Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Understanding and Encouraging a Child With Autism

Social success, for your child with autism, is comprised of the following elements:

• Reacting to others

• Knowing and choosing when to apply specific social skills

• Choosing what words to say

All this social success depends on our own ability to "read a situation." Neurotypical persons naturally interpret what is going on in other's faces, gestures, and adjust their own behavior accordingly. It's like ants who communicate with each other by touching antennae. The challenging part for children on the autism spectrum is that it's as if they are missing their social antennae.

Social antennae are akin to the term "social inferencing," which is comprised of the following components:

1. The meaning of spoken words.

2. How a person's body language contributes to the overall meaning.

3. How a person's facial expression contributes to the overall meaning.

4. How a person's eye contact contributes to the overall meaning.

5. The person's overall intent or motive.

6. How the social context and social environment helps us better interpret all of the above.

Children, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum often have very strong academic smarts, but they need help in bridging the often confusing social divide. The following is an exercise taken from Michelle Garcia Winner's book, Thinking About You Thinking About Me:

This exercise can be used in a group, working with siblings, or working 1:1 with the child as a parent, teacher, or therapist.

Pretend that you are forming a detective agency. Teach the child (or children) about what detectives do: first they must find the clues, and then they must make a smart guess to try to solve the problem.

Here are some activities that can be part of forming the detective agency:

1) Pretend to be a detective. Dress in make-believe detective hats and parents' suit jackets.

2) Find different types of clues: concrete and absract

a) Concrete clues:

1. Make a series of written clues, each leading to the next clue, so that they can ultimately find a hidden object. This is essentially like a treasure hunt. For example, in a summer camp, the kids' snacks were hidden, and they were given clues to find their own snack. This lays the groundwork for small guesses, and for making inferences.

2. Children can make their own clues. This gives the child or children experiencing in being able to think about what information the other person who is searching will need in order to find the hidden 'treasure.' If a parent is present in the therapy session, the parent or therapist can work with the child to write the clue in a way that is not going to be too hard or too easy.

3. There are books in the library that you may be able to check out in order to help children research the more abstract clues in detective work. Spy's Guide Book, (Sims and King, 2002) and The Detective's Handbook (Civardi, Hindley, and Wilkes, 1979) can be utilized to help kids understand how to be detectives, and how to look for more subtle clues. Topics such as wearing disguises, changing your walk, and hidden messages, all of which provide chances to teach children about body language, facial expression, toney of voice, and paying attention to what is going on around you.

3) Use DVD's. You can use DVD's, commercials, and TV shows to make 'smart guesses' about what will happen next. The child you are working with can use environmental or non-verbal cues to make guesses about what will happen based on the information already provided. Discuss how the information helped them make a guess.

4) Write clues and messages in different ways; use secret codes to reframe information. This will help the child develop the cognitive flexibility to see that all information is not presented exactly as it is to be understood. There is a book, Secret Codes (O'Brien and Riddell, 1997), that can be helpful in helping you come up with these codes.

The idea of the detective games is that it helps develop a vocabulary and environment that makes inferencing and smart guessing fun activities. Imagine, taking something that a child is not naturally good at, and making it fun to learn. Thank you, Ms. Michelle Garcia Winner, for these wonderful ideas!

Stephen Borgman is a licensed counselor who frequently works with children on the spectrum. He writes for his Psychology Today blog, Spectrum Solutions (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spectrum-solutions).

You can also find tips and solutions at http://www.myaspergers.net, a site dedicated to hope, understanding, and solutions for persons on the autism spectru.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Steve_Borgman

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