These books are perfect for helping young learners strengthen their communications skills!
In this month’s ASAT feature, Maithri Sivaraman and Ruth Donlin offer advice on selecting the best games for children with ASD. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!
My son is 5 years old and was diagnosed with autism when he was two. He has responded well to early intervention services in terms of his communication and daily living activities. But it is still challenging to for him to play games with his neurotypical peers. When all the kids at a birthday party are playing “Simon Says,” my son prefers to play alone with his toys or just watch the other kids playing. I don’t know how to teach him to play new games or even identify what kind of games he likes. Could you provide some suggestions?
The growing awareness about the early signs of ASD has made it possible for an increasing number of children to be diagnosed by the age of 3 years (Stahmer, 2011). Considering the difficulty in building social relationships and peer play that is often associated with ASD it is important that specific instruction on social behaviors in various play situations is provided. Research has shown that extensive and planned interaction with peers facilitates social skill development (e.g., Krantz & Mclannahan, 1993; Baker, Koegel & Koegel, 1998). At your son’s age, this interaction primarily occurs during play.
Play has been described as a “child’s workshop” where social rules and consequences are explored (Bruner, 1975). Teaching a game to a child has consequences beyond the game itself: Apart from having fun, it could lead to social engagement, formation of friendships and create abundant opportunities for imitation, negotiation, cooperation, and other skills. However, though important, teaching games to children with autism often involves many challenges, such as the play activity not being motivating to the child, the need for intrusive prompting, having to teach the rules of each game, and managing problem behavior, to name a few. Some of these challenges can be overcome by using the strategies described below.
Considerations When Choosing a Game
Choose a game that is a match to the child’s developmental level and one that incorporates his or her interests and facilitates social skill development. Games may provide an appropriate social context to the perseverative interests of children with ASD (Koegel et al., 2012; Baker, Koegel & Koegel, 1998). It is a great idea to modify games to accommodate the child’s interests. For example, if the child has a keen interest in vehicles, the Red Light/Green Light game can be modified to be played with cars rather than people. A perseverative interest with names of washing machine brands can be accommodated in the same game by asking the child to take a step forward each time one brand name is said or stop when a different brand is said. For a child who likes twirling threads, the thread could be at the finish line to motivate the child to “go” during Red Light/Green Light.
Strategies for Teaching Games
Children with ASD are less likely to learn age-appropriate play skills through mere exposure to play materials and peers using those materials. Instead, intervention is often required to teach appropriate play skills directly and explicitly to these children (Lifter, Mason & Barton, 2012; Malone and Langone, 1999). When planning for social interactions and game play with others, the child with autism should understand what to do before being placed in the social play situation and have appropriate supports to avoid failed social experiences that could decrease long-term interest in the activity. Some strategies for teaching games follow.
Assessing motivation – How to tell if the child is interested?
Gauging child motivation for an activity is as important as knowing how to teach a game. Being indifferent to a child’s interest level and focusing only on the process can impede his/her ability to play games (Taylor et al., 2005). The overwhelming urge to teach the child to play by all the rules of the game on the very first opportunity can be truly aversive for the child (and the parent or teacher!) and lead to problem behavior. A closer observation might reveal that problem behavior occurs when the child’s interest in the game starts to wane and continued engagement is expected.
This challenge can be overcome by taking motivation into consideration and choosing games that have components which you know the child enjoys. This increases the likelihood that the learner will exhibit independence in at least one of the expected play behaviors during the game. The Red Light/Green Light game might work well for children who like to run or be outdoors; Simon Says might work for children who have a good imitation repertoire; Hangman may be motivating for children who like letters; and simple board games like Tummy Ache/Pizza Pizza (Orchard Toys) may be enjoyed by children who prefer visual stimuli and matching.
Additionally, here are some ways of measuring motivation during the game (Ward, 2011).
