Photo Credit: hepingting
You can help your child with autism with the basics of playground routines by visiting playgrounds together or with siblings and friends, and practicing some of the expected behaviors. Since many people are of the notion that "kids just know these things" (proper playground behaviors) it's important to understand that playground behaviors may not mean the same thing in the mind of a child with autism A few key skills include:
- Teach your child to stand in line (slide down the slide, then go to the back of the slide and wait your turn)
- Teach your child to swing (learn to pump rather than wait for an adult to push)
- Teach your child safe and fun climbing techniques (always have two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand on the climbing structure, etc.)
- Teach your child how to ask an adult for help when needed.
2. Maintain and Monitor a Routine with the Child
I can not begin to emphasize how much routines have helped students with autism excel in and out of the classroom. The most important key here is for parents to establish and maintain a routine and plan. This plan must be communicated with their child’s teacher and reinforced at home. As autistic children and adults often struggle with anxiety and worry, parents can help assuage feelings of angst by adhering to a daily regimen.
For example, each day a parent or caregiver can review homework assignments with their child in a specific order to maintain routine and predictability. If a child needs less one-on-one support, then a parent can establish a routine of where and when a child should complete their homework each day. Oftentimes, autistic students respond well to lists and visual organizers. Parents can help foster success by providing their child with a daily academic checklist. This checklist can include tasks such as: complete homework, put all materials in the correct class folders, make sure materials for tomorrow are in my book bag, and so forth.
3. Be Patient
One of the things I often hear from caregivers and parents is that “my child takes too long”. This is not to say that the child should not do his/her best to get a task done at a certain time. However, it is important to understand that a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may behave in specific ways because of a delay in development in an area of developing. While this is not always convinent and sometimes not possible, it helps to plan a few minutes before an activity to give that child extra room to get ready. So, plan an extra 10 or so minutes before and after your activity. At school we call this extra time transition. These few extra minutes before and after each lesson help prepare the autistic child for the new lesson/activity.
4. Be proactive in helping your child with interpreting social cues
Since children with autism are slower in learning to interpret what others are thinking and feeling, subtle social cues—whether a smile, a wink, or a grimace—may have little meaning. To a child who misses these cues, “Come here” always means the same thing, whether the speaker is smiling and extending her arms for a hug or frowning with their hands on their hips. Without the ability to interpret gestures and facial expressions, the social world is quite bewildering place for an autistic child. To compound the problem, people with autism have difficulty seeing things from another person’s perspective. Most 5-year-olds understand that other people have different information, feelings, and goals than they have. A person with autism may lack such understanding. This inability leaves them unable to predict or understand other people’s actions. There are lots of books and videos available with social situations that parents can utilize to help their child. Turn it into a game, like “name that face” or “what I am I thinking”. Take your child to a playground and have them observe how other typical kids interacts while explaining what’s happening as both of you watch.
5. Be prepared for fixations
While this may not fit neatly into everyone’s daily schedule and life, it is important for parents to be open to the unexpected. One of the ways in which autism affects children is by causing them to become fixated with particular objects, places, and people. Hence, parents should be prepared to be spontaneous. Your child will learn new things at school every day, and they will often become obsessed about something. As a teacher, I have seen my autistic students become greatly fixated on everything from an individual to the lessons. Parents should be open and aware because there will be times when these obsessions become intense and change quickly. These obsessions may vary by days and weeks. Today it may be one thing, tomorrow it may be something entirely different. As someone who works with autistic children five days a week, I understand how this may become frustrating and overwhelming at times for parents. However, the joy comes in understanding the innocence of these fixations. Although parents may be tempted to be annoyed, autistic children are not doing this to be mean or spiteful. It is simply their way of showing us that they are unique human beings who, despite their differences, are attempting to relate to the world around them. When sending your autistic child to school, be prepared for the fixations that are likely to occur.
"If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn."
- Ignacio Estrada
Alvin (otherwise know on Skinny Latte Mommy as "My Dear Hubby") is currently a teacher at a private South Florida school for both typical and special needs children and provides individual behavioral therapy to autistic children. He has a Bachelors of Arts in Elementary Education and a Master's in Behavior Analysis. He is presently preparing to sit the Board Certified Behavior Analysis license exam.