Bright Little Sunshine Smile

School: Lantana Elementary School

This is a story about a little boy named Gary and how Primary Project helped him come out of his shell.

Primary Project helps more than 600 kindergartens and first-grade students at 12 elementary schools in Palm Beach County by improving children's adjustment to school and enhancing their social and emotional well-being.

During a parent-teacher meeting, Gary's teacher said she wasn't sure how much Primary Project would benefit Gary, but she knew the program wouldn't do any harm and was willing to try. Gary did not speak much and when he did, he would repeat what was being said to him. This is called echolalia and it can be seen in children just learning to talk or in some students who have problems and challenges associated with autism spectrum disorder. The parent, teacher and a Primary Project Child Associate (Jacki), all agreed to have Gary start in the program to see if through play sessions he could enhance his social and emotional well-being. Primary Project sessions would also help to see if he would need potential extra support in the future. 

At his first session, Gary repeated what was said to him and showed the same behaviors he displayed in the classroom. From this observation, Jackie strategized and decided to do mirroring play and model play to see if that would help Gary come out of his shell. At the second session, if he stuck a finger in the sandbox so did Jacki. Then Jacki stuck another finger in and another and soon Gary had all his fingers in the sandbox and was very excited with the sand, so much so that the sand was spilling out of the box.

At his third and fourth sessions, Gary was now not repeating what Jacki would say and instead would use his own words. He would pick up a toy animal and say the animal's name and then make the animal's sound and even pretend to walk like that animal. Also, he wasn't just sticking to the sandbox table but moved around the room to where the animal toys were. Gary started to initiate conversation by saying the animal's name, making the sound of the animal and pretending to be the animal.

In addition, Gary started to communicate his emotions. During the next play session, Gary got excited with the sand and it got on his face and in his hair. He reacted by saying, “Oh my,” and then pointed to a wall poster showing the emotions of what he was feeling. Gary's teacher told Jacki that he was now interacting with his classmates and even needed to be told to go back to his seat because he was up talking to his friends too much. 

Play sessions continued to develop Gary's social skills, self-confidence, healthy self-expression, vocabulary and many more aspects of his life. Thanks to the hard work of many, Gary's future is now much brighter!​​