This morning I watched Daniel Tiger. For those unfamiliar, it is a cartoon and take on Mister Rodgers’ teachings with Daniel Tiger and his friends. In this particular episode, Daniel politely asked to join a play group and the kids said No.
I was quickly reminded that neurotypical kids accept and reject each other in play groups all the time. In fact adults, do the same. But how do we teach our kids with autism to accept the word No and move on. Truth is, sadness ensues when you are rejected (whether you have the ability to articulate the feeling state or not). But, teaching our kids to move on to another group, another activity, and even playing alone well is the resilency builidng and the skill building of Moving On.
The inevitable NO will enter any child’s life. I’m talking about the kind or mean NO. The nasty malicious NO exists too and requires monitoring and addressing by an adult. This post is about the NO that says, “I don’t want to play with you right now” or “I only want the best people who play dodgeball or kickball on my team”. Either way, how do we teach kids with ASD to accept the NO and move forward.
- Insert NO in social group dyads. Similar to teaching the social and declarative language phrases or even the how to nonverbal language patterns found in certain conversation exchanges. We have to insert rejection into our role plays. Why? Because role plays should mirror real scenarios so that there is a framework to pull from when social situations (or unwritten social scenarios) play out in the real world. And with that, let’s do practice No with the various vocal inflections and body postures….no sitting at the table in your social groups.
- Build Leisure Skills. Human beings are comprised of three large categories that keep us going: Work (academic, school, job,career), Relationships (friends, family, social), and Leisure. Great attention needs to be given to leisure not from a reinforcment or as a set of reinforcers, but real skills we need to build in our clients. After all, lots of relationships draw from similar leisure affinity we see in our peers. Nonverbal or not, leisure skills can be built. If you observe, lego groups or otherwise…not much talking, but more hands on building. I’m working with a classroom now, to support leisure as a rotation within the classroom chock full of task schedules so that the learners can follow a visual schedule of building, creating, and improving leisure. When learners with ASD or neurotypical people are rejected from a social group, having leisure skills and a leisure reportoire is the skill set you lean on to occupy yourself to draw in, build, or create the next social opportunity with people.
3. Look Social. This section may offend…but let’s talk about. There is an entry in most social groups, the visual presentation of YOU. Before you think, I am emphasizing a high shopping bill, I am clear that each group has a look to them. My husband is an engineer and each time I drive to his office, there is a look that 90% of the engineers have in their dress and outward appearance. People are visual. We give each other the look over to decide if we want to play, date, partner, and become friends with. If this is acknowledged as true, then the same would arise for social opportunities between learners with ASD and those who are neurotypical.
One of my mentors has always stated that beyond the third grade, we can no longer make (manufacture friendships) any child invite all the kids to the party, play dates, or be friends. This is a sad truth. However, as a therapist, I want my kids to not only get invited…but throw the party (if they want). This means that I am working in social individual and group sessions with this in mind. What do I do in my sessions?
- Lots of Perspective Taking
- Conversation Fluency
- Social Nonverbal Patterns
- We do not do social at the table
- We use real words that people use (annoying, frustrated, upset, okay, happy).
- We take real scenarios and play them out again.
- We write it down.
- Video tape.
- Social Concept Stories
- Comic Strips
- Carol Gray Conversation Colors (to make the socially abstract concrete)
- We use the word No and soically pattern how to accept it, reject the No, have a rebuttal if we need it, and respond.
The challenge is children with autism need to practice these social skills and social cognition strategies learned in treatment in real interactions with neurotypical peers. WE, THE THERAPISTS, must do an increasingly better job at moving away from “My Turn. Your Turn” (because kids don’t really say that) towards real language. And for me, Daniel Tiger assisted me.
Enjoy and Let’s Teach Our Kids to THRIVE!