Summer Fun – Activities for Children with ASD

Summer is just around the corner and its time to start thinking about what activities you can plan to keep your child engaged and interested during the Summer months.

Taking advantage of the weather can provide an excellent opportunity to explore together. Go on a nature walk and collect the things that appeal to you and your surroundings. Talking about what you find, enjoying the quiet spaces, and a picnic lunch can have a great effect on your child. Reading outside, perhaps books about nature, in a quiet space can also be very calming.

Summer will bring time for free play and sports, and an opportunity for children to keep practicing their interactions with other kids in on the playground and in team games. Our Social Skill Builder My School Day App can help reinforce appropriate behaviors on the fields and in playground games. You can pause the video on teachable moments, capture it on you iPhone or iPad, and reinforce the lessons later.

For children on the autism spectrum, the opportunity to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences can stimulate attention and foster calm. Collecting and organizing materials for a craft project can make the entire experience a teachable moment. The Academic Skills portion of the My School Day App can also be used to help accomplish this task, reinforcing skills your child will need once the school year resumes.

Reading to your child is also an essential tool for broadening their vocabulary. During the quiet evening hours, visit the library and involve your child in story time, which teaches them the words they need to communicate effectively.

On days when the weather is not as cooperative, AMC Entertainment offers special movie screenings for families with autistic children. The lights remain on, the volume is child-friendly, and your child can get up, move around and talk without upsetting other movie goers.

This is also a great opportunity for families to meet and siblings of children with Autism to get to know other children as well. Our Social Skills software can help reinforce basic manners and peer interactions in these social situations.

Using Visual Aids to Teach Autistic Children About Team Sports

All children benefit from a healthy amount of physical activity, gaining concrete physical benefits like agility, improvement in muscle strength, coordination and flexibility, as well as life expectancy. For children with ASD, additional benefits can include an improvement in their quality of life and a measurable boost to their self-esteem.

According to George Frey, an associate profession at Indiana University, kids with autism need exercise for both its fitness and therapeutic benefits. He advises that, “Rigorous exercise such as running and swimming can have a calming effect on children with autism.”

Prior to starting any consistent exercise regimen with your child, whether its individual or a team sport, its important to meet with your family doctor and/or pediatric physical or occupational therapist to have your child evaluated to find out which sports or physical activity would be the best fit for your child’s personality and physical abilities.

For some kids with sensory issues, communication challenges, or difficulties with social skills, team sports can be challenging. Autistic children, even those who are considered low functioning, can excel at sports like swimming, martial arts, golf, bowling, tennis, running, skiing and surfing – sports that don’t entail having to read social cues or figure out for example, when to pass the ball.

Social Skill Builder recommends using visual aids when teaching your child about sports

Our Social Skill Builder software offers visual examples that can help children with ASD navigate through interactions they can encounter on the playing field. The scenarios depicted in the Social Skill Builder videos can help children with emotional or behavioral challenges understand the dynamics of playing sports as a team.


Social Skill Builder can assist in teaching non-verbal cues

Choosing the right option for your child may depend on your child’s ability and desire to interact with others. Children with autism are usually unable to imitate others; merely telling them to follow what the other children are doing on the team is not enough. Providing physical and visual help as you proceed with the game is the best path to success.

For example, autistic children are very visual, and the use of visual aids when teaching your autistic child about a sport may help them begin to understand the non-verbal cues which can be critical to any sport that is played on a team. As autistic children have difficulties understanding body language, you can teach them for example, how to tell whether a teammate is about to pass them the ball, when they look at a teammate they understand what the teammate is expecting. The Social Skill Builder software, especially the My School Day CD, can help towards this goal as it addresses playground games, team dynamics, and the basics of good sportsmanship.

Sports help the rate of social inclusion for children with autism and special needs and can help children experience a taste of what it feels like to be a part of a team instead of win and the personal satisfaction that goes with it.

For Parents: Social Skills Assessment and Training Methods

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By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

Parents and teachers generally have sufficient contact with a child and observation of his social interactions to recognize symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder and the possible presence of social skills deficits. When a child’s social issues are not addressed, he may find it very difficult to interact with friends and classmates one-to-one; later, he may carry these social deficits into adulthood, and experience prolonged feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and rejection. For these reasons, it is critical to your child to assess any deficits and implement an appropriate training program as early as possible.

The Process of Assessing Social Skills Deficits

Taking your child to a speech pathologist or psychologist to conduct a comprehensive assessment is the first step to identifying social deficits and selecting the best training approaches to fit your child’s needs. The assessment process thoroughly examines the child’s current level of social functioning, using a combination of standardized tests and the practitioner’s own observations of and interviews with your child.

