Tip of the Week: Ideas for Interactive Play For Learning

Creating opportunities for interactions is key when working with any child, but it is especially important when working with children with autism. ABA often gets a bad rap for being staid or leaving a kid stuck at a table doing discrete trials for hours on end. In reality, it should be neither! While I do discrete trials in my practice, my biggest priority is always focused on increasing learning opportunities by taking advantage of the child’s natural motivations. This typically means leaving the table, so I alternate between discrete trials and lots of teaching through games and activities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Toss & Talk
For this activity, I usually use a large ball, a soft ring, or something else the child can toss. I name a category, and we take turns tossing the ball (or other item) and naming an item from that category. The game can be easily modified for whatever you’re working on: counting, skip counting, or even vocal imitation. I like the game because it’s simple, it provide a back-and-forth that is similar to a conversation, and it can easily be modified to include peers, siblings, or parents. This is particularly great if your learner likes throwing balls, but I’ve also modified it to push a train back and forth or take turns hopping towards one another.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningPlay Dough Snake
This game is one I saw a preschool teacher use years ago and have had great success with. In this game, I simply create a snake out of play dough. I make a large opening for the snake’s mouth, then roll up little balls of dough that will be “food.” I tell the child that we are going to pretend the play dough is food. I have a silly snake voice, and I tell the child “I’m so hungry. Do you have something I can eat?” The child picks up a piece of the rolled-up play dough, tells me what kind of food it is, and then feeds it to the snake. I pretend to love it, and the little ball of play dough becomes incorporated into the snake’s play dough body (which is great, because the more “food” the snake eats the bigger it gets.) I can expand the game to have the snake dislike certain foods or tell the child he is too full. On several occasions, the learner has asked if they can be the snake, which is fantastic! This is another great game for peer play, sibling play, and modeling.

Pete’s A Pizza/You’re A Pizza
One of my favorite books for young learners is Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig. In this book, it’s a rainy day and Pete’s parents entertain him by pretending they are making him into a pizza: they roll up the “dough,” toss him in the air, add toppings, etc.
This is another game I saw a preschool teacher using during play time, and one I’ve used with many, many students. Sometimes I read the book beforehand, but if my learner’s level of comprehension or attention span is not appropriate for the book, I can just introduce it as a standalone game. I say, “It’s time to make a pizza!” Then, we get into the fun part of rolling the learner around, tossing him on a couch or mat, etc. This can generate a lot of language, work on sequencing, and provide a lot of opportunity for requesting activities.

Ideas for Interactive Play For LearningAnything with a Parachute
My parachute is one of my best purchases of all time. I use it often and it allows me to play a wide range of games. Besides just having the learner lay on the floor and have the parachute float down onto his/her body, it is a highly motivating toy for a range of activities. Many of my learners love just pulling that large item out of it’s small bag. I’ve already written about three games I frequently play with the parachute. You can see that here.


Songs

Repeating rhymes and songs with motions that your learner loves can provide anticipation of an activity that may increase eye contact and manding. One of my favorites is shown in a video here. While this video is shown with toddlers, I’ve used it with kids up to 6 or 7 years old. Similar activities might include Going on a Bear Hunt; Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; and Animal Action.

It’s important to note that none of these activities is beloved by every learner I encounter. The idea is to have a range of possible activities to learn which ones are motivating to your learner, then use those to create opportunities for language and interaction.

WRITTEN BY SAM BLANCO, MSED, BCBA

Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-15 in NYC. Working in education for twelve years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam utilizes strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently a PhD candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College. She is also a lecturer in the ABA program at The Sage Colleges.

“Guided Playdates” by Caitlin Reilly & Carole Deitchman

This week, we’re proud to partner with ASAT – Association for Science in Autism Treatment – to bring you this practical article on Guided Playdates. We will be periodically showcasing articles from our colleagues at the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). 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!  In this piece, authors Caitlin Reilly, MA and Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA discuss the importance of play dates while offering accessible information on planning an effective play date and selecting peers, as well as on data collection.

My child with autism is doing well in his academic programming, but I’d like to help him develop social skills with peers. He participates in play dates, but I often worry that we are not making the most of these opportunities. How can I help him learn to play with a friend?

Answered by Caitlin Reilly, MA, BCBA and Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA

The importance of play dates

Fostering the development of play and social skills should be an essential component of any educational or home program for children with autism. Possessing these skills not only improves a child’s overall quality of life and ability to sustain relationships, but also enhances his or her ability to learn from others. Many children with autism often need direct and systematic instruction to learn these skills.
Girls Holding Hands

Parent-guided play dates can provide the structure and practice needed to help a child improve peer social skills and make friends (Koegel, Werner, Vismara, & Koegel, 2005). Play dates may be a more effective and rewarding social activity for your child if the following foundation skills are already in the child’s repertoire or are being currently targeted:

  • knowing how to tolerate, attend to, and imitate other children;
  • being able to communicate his or her wants and needs;
  • understanding simple directions;
  • taking turns; and
  • playing with a few age-appropriate toys and one or two simple games (Smith, 2001).

