Visual strategies for autism social skills training, Part III: Using a toy balance

A toy balance is an amazing social skills lesson strategy to teach children with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders about “balance” in relationships

{Dear reader: If you are in a hurry to get to the point, just go to my basic but succinct YouTube video:}

This is the third in a multi-part series on using compelling, hands-on visuals to help children on the autism spectrum to learn about “balance” in relationships.

To restate our premise:  Children with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders often have great difficulty comprehending cause and effect in relationships.  These same children tend to not learn well from unguided social experience.  They do, however, often learn really well when they are taught about these social concepts using visual methods, since  many children with autism are strong visual learners.

This social skills teaching method employs a toy balance, which is used to concretely demonstrate the basic back-and-forth in relationships between individuals.  It works really well.

How to use a toy balance for social skills lessons on reciprocity:

1. Get a balance. I suggest the Pan Balance Junior, Learning Resources, available online for 15 to 20 dollars.

2Get weights to use for the balance:  3 by 5 cards work well, since they are pretty exact in their weight.  For more color and flair, use marbles or checkers with one color for one side and a different color for the other side.
3. Use words like this while introducing the balance. This is essentially a spoken autism social story accompanied by a prop:
“Usually, when someone does something good, nice or helpful for a person, that person should do something good, nice or helpful in return.”

(Now, place weights on either side of the balance as you talk)

“Here is an example:  Bob gives Mary his dessert at lunch one day.  What is something that Mary can do to balance this out?”

(Continue placing weights on one side then the other as you took, demonstrating give-and-take in a relationship)

“Here is another example:  Alice helps Robert with some hard Math.  Robert sees Alice sitting all by herself at lunch.  What can Robert do to balance it out?”

4.   Explore a variety of social skills themes that might be important to children on the autism spectrum.
a.  What you do to take care of yourself and others increases with age.
Suggested language:  “When children are quite young, they are quite helpless.  Others do everything for them.  They are like baby birds being fed by grown up birds in the nest.  Children your age still need a lot from grown ups.”
(Now, place numerous weights on one side of the balance as you and the participants name multitudes of things that adults do for them, at home and in school). 
“You’re not grown up yet.  You don’t have a lot of money and you can’t go to work to support the family.  But there is a lot you can do to balance it out.  There are kind and helpful things you can do (collaborate on naming as many things as possible, adding weights to the other side)  and there are good things you can say (keep adding weights).”

b.  Use as way to analyze and troubleshoot social relationships with peers.  For example,

“Sam says hello to you.  (weight on one side).  You______________” (weight on the other side.  Continue)

“Sam says he likes your drawing.  You ________________”

“Sam helps you with (something)  You ______________”

“Sam gives you a pencil when you don’t have one.  Later, you _________________________”

“At Sam’s house, Sam lets you __________” When he’s at your house, you let him __________”

These examples only begin to demonstrate the many ways you can use a balance to create social skills lessons for children on the autism spectrum.  Try it.  You will probably think of some ideas of your own.  When you do, kindly return to the blog and leave your own comments.

*For instruction on how to use the balance for teaching reciprocity in communication, see this other YouTube video:

Joel Shaul, LCSW

Speaking of balances and reciprocity, here are two of the 62 Ryuu trading cards I made with Rebecca Klaw. They are part of a social skills game and social skills lesson kit for kids on the autism spectrum. For more informaiton, click on the picture.

The Conversation Train Book

You must be logged in to post a comment.