If the game has been broken down into doable steps with appropriate reinforcement and the child is still not initiating or displaying independent play actions, these are clear indications of low motivation in the game, which can be also due to task difficulty. If such situations persist, it is best to choose a different game. Identifying a child’s disinterest and knowing when to stop, or modifying a game in a manner that might enhance motivation, can facilitate success. Motivation can be fleeting: what was fun yesterday might not be fun today. But being proactive about gauging these variations is what should be lasting.
We have learned many effective ways to teach games over the years (Jung, 2013; Krantz & McClannahan, 1998; Maurice, Green & Luce, 1996; Stahmer & Schreibman, 1992). Since playing games is an important activity among typically developing children, play activities serve as an opportunity for children with ASD to learn appropriate social behaviors (Davis-Temple, Jung & Sainato, 2014). Whatever the goals associated with each game, adding “having fun” as one of them, and identifying and monitoring observable measures of enjoyment, may be the key to successful game instruction. Being process-oriented and showing our kids that games can be fun is more important than playing the game the right way.
Baker, M.J., Koegel, R., & Koegel, L. (1998). Increasing the social behavior of young children with autism using their obsessive behaviors. The Journal of the Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps. 23, 300-308.
Bruner, J. (1975). From communication to language: A psychological perspective. Cognition. 3, 255-287.
Cooper, J.O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Davis-Temple, J., Jung, S., & Sainato, D. M. (2014). Teaching young children with special needs and their peers to play board games: Effects of a least to most prompting procedure to increase independent performance. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 7(1), 21–30.
Jung, S., & Sainato, D. M. (2013). Teaching play skills to children with autism. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 38(1), 74-90.
Koegel, R., Fredeen, R., Kim, S., Danial, J., Rubinstein, D., & Koegel, L. (2012). Using perseverative interests to improve interactions between adolescents with autism and their typical peers in school settings. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 14(3), 133–141.
Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1993). Teaching children with autism to initiate to peers: Effects of a script-fading procedure. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 26(1), 121–132.
Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1998). Social interaction skills for children with autism: A script-fading procedure for beginning readers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 31(2), 191–202.
Libby, M. E., Weiss, J. S., Bancroft, S., & Ahearn, W. H. (2008). A comparison of most-to-least and least-to-most prompting on the acquisition of solitary play skills. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 1(1), 37–43.
Lifter, K., Mason, E. J., & Barton E. E. (2012). Children’s play: Where we have been and where we could go. Journal of Early Intervention. 33,281–297.
Malone, D. M., & Langone, J. (1999). Teaching object-related play skills to preschool children with developmental concerns. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education. 46, 325-336.
Maurice, C., Green, G., & Luce, S.C. (1996). Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. Austin, TX, US: PRO-ED.
Stahmer, A. C., Akshoomoff, N., & Cunningham, A. B. (2011). Inclusion for toddlers with autism spectrum disorders: The first ten years of a community program. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, 15(5), 625–641.
Stahmer, A. C., & Schreibman, L. (1992). Teaching children with autism appropriate play in unsupervised environments using a self-management treatment package. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(2), 447–459.
Stokes, T. F., & Baer, D. M. (1977). An implicit technology of generalization. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10(2), 349–367.
Taylor, B.A., Hoch, H., Potter, B., Rodriguez, A., Spinnato, D., & Kalaigian, M. (2005). Manipulating establishing operations to promote initiations toward peers in children with autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities. 26, 385-392.
Ward, S. (2011). What you need to know about motivation and teaching games: An in-depth analysis. Lulu.
About The Authors
Maithri Sivaraman is a BCBA with a Masters in Psychology from the University of Madras and holds a Graduate Certificate in ABA from the University of North Texas. She currently runs ‘Tendrils Centre for Autism Research and Intervention’ which is a registered resource center providing behavior analytic services to families in Chennai, India, conducting workshops, and supervising students pursuing certification. She has presented papers at international conferences, published articles in peer-reviewed journals and has been authoring a column for the ‘Autism Network’, India’s quarterly autism journal. As an Extern at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment she has been involved in the international dissemination of evidence-based treatments writing articles for their newsletter and responding to media reports that highlight treatments for autism.