As you think about the types of activities that may occur during the play dates, make a list of the skills that your child will need to successfully play with a friend. It is often very helpful to teach these important skills with adults first (Leaf & McEachin, 1999), as an adult is more likely to reliably and favorably respond to your child than a peer might be. Many of the above listed skills are likely ones that your child is also working on in school, and your addition of practice opportunities at home will help your child generalize learning to other people and situations.

Planning an effective play date

In addition to empowering your child with an array of foundational skills, it is important to guide his play dates using evidence-based methods. These methods incorporate techniques that have been repeatedly shown to be effective through controlled, scientific research. For your child’s play dates, such methods include the use of motivational systems, the strategic use of reinforcement, and the use of systematically faded prompts. While the first few play dates may require a close adult shadow and contrived reinforcement for desired behavior (e.g. chips or candy), the goal is to systematically fade the adult’s proximity and prompts and foster the child’s contact with naturally occurring reinforcement (e.g. the enjoyment of playing a game or talking to a peer). Evidence-based methods also call for the collection of objective data to monitor progress.

In order to increase motivation during the play date, use toys and activities that are especially enjoyable for your child and his friend (Koegel et al., 2005). Motivation is essential for keeping both children engaged, and for maximizing your child’s learning. Your child will be more likely to ask his friend to play a game if he enjoys that game. Similarly, the peer may be less likely to engage with your child if he does not enjoy the play date activity. Taking turns in selecting activities or using a choice schedule of activities may help in this regard.

It is also important to identify specific skills that you want to teach your child during his play dates. These may include such skills as greeting friends, initiating an activity, or asking questions. For example, the first several play dates may focus on saying “Hi” and “Bye” to the peer and playing catch. As with other types of skill instruction, consider pre-teaching these play and social skills with adults or at home with a sibling. Your child may require significant prompting initially, so think about how you can fade those prompts as your child’s skills improve and how to provide plenty of practice opportunities across settings, activities and individuals. Once your child greets his friend with ease and independence, focus on teaching him more complex play skills such as asking questions (e.g. “How are you?” and “Do you want to play?”) and making comments while interacting with the peer (e.g. “This is fun!” or “This is my favorite game.”). Start with teaching simpler skills, and then build on those your child has already accomplished.

If your child has difficult behavior, make a plan for how to manage it and follow through during play dates. Your plan may include “preventative” strategies, such as limiting the duration of the play date, using visual supports (e.g., activity board), providing a break, or minimizing activities that are a source of obsession or possible angst. Do not be concerned so much about embarrassing your child as giving him the support and repeated practice opportunities that he needs to be successful (e.g., repeating an interaction in which eye contact was not exhibited). Consistent consequences are essential in order to decrease disruptive behaviors and to help your child successfully relate to his peers (Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996).

Selecting peers

Potential play date peers should include boys and girls of different ages (Smith, 2001). The best peers for play dates are often open and responsive. That is, they provide ample opportunity for your child to learn; they ask questions, they respond with enthusiasm, and they exhibit patience as your child practices socializing. From a behavior analytic standpoint, we might view a peer’s response as reinforcement for your child’s response. So, if his peer is unresponsive, your child may be less likely to initiate with that peer again during future opportunities. Ask your child’s teacher or other school staff for peer suggestions, or ask the parents of neighborhood children whom you know. Peers that your child naturally comes into contact with on a regular basis, such as family members, are ideal for practicing social skills (Oppenheim-Leaf et al., 2012). It is important that your child’s peer and his or her parents know about your child’s unique behaviors and needs (Baker, 2003). Prepare them for what to expect, and ask the other parent for permission to give rewards during or after the play date. For example, the peer might be rewarded for asking your child a question or waiting patiently while your child responds. Reinforcing the peer for interacting with your child will motivate him to interact with your child more in the future.

Data collection

Taking data on your child’s progress is essential to ensuring effective teaching strategies. This process will help you set goals, monitor changes objectively, and alter your teaching methods if progress has stalled or declined. For example, if your child is not learning to say, “Hi” to his or her peer, you may need to increase motivation to learn, increase your level of assistance (such as providing a verbal model of the greeting), or consult with a qualified therapist for other suggestions.

The following is an example of a basic data sheet that can be created to track your child’s progress during each play date. The skills that you teach and the data you collect will vary depending upon your child’s individual needs and abilities.

