If you work a lot with children who have Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders, you have seen the following: A child listens to your words for a short time, and then their brain hits a kind of inner mute button, and your session or lesson is effectively finished.
There can be a number of reasons for this. We might be using boring words, speaking too fast, using language that is too complex, or neglecting to reference the child’s preferred interests. But a common reason for “losing your audience” in social skills training with kids on the autism spectrum is that many kids with ASD seem to learn better in a visual modality. Temple Grandin is a well-known example of a person with autism who learns visually. She articulates this beautifully in this quote: “When I think about abstract concepts such as relationships with people, I use visual images such as a sliding glass door. Relationships should be approached gently because barging forward too quickly might shatter the door.” (From Teaching Children with Autism, by Kathleen Ann Quail )
There are certainly many children with autism who do not learn in a visual manner like Temple Grandin. But for the ones who do, I believe is important to keep on hand a variety of engaging and meaningful props for your social skills learning activities. Here are a few examples.
For many kids with ASD, our frequent verbal prompts regarding nonverbal factors just become part of the unwanted noise they tune out. But when you keep on hand pictures of eyes, hands, a face and a ruler, and use these as visual prompts during social skills activities, you can get much better attention and retention.
Children with ASD can tune out our words after years and years of verbally prompting to talk less, talk more, stop talking about that, and so forth. For individuals who might be withering under all this scrutiny and badgering, try a social skills teaching approach. This toy balance, available for about 15 dollars online, is terrific for social skills activities to teach reciprocity in conversation and relationships. (Detailed instructions about these techniques: http://bit.ly/zoFpVJ )
Here is another visual prop for social skill teaching with children on the autism spectrum. I spent about a year photographing trains to create these hands-on visuals for teaching beginning, middle, end, “on track” and “off track” in conversation. It’s available as a kit on the website. There are some free train downloads for you to try it out with your own students/clients with ASD: http://bit.ly/zv5OHg
I invite you to explore dozens of other visual-based, engaging autism social skills training methods on this website.