Ruth Donlin, M.S., is a Board Member of ASAT since 2010 and on the Public Relations Committee. She is a consultant in private practice based in New York, and has provided consultation to schools, agencies, and home programs for children and adults on the autism spectrum for 20 years. She presents on a variety of topics such as managing challenging behaviors, using visual supports, team dynamics, and social skill development at conferences regionally, nationally, and internationally. Ruth is Past-President of the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) of the Association of Behavior Analysis International.
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This week, Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP shares her thoughts on the rising popularity of fidget spinners. This piece originally appeared on her blog at www.usevisualstrategies.com.
OK. . .so I got 5 fidget spinners for 5 grandchildren. Amazingly, there were 5 colors available so there would be no confusion over which spinner belonged to which child.
Then BAM. . .
School banned them!
No fidget spinners in school!
Well. . . .can you guess my immediate reaction?
Why not teach the students the correct way to use them? My logic says that would be a good goal. But obviously that school staff didn’t look at it with my logic.
Are fidget spinners a distraction or a learning tool?
I guess that depends on how you use them. It’s just like technology. Tech tools can be a huge helper for students or they can become an obsession for games and activities that cause students to hyper focus so they miss what’s important to pay attention to.
This is not just an autism thing. It’s also an ADHD thing. And a typically developing young child thing. Older kids, too. And don’t forget adults.
The internet has information
I’ve read a number of internet articles telling how wonderful fidget spinners are, but there seems to be more information about what’s bad. Here are examples.
But this complaint is most interesting
It’s written by young woman on the spectrum. She shares how students who need to stim in order to concentrate have endured years of training to have “Quiet Hands” or demonstrate other “normal” behaviors. Now, all of a sudden, a businessman writes about being able to concentrate better at staff meetings with a fidget toy. She concludes,
“Something that was considered entirely pathological and in dire need of correction when done by disabled people is now perfectly acceptable because it is being done by non-disabled people.”
Makes me think how some describe autism “behaviors” as meaningful and typical, but just occurring more frequently or intensely than those without autism might do.
One point worth considering
In defense of the teachers out there, I’m thinking of the “criteria” for a good fidget toy. I’ve listed them out in my speaking programs. For example:
Fidget spinners fall short for some of my criteria even though they rate very high on social interest.
Are there other options?
The problem with fads is that they go out as fast as they come in. I’ll bet that by the time the new school year starts in the fall, fidget spinners will be lying in the bottom of a drawer somewhere and there will be a new fad for a new school year.
What is your experience with fidget spinners or other fidget toys? I’d love to hear. Just click below or comment on my Facebook page.
About The Author
Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist who is internationally known as a pioneer in developing the use of visual strategies to support communication for students with the communication, behavior or social skill challenges that are common in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
As an author, speaker and consultant, she has become well known world wide for her very practical information and strategies that guide communication partners to develop effective communication relationships with their children with autism.
With a focus on communication, Linda’s books and training programs are packed with “best-practices” and proven strategies for helping individuals from young children with autism through adults with Asperger’s participate more effectively in their life opportunities.
This week, we’re pleased to present a piece from Dr. Eric Nach, Ph.D., M.Ed., A.S.D. Cert on supporting children through times of change.
“Our children” are often identified as being “creatures of habit”, they tend to be highly regimented and rigid in their ways of thinking and acting. Virtually any type of change in environment and routine can become a massive dilemma for all children and teens, especially “our children” with “varied needs”.
Our children will have many new experiences to encounter as the school year winds down, summer vacation begins, and then the summer winds down and the school year begins again. Many parents experience either “selective forgetting” or feelings of “dread” as our children transition through these changes year after year.