Tommy’s Play Date Data Sheet

Date: 10/25/12
Peer: Kyle

  1. Says “Hi” to peer when prompted +
  2. Initiates activity with peer using photo prompt in activity schedule. – / + / + / + / +
  3. Instances of problem behavior (tally): 1
Tommy’s Play Date Data Sheet

Date: 11/2/12
Peer: Kyle

  1. Says “Hi” to peer when prompted +
  2. Initiates activity with peer using photo prompt in activity schedule – / + / + / + / +
  3. Instances of problem behavior (tally): 0

Conducting an effective play date

Set aside favorite snacks to use as rewards for your child during his play dates (Leaf & McEachin, 1999). It is best to save these special snacks for play dates only, as this will make your child more eager to earn them. During the play date, “shadow” your child by positioning yourself behind him in order to prompt initiations with and responses to his peer (Krantz & McClannahan, 1993). When your child demonstrates target behaviors (e.g., making eye contact with his peer) or is successful in relating to his peer (e.g., making eye contact and saying “Hi, Kyle.”), praise him (e.g., “Great job saying ‘Hi’ to Kyle!”), and give him a small piece of his favorite snack. As your child’s learning progresses and he demonstrates these skills independently, you should fade use of this shadowing technique, including use of your prompts and instruction, as well as reducing the delivery of snacks and social praise as rewards. Ultimately, your child’s behavior will be rewarded by playing and talking with his friend, rather than your delivery of verbal and edible praise. It may also be necessary to reinforce the efforts of the peer, particularly if your child is not cooperating.

Many children with autism learn new things by using activity schedules (Krantz & McClannahan, 1998). Therefore, it may be worthwhile to make a “play date schedule” that your child and his friend can follow. This might include pictures of the activities and/or peer. As your child learns, you can gradually fade out the schedule so that the play date becomes more natural. You might also arrange materials so that the children must work together to complete an activity (Koegel et al., 2005). For example, if making cookies, have one child hold the measuring cup while the other pours the ingredients.

When starting out, keep the play dates short rather than stretching them out as long as the child seems comfortable or until something goes awry (Smith, 2001). A five-minute-long successful peer interaction is better than a 30-minute one that ends in a disruptive outburst. It may take several play dates for your child to become comfortable with his peer, and it will take time for him to learn new skills. It may be helpful for your child to have play dates with one particular child until he demonstrates mastery (i.e., independence) of specific skills; then try teaching those play skills with another child.

Since the pioneering work of Dr. Ivar Lovaas (1981), who demonstrated how parents could teach important skills to their children with autism, we have learned many effective ways to teach social and play skills (Leaf & McEachin, 1999; Lydon, Healy, & Leader, 2011; Koegel, Werner, Vismara, & Koegel, 2005; Smith, 2001; Krantz & McClannahan, 1993; Krantz & McClannahan, 1998; Maurice, Green, & Luce, 1996). Consulting with a qualified specialist may be helpful for planning and implementing effective play dates, but remember, you are your child’s first teacher. By using these techniques during guided play dates you are not only teaching your child essential social and play skills, you are teaching him how to have more fun!

References

Baker, J. E. (2003). Social skills training for children and adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and social communication problems. Shawnee, MI, Kansas: Asperger Publishing Company.

Freeman, S., & Dake, L., (1997). Teach me language: A language manual for children with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related disorders. Langley, BC: SKF Books.

Koegel, R. L., Werner, G. A., Vismara, L. A., & Koegel, L. K. (2005). The effectiveness of contextually supported play date interactions between children with autism and typically developing peers. Research & Practice with Severe Disabilities, 30, 93-102.

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, 121-132.

Krantz, P. J., & McClannahan, L. E. (1998). Activity schedules for children: Teaching independent behavior. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.

Leaf, R., & McEachin, J. (1999). A work in progress: Behavior management strategies and a curriculum for intensive behavioral treatment of autism. New York: DRL Books.
Lovaas, O. I. (1981). Teaching developmentally disabled children: The me book. Austin, TX: Proed.

Lydon, H., Healy, O., & Leader, G. (2011). A comparison of video modeling and pivotal response training to teach pretend play skills to children with ASD. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(2), 872-884.

Maurice, C. Green, G., & Luce, C. (1996). Behavioral intervention for young children with autism: A manual for parents and professionals. Austin, TX: Proed.

Oppenheim-Leaf, M. L., Leaf, J. B., Dozier, C., Sheldon, J. B., & Sherman, J. A. (2012). Teaching typically developing children to promote social play with their siblings with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6(2), 777-791.

Smith, M. J. (2001). Teaching play skills to children with autism spectrum disorder: A practical guide. New York: DRL Books.

CITE THIS

Reilly, C., & Deltchman, C. (2013). Guided play dates. Science in Autism Treatment, 10(2), 18-20.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Caitlin Reilly, MA, BCBA currently works as a behaviorist for the Summit Public School District, and is concurrently working toward her PsyD in School Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also serves as the Sponsorship Coordinator and is a media watch contributor for the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

Carole Deitchman, MA, BCBA consults for families and school districts to help children with autism. She is completing her PhD research in applied behavior analysis by teaching children with interfering rituals and routines to self-manage their behavior.