Typical assessment tests include the Test of Problem Solving (TOPS) and the Functional Communication Profile (FCP-R). Some practitioners also use Sam Goldstein and Elaine Pollock’s Social Skills Group Assessment Questionnaire, an easy-to-use tool that rates the child??s mastery of 23 social skills (e.g., beginning a conversation, interpreting body language) before and after a training program.

By evaluating the child’s unique social skills deficits through the assessment process, the practitioner can recommend and implement a customized training program that addresses your child’s individual needs.

Training Techniques and Methods

Based on the results of the assessment, the practitioner will determine the most appropriate place to begin treatment. For instance, if the evaluation shows that the child with ASD has difficulty engaging in a three-turn interaction with a single peer, the practitioner may develop a program that begins at the level of basic conversation and progresses to more advanced group dynamics. At this time, she will also select a training method that best suits the needs of the child. Various mechanisms for teaching social skills are widely available, ranging from no-technology solutions to high-tech training devices.

No-Technology Training Applications

Some of the more effective low-tech applications, which can be used by caregivers, educators, and practitioners alike, include:

  1. Emotions Scrapbooks: Recognizing the feelings and thoughts of others is often difficult for children with ASD. Emotions scrapbooks feature magazine pictures and photographs that show people participating in social situations while expressing their feelings. The goal is for the child to accurately identify how the characters are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language.
  2. Social Skills Workbooks: Workbooks and board games such as Do Watch Listen Say (Quill) and Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson) are fun activities disguised as play. They encourage the development of skills essential to social functioning, including reciprocity, imitation, and conversation.
  3. One-to-One Thematic Play: Role-playing involves acting out social interactions that the child with ASD would typically encounter in an unstructured school situation. For example, the practitioner might ask the child to respond to a peer who has invited him to play kickball during recess.
  4. Social Skills Groups: Peer mentors in the child’s class can encourage him to interact with others. With the right guidance, mentors can also model socially appropriate behavior and show their support to the child with ASD in unstructured school situations.
  5. Social Stories: Single-themed narratives present social conventions to the child with ASD in the form of a brief story. For example, if the child has trouble on the swing set, a social story might explore this situation in detail, introducing the concepts of taking turns and asking a classmate to play. Ideally, the story is written from the first-person perspective of the child and sympathizes with difficult aspects of the situation (e.g., “It’s hard to wait my turn when I want to ride on the swing now.”)

We know from experience that observation, modeling, rehearsal, and reinforcement are the most effective methods by which to acquire and sustain long-term social skills. All of the no-tech techniques I just mentioned support one or two of these strategies, but in the last few years, technological advances have allowed for the development of high-tech training methods that incorporate the entire range of proven techniques.

High-Tech Training Applications

How do technology-based social training methods work? While precise applications vary, these techniques generally encourage skill development, improve skill performance, and reduce ineffective behaviors by allowing the child to learn through personal experience. Because they provide opportunities to pause and discuss information, to replay scenarios for greater recall and understanding, and to repeat exercises as many times as necessary, technology-based methods are typically very effective. Specific applications include:

  1. Voice-Recording Systems: These systems help the child with ASD to identify topic maintenance, intonation and perseveration. When a child is allowed to listen to himself speak, it is easier for him to understand and respond to the specific difficulties he may have in communicating with peers.
  2. Television Shows and Videos: Age-appropriate sitcoms or cartoons that feature dramatic emotions and social scenarios can be a useful way to model appropriate behavior for the child with ASD. If a caregiver, educator, or practitioner takes the time to discuss the characters?? actions and reactions with the child, television shows and videos can be a cost-effective and risk-free method for analyzing social interactions.
  3. Video or In-Vivo Modeling: Video modeling consists of having the child with ASD watch a videotape of models performing the target social behavior, while in-vivo modeling consists of having the child observe live models perform the target social behavior.
  4. Social Training Software Programs: All kids love playing on the computer, and games that depict social scenarios and ask the child with ASD to determine what should be said or done next are highly motivating. Available social training software includes the CD-ROM series from Social Skill Builder, which teaches children the rules of social communication. In particular, School Rules! Volumes 1 and 2 use interactive video sequences to imitate scenarios where children commonly interact with peers in an unstructured school environment. Programs like School Rules! allow the child to practice everything from the right amount of social touch in the locker room to appropriate lunchtime interaction, in a safe, non-threatening environment.

The Importance of the Right Training Program

Regrettably, children with ASD may never fully achieve a “social sense,” that desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. With your guidance as a parent, working closely with educators and practitioners in implementing the right training program, your child can experience effective interactions with peers and adults, and exhibit greater competence and confidence in all kinds of social situations.