts and convey them effectively.
2. Encouraging Independence:
Ample wait time empowers clients to take an active role in their communication via initiating communication when they feel ready, rather than when prompted. This pragmatic approach empowers them to articulate thoughts and ideas with increased confidence and autonomy.
3. Anxiety Reduction:
Communication challenges are often accompanied by heightened anxiety related to the task of communicating, sensory needs, and more. Longer wait times offer a low-pressure environment, alleviating anxiety and creating a space where clients can express themselves without fear of judgment or expectation.
4. Facilitating Learning:
While it sounds easy, wait time is actually a strategic tool for effective teaching during sessions. We utilize this pause to allow clients time to process new information, learn from feedback, and integrate language skills into their practical communication.
5. Building Rapport:
The deliberate use of wait time fosters a collaborative and constructive relationship between ourselves and our clients. It showcases patience and active listening, builds trust, and signifies that all communication (and the time needed to communicate) is okay.
6. Individualized Approaches:
Each client presents a unique communication profile and processing speed. Wait time allows us to tailor our approach based on individual needs, ensuring that interventions are personalized for maximum efficacy.
Nearly all of our clients benefit from some amount of extra processing time in order to formulate their thoughts. Need a good rule of thumb? We recommend counting to 5 in your head before breaking the pause. Getting into the habit of offering ample wait time can be so critical for ensuring clients have the space to organize their ideas and convey them effectively! In addition, this practice can allow for increased confidence in communication, reduced anxiety related to communication-based tasks, stronger feelings of independence, and a more individualistic approach to therapeutic interventions.
The best part about wait time is that it challenges you, as the communication partner, to explore your own feelings of discomfort related to conversational lulls. Neurotypical communication is characterized by quick, sharp-witted conversation that views pauses as awkward and uncomfortable. When actually tested, intentionally slowing down can allow for better, more thoughtful communication built on self-awareness! We encourage you to try this practice when communicating across neurotypes in an effort to foster inclusive spaces for all to express themselves.