ABOUT the Association for Science in Autism Treatment

We promote safe, effective, science-based treatments for people with autism by disseminating accurate, timely, and scientifically sound information; advocating for the use of scientific methods to guide treatment; and combating unsubstantiated, inaccurate and false information about autism and its treatment. Since autism was first identified, there has been a long history of failed treatment fads, levied on vulnerable individuals and their families. Many of these treatments have been too hastily adopted by professionals, sensationalized by the media, and embraced by consumers before evidence existed for their effectiveness or safety. Visit our website at www.asatonline.org and subscribe to our free quarterly newsletter at www.asatonline.org/newsletter/. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ASATonline and on Twitter at @asatonline.

Pick of the Week: Tiggly Shapes (with Free Shipping!)

We’re really excited to share Tiggly Shapes with you: the first interactive iPad toy designed for toddlers. You have to see it to believe how cool and versatile this new product is.

Tiggly Shapes combines the essential educational benefits of physical play with the learning potential and fun of the iPad. This simple set of four geometric shapes interacts with three free apps to create an ideal learning environment for children. Tiggly Shapes melds the best of what the digital world has to offer with the developmental importance of manipulative play in toddlers and preschoolers.

Our Board Certified Behavior Analyst Sam Blanco just put together a review for Tiggly and how she uses it with her students. Read it in full here.

This week only, we’re offering FREE DOMESTIC SHIPPING on Tiggly Shapes. Just enter the Promo Code TIGGLY at checkout and simply select FREE UPS or USPS Shipping. This makes a perfect holiday gift for the child in your life.

Seventy years of academic research has demonstrated that manipulating physical objects is essential to early childhood development. Tiggly enables parents to bring this critical component of early learning to the “digital sandbox” today’s kids inhabit. The product consists of a simple triangle, circle, square, and star that become interactive when used with the three Tiggly apps to create a robust learning experience.

Tiggly Shapes and apps are designed for children ages 18 months to 4 years old.

The Apps, available for free on iTunes, are:

Tiggly Safari
Use the shapes to construct friendly and adorable animals for the jungle, farm and sea.

Tiggly Safari Screenshot Learn basic shapes with Tiggly Safari!

 

 

 

 

 

Tiggly Stamp
This app has a great voice record and camera option that allows you to create an image, tell a story and record it. Use the shapes in this app to build seasonally-themed scenes using everything from jack-o’-lanterns to igloos.

Create animals, fruit, and other characters with Tiggly Shapes.Create a story with Tiggly Shapes and Stamps!

 

 

 

 

 

Tiggly Draw
Channel your inner artist and use the tablet as a blank canvas to create your masterpiece.

Tiggly Draw Screenshot

Exercise creativity by taking and saving photos!

 

 

 

 

 

Remember, this week only, get free domestic shipping on your order of Tiggly Shapes when you enter in the promo code TIGGLY at checkout!

**Offer expires 12/17/13 at 11:59pm EST. Not compatible with any other offer. Be sure there are no spaces in the promo code at checkout!

Product Review: Tiggly Shapes

First, let me go ahead and admit that I’ve played with Tiggly Shapes even when none of my students were around. This simple set of four geometric shapes that interacts with three free apps is one of my favorite additions to play time.

So many of my students are highly motivated by iPads, but I find them hard to integrate into lessons because it’s easy for the learner to avoid social interaction while the iPad is out. Tiggly Shapes provides opportunities for interaction with both peers and adults because it adds a physical component to the activity.

I tried this app out with two learners with autism, one five-year-old boy and one nine-year-old boy. For the five-year-old, Tiggly Shapes was a useful tool for practicing shape recognition (one of his current IEP goals), then receiving unique and powerful reinforcement when he touched that shape to the screen. Though he doesn’t have strong fine motor skills, the shapes are designed in such a way that he was easily able to grasp them. He especially loved to see the animals appear in the Tiggly Safari app.

The nine-year-old loves to draw on paper and on the iPad, so Tiggly Draw was an automatic hit for him. The shapes allowed me to participate in the drawing with him in a different way that encouraged more social interaction while still being highly reinforcing for him.

Although the Tiggly Shapes were initially designed for toddlers and preschoolers, the Tiggly Draw app can definitely be used for a variety of learners of all ages (and also happens to be the app I was playing with on my own.) It is the only app for this product that is easy to modify to meet your learner’s specific needs.

If you’re a teacher working with young learners or a parent looking for unique and interactive ways to use the iPad, I wouldn’t hesitate to snap up Tiggly Shapes. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll see more apps to go along with this fantastic new product!