So what’s a parent to do to help their child transition through times of change? Here are some suggestions based on my decades of teaching, training, and counseling children, teens, young adults and their families with special needs
About The Author
Dr. Eric Nach has nearly 25 years experience working with children with special needs and their families.
Dr. Nach is the CEO and primary facilitator of the “Support For The Autism Spectrum Group Inc.” dba “Support for Students Growth Center” located in Boca Raton, FL. At the “learning and counseling center” he and his team of professionals provide *Therapeutic Social Skills Groups, *Learning Strategies and Organizational Strategies Groups, *Behavior Modification Programs, *Individual and Family Coaching and Counseling, *Therapeutic Summer/Winter Camps and *Post-Transitioning Groups for people with special needs, including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Learning Disabilities, Communication Challenges, Behavioral Disorders and Varying Exceptionalities.
Dr Nach is in the final stages of publishing a book to assist parents, educators, administrators, and other professionals to be successful in educating, training and counseling children and adolescents with ASD’s as they navigate the secondary school maze.
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Guide your young learner down the path of purposeful play!
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For students on the Autism spectrum, having a strong and reliable therapy team to support individual needs can be an important factor in student success. When members of a therapy team are collaborating seamlessly, a student is more likely to have high quality support across all areas of development (communication, social, cognitive, play, motor, and adaptive skills).
The pervasive nature of ASD across these areas means that multiple disciplines are necessarily involved in effective intervention (Donaldson and Stahmer, 2014). When we work together and have a narrow focus, we can help our students make a great deal of progress. Gone are the days of a Speech Language Pathologist, Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist taking a student away for traditional pull out therapy and leaving no time for debriefing with the classroom team.
Who comprises the therapy team is determined on a case-by-case basis. You may be wondering where to start with this sometimes daunting task of building a strong and supportive team. Below I will discuss some strategies that are evidenced-based and the ways that I incorporate them into my busy life as a speech language pathologist.
One of the first things that I always try to do is build rapport with staff, which is known as a behavioral principle called pairing. It is important to build rapport and/or pair with team members, especially if you are new to the team or if other new members have joined. It may sound like very basic advice, but as clinicians we are very busy and sometimes we feel that we do not have time for this piece. I am urging you to put this time with staff on the top of your priority list. Once you have a good rapport with team members, it allows you to share ideas and collaborate more easily and more effectively.
The next tip I have is to share the goals your student is working on. If you are the teacher, share the student’s IEP goals with the paraprofessionals and explain why you are teaching particular tasks. Knowledge is power! If you are the occupational therapist, please share your student’s therapy goals with the team. Therapy takes place all day, across settings and across instructors. If the team does not know what the goals are, they will have no idea how to address them across the school day.
Students and professionals benefit from reinforcement! People feel good about the work at hand when they receive positive reinforcement. Let the paraprofessional know that they are doing a great job with their student(s). Everyone likes to get praise for a job well done!
Another way that we can assure that our collaboration is helping the student is by collecting daily data on skills from all domains (i.e. behavior, academic, communication). When we, as a team, create a data sheet that captures the skills and specific targets we are addressing, we can use this across the student’s day. When we take this data and analyze the progress, we can all make informed decisions about a student’s programming needs. I have included a free team-based daily data sheet from Stages Learning. You can use this data sheet to track a variety of skills.
In my 14 years practicing in the field, the majority of people that I encounter are driven by a desire to see their students. However, even with the best intentions, we may face barriers in collaborating with other staff members. Follow the tips mentioned above and reach out to colleagues who seem to need additional support. I try to continually assess the needs of the teams I work with throughout the year. Maybe the team needs a refresher on a certain skill area – see if you can work this into your yearly professional development time. When we work together as a team, we can help so many students achieve their goals!
Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA is a licensed speech language pathologist and board certified behavior analyst. Currently she splits her time between a public school system and a private school for students with autism. She is passionate about lecturing on effective communication services for students with autism and has done so at the local and national level. Rosemarie also enjoys spending time with her family, playing the harp and shopping.