Why teaching “Asking for Help” can MAJORLY fail

Teaching asking for help

I asked for help and he said ‘no’. He lied and made up some lame excuse that we both knew was  nonsense and I got a little sad about the world.

And while I was sad for ME, I was more sad for the implications that it has for my students who have communication disorders, because THEY are likely to be the ones who really will need help one day. All those IEP goals and months working on ‘asking for help’ are useless if you DO ask for help and the person says ‘no’. Then what? Do we teach our kids what happens next?

I’m going to break down the communication steps it took me, an SLP, to ask for help to highlight not only how complex it is, but how ‘asking for help’ is so much more than using a learned phrase.

  1. PERSPECTIVE TAKING: I scanned the train and decided that the man who was in his late 50s would be the best person to ask. He might have children that were similar in age to me, maybe even a daughter and would be more willing to help. Being older, but not too old, I thought that he would be able to relate to the days when mobile phones were not around and let me use his phone to make a quick phone call. Mind you – this went through my head in a second. Can you imagine how long this could take for someone with communication difficulties???
  2. NON-VERBAL BODY CUES: I sat down next to the man as I felt that it would be more friendly and had a warm smile on my face. I was also holding my own phone in my hand so that he could see that I did possess a phone and that I was trustworthy.
  3. INITIATION: I asked “Excuse me” (while making eye contact and tilting my head to the side slightly).
  4. ASKING A QUESTION: followed up by “Could you please help me?”.
  5. CLARIFYING: He didn’t say anything, so I went on: “Would I be able to use your phone to make a quick, local phone call? I’m from Australia and it will cost me a lot of money to make a call from my phone (I show him my phone to back up my story in case he thinks that I will grab his phone and steal it, because let’s be real, people do think this). I have someone picking me up from the train station and they asked me to call them when I was 10 minutes away?”
  6. PROBLEM SOLVING: He lied and said that he didn’t have a phone. Even though I saw him on his phone earlier. I was a little shocked. I couldn’t really talk. I thought that I had done everything right and that my request for help was such a simple request. I stood up… and just stood there. Well, now I had to have a Plan B. I looked at a 20 something with his earphones in, playing a game on his phone. He was the only other person in the carriage and I didn’t want to be dragging my suitcase to the next carriage, so I thought, well, it’s gotta be him.
  7. NON-VERBAL BODY CUES: I sat opposite the guy and waved my hand to get his attention, with that same smile on my face.
  8. INITIATION: I asked “Excuse me”
  9. ASKING A QUESTION: followed up by “Could you please help me?
  10. CLARIFYING: “Would I be able to use your phone to make a quick, local phone call? I’m from Australia and it will cost me a lot of money to make a call from my phone. I have someone picking me up from the train station and they asked me to call them when I was 10 minutes away?”. He looked really uncomfortable. He was shaking his head a little bit and avoiding eye contact. I could see that he was trying to find a way to say ‘no’ but couldn’t openly say it, so I pushed on “Please! I am getting an Airbnb and my host said to call him when I was 10 minutes away”.
  11. PERSUASIVE GENRE:  He told me that he was getting off at the next train station. I told him I was too – not a problem (plus, we were 10 minutes away). He told me that I couldn’t make a long phone call (I’m thinking, come on dude, you’re probably on a plan and this won’t even cost you any money). I told him that I needed 10 seconds to call this guy and say “Hi, it’s Rebecca, I am 10 minutes away”. He reiterated that I could only be really quick, he was definitely tense. I made the 10 second phone call, handed the guy back his phone “Thank you so much for helping me, I really appreciate it”.

Now, I could’ve blown that as a one-off but it happened again two days later. And this time after the first guy said ‘no’ and the second guy said ‘no’ I started to cry. I was thinking I’m a young, 32 year old woman. Well presented, wearing professional clothes and groomed hair. I have my Aussie accent which in the past has broken down a lot of barriers – people are usually more willing to help a foreigner. And as an SLP I think that I am on the articulate side and in possession of solid verbal and non-verbal communication skills. I had all this and still people wouldn’t help.

The real world is tough. Don’t forget that. So here is what you can do: practice people saying ‘no’ in a supported setting like at school or in your clinic. Set it all up with the person you’ll be asking beforehand to say ‘no’ to see what your student does. Do they problem solve? Clarify? Persuade? Ask more questions? It could be the start of some great, functional goals for your students.

* As a side note – I met some beautiful people who went above and beyond to help me while on my trip to the US. Thank you for putting my faith back in humanity.

I love writing ‘real world’ SLP stuff. Sign up via email and let’s open the conversation past your everyday therapy activity ideas 🙂




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    • It’s funny how us SLP’s can really dissect a social situation and see it for what it is 🙂


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Hi, I'm Rebecca.
I encourage SLPs to feel more confident treating speech sound disorders, and make faster progress with their students.


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