Discrete trial teaching and a home-based ABA program, without a doubt, play an integral part in a child’s ongoing progress. However, during the summer months here in New York City all I can think about is PLAY. The sun is shining, playgrounds are full of children and there are child friendly events for free all over the city. I can’t help but seize these summer moments and optimize the huge array of incidental teaching opportunities they provide. The playground is the perfect place to start to generalize all of the play skills that the child has mastered with you during the year and facilitate them with novel peers. The headache of trying to schedule play dates during the winter months fades, there are children everywhere you turn, and kids outside ready to make new friends.
The novelty of an outdoor children’s concert playground or sprinklers can be motivating enough to get the child in the mix with other kids. I find that having the child I am working with take a popular item on the outing can serve as a really powerful icebreaker and readily grab the attention of all the kids there. Items to consider include; sidewalk chalk, bubbles, water balloons, a foam rocket launcher or a bug kit. It is easy to rehearse possible scenarios the child might encounter with one of these items in hand and the rehearsal can lead to greater success and less prompting once you are at the playground.
Another programmatic shift that happens for me during the summer is to take time to help the child see the bigger picture. Many children diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder understand the parts of things but may have difficulty conceptualizing ‘the whole’. For example, if the child is showing an interest in airplanes take some time before heading out to expand on this interest. I like to sit down with a child and draw out what I call a “Play Map.” It is a flow chart of all of the things connected to an airplane, drawing arrows to show how all of the parts connect together. This is a great way to flesh out a larger play schema and rehearse possible play scenarios other children might generate at the playground in relation to the toy airplane. All of this preparation will ultimately lead to better outcomes at the playground and more fun had by all!