Be a “Pyg”-The Expectancy Effect and Presuming Competence

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM,Once upon a time, in a faraway land called Greece, there lived a sculptor named Pygmalion. Pygmalion had had little luck with women and had vowed never to entertain their company again-instead, he chose to put all of his energy into his work.  

He dedicated himself to the ivory, carving and chipping and shaping until, ironically, it emerged in the form of the most beautiful woman Pygmalion could have imagined. He found her so compelling that it was difficult for him not to see her as a real, living person. He named her Galatea, and he pined away for her-he dressed her in fine clothes, spoke loving words to her daily, and brought her gifts. So strong was his belief in her, so intense was his passion, that she in fact became real (with a little help from the Goddess Aphrodite, of course!). Pygmalion finally found his love, and they spent the rest of their lives in happy union.

Sounds like another crazy Greek myth, right? Well, this myth, like many others, grew beyond itself and inspired the eponymous name for a fascinating psychological effect: the Pygmalion Effect. In the world of S2C, it’s the very reason we presume competence, because it has everything to do with our beliefs and how they influence the people around us.

In the world of psychology, the effect fascinated Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, who together wrote a book entitled “Pygmalion in the classroom”. They completed an experiment in the 1960’s to address a singular question: do the expectations of educators change the performance outcome for their students?

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM,

Their results indicated the answer was a resounding “yes”! When teachers were told fictitious information that lead them to expect elevated performances from their students, those students actually performed better. The teachers BECAME Pygmalion-they believed so strongly in the potential of their pupils that the students “came to life” and embodied those beliefs. 

S2C, Spelling to Communicate, nonspeaking, nonspeakers, Autism, I-ASC, Speller, nonverbal, RPM,What a powerful, powerful tool! In a world where abilities and potential are often sorted into finite categories- “gifted” or “under achieving”, “intelligent” or “intellectually delayed”, “lazy” or “motivated”, etc.-this is a game changer.  As S2C parents, coaches, communication partners, and teachers, our expectations MATTER-they show up in ways we may not even be consciously aware of, but that resonate loudly with neurodiverse, nonspeaking people when we are working together. As said by Berkeley psychologist Rhona Weinstein, “When ability cues are salient, [people] are aware of them”.

The beautiful thing? The belief, the idea of presuming competence, feeds into action! When we believe spellers are intellectually capable, we challenge them with interesting and engaging learning. When we believe and understand that a non speaker was dysregulated instead of “misbehaving”, we look for ways for us and them to find their balance. When we believe in another’s potential, we help them believe it, too. Want to know another fun fact? Belief in yourself (i.e. the self-fulfilling prophecy), is called the Galatea Effect, and it grows from balanced, positive, supportive belief from others 🙂

So go forth, spellerverse, and be the Pygmalions and Galateas of the world. 

By Bryana Williams, Bryana Williams, M.S CCC-SLP, is a psychology and neurology nerd and S2C Practitioner in Atlanta, Georgia. She works in her private practice and as a member of the Leadership Cadre for I-ASC where she loves supporting upcoming practitioners in training as they learn from the community of neurodivergent typers and spellers.

The mission of I-ASC is to advance communication access for nonspeaking individuals globally through training, education, advocacy and research.  I-ASC supports all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) with a focus on methods of spelling and typing. I-ASC currently offers Practitioner training in Spelling to Communicate (S2C) with the hope that other methods of AAC using spelling or typing will join our association

Posted By on Wednesday, February 24th, 2021 in Advocacy,Autism,Community,Education,Families,Motor,Nonspeakers,S2C,Spelling to Communicate

One response to “Be a “Pyg”-The Expectancy Effect & Presuming Competence”

  1. dmgaivin says:

    This is SO good! Well done, Bryana!

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