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.

Teaching Inference and Prediction to Children with ASD

The ability to infer or to draw conclusions given partial information is a cornerstone of our reasoning process. Predicting the outcome of peer behavior in social situations as well as inferring conclusions based on clues within social interactions can be very difficult for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Most children with ASD tend to be very concrete and literal thinkers, which means that teaching abstract concepts needs to be done in a concrete way, this is typically accomplished through the use of visual aids.

Social Skill Builder Software Teaches Children the “Rules” of Social Communication

Research has demonstrated that teaching social skills, including inference and prediction, is one of the most effective treatments for children with ASD and helps them to succeed in their personal and academic lives. Social Skill Builder has developed a curriculum of researched based, evidence-driven software programs that teach key social thinking, language, and behavior critical to everyday living for children with ASD.

Social Skill Builder Interactive Video Sequences Imitate Real Life Social Scenarios Where Children Commonly Interact with Peers

Social Skill Builder products, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, use technology to stop the live action video and allow the child with ASD to dissect the scenario at the teachable moment when an inference would typically occur. This allows the individual with autism see what “clues” lead to the guess/inference. The Social Skill Builder software does this by asking the child to click on the paused picture to identify context, body or facial cues or to select thoughts, feelings or words to add to the social scene to make the story complete.

The difference between a prediction, which is the discussion of a future event based on the “natural course of things”, and an inference, which is a theory based on evidence and clues can be very difficult to discern for children with ASD. In order to develop successful social skills these concepts must be introduced in very clear ways that the child can understand with visual examples.

Guessing, implying, hinting, suggesting, and reasoning are just a few of the mental processes in which we draw inference. Learning to correctly interpret different cues and accurately assess social situations so that children can determine how to best respond can be a challenging skill to teach without the appropriate aid. Our social skill software solutions, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, demonstrates examples with interactive videos that show situations that teach critical social thinking and model behavior which are critical so everyday living.

Working with our Social Skill Builder software in conjunction with other therapy can help reinforce very abstract concepts, such as inference and prediction, and make them a natural progression in your child’s continued development.

Let’s Go Outside … Playground Tip for Your Child with Autism

Now that Spring has arrived, its time to get our kids outside, enjoying the warmth we’ve been without for so long. Play is fundamental, not optional, but for children on the Autism spectrum, time on the playground presents a different set of considerations.

Children with Autism enjoy running and exploring, and unfortunately, when outdoors the propensity for wandering can cause tremendous stress on parents, often causing avoidance of activities that are away from home. The most important element in a playground you can visit with your child is finding one that is completely enclosed by a fence. There should be only one way in and one way out of the playground, preferably with a gate that closes.

Finding a playground that has a wide path around all of the play equipment is also very important because this allows your child to understand the dynamics of the playground from a safe distance, away from the children that might crowd around the equipment. There should also be plenty of space for your child to run and exert energy.

The Social Skill Builder CD My School Day and iTunes My School Day App can help your child understand appropriate social behavior on the playground. The video segments visually present scenarios of interactions and problem solving as it pertains to outdoors playtime.

The aesthetic characteristics of the playground should be considered as well. Finding a playground with muted colors, where the line of sight has been considered, (can you see “through” the equipment such as rope climbers, monkey bars, etc) is ideal for you to be able to keep track of your child. Also, pleasing landscape is important since it can be very calming for children.

Also, playgrounds with plenty of equipment that allows for movement: spinning, swaying, rocking and jumping are preferable, as well as playgrounds that provide a cozy place for your child to retreat, away from the action when a brief rest is required.

Outdoor playtime is essential for your child’s continued healthy development, and finding a way to do it so that you can both enjoy your time together is essential for the continued well-being of your family.

Teaching Children with Autism How to Enjoy Jokes and Idioms

Understanding-Idioms

St. Patrick’s Day approaches and so continues the decades-long tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day pinch if you’re not wearing green. We all remember a time or two when our arms stung from forgetting to wear St. Patrick’s green. While harmless on the whole, for children with autism it can be hard to understand the difference between a harmless prank and something that can physically harm another child.

Humor is important to your child’s social development

Humor is important for children because being able to tell jokes and laugh with others helps them interact and make friends. Unfortunately, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tell significantly fewer jokes than their typical peers. Not being able to understand humor, or inspire laughter in others can negatively affect the development of peer relationships and social participation. In ASD children, this could lead to a further deterioration of social skills and interpersonal relationships.

Studies have found that using jokes or teaching humor and laughter to children diagnosed with autism can improve social skills and relationships with peers.

Children with autism and special needs, particularly those with social or communication delays, may need more direct instruction in the skill of joke telling and the understanding of idioms. Because children may not make the connections needed to sometimes understand the abstract language that can make a joke funny, it is important to use visual tools and concrete examples to demonstrate how jokes and idioms are constructed.

The My School Day CD and My School Day App have a whole category dedicated to understanding the difference between laughing AT someone versus laughing WITH someone. In this selection we discuss teasing versus enjoying a joke together.

Simple strategies to expand your child’s sense of humor

Its important to experiment with positive and appropriate jokes, trying them out at home and perhaps even memorizing a few that are appropriate to tell in social environments.

  1. Look into visual humor: Use cartoons, comic books and slapstick comedy to demonstrate what is considered funny, making sure to remind them that the images shown are unrealistic and should not be duplicated.
  2. Memorize one or two jokes: Knock-Knock jokes are great place to start. The examples should always include the differences between a good-natured joke and doing something that can hurt someone’s feelings.
  3. Teach idioms: Gradually expose your child to idioms and explain their meaning. Use tools such as videos or flashcards to help them develop a better understanding of these complex statements.
  4. Train your child to seek clarification when they are confused. Idioms are ambiguous and often leave children with ASD confused or accepting the statement as fact yet denying the possibility.
  5. Practice, practice, practice: For children with autism humor is an ever evolving and developing skill. Have fun developing your child’s sense of humor; a family that laughs together, has less stress and grows together in amazing ways.

Making an effort to add humor to daily activities, giving your child the opportunity to recognize the funny in the every day will allow him or her to practice and develop a more sophisticated sense of humor in time.

As children get older, the ability to see and understand humor is increasingly important. Children with a sense of humor are better liked by their peers, and have more friends, higher self-esteem, and a more positive outlook on life. Perhaps most importantly, they can be more tolerant of others, and are better equipped to handle situations at school and the inevitable teasing and bullying that often accompanies childhood.

For Parents: Social Skills Assessment and Training Methods

autism video, autism social skills, autism resources for parents, autism resources for teachers

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.