Visual strategies for autism social skills training, Part IV: Two more visual methods to teach about social cause and effect

Simple hands-on visuals, like this “Magic Drawing Slate,” help children on the autism spectrum to understand how their words and actions affect other people’s minds

To view the other posts in this Visual Strategies series, follow these links: VISUAL STRATEGIES, PART 1, INTRO VISUAL STRATEGIES, PART 2, USING MAGNETS VISUAL STRATEGIES, PART 3, USING A TOY BALANCE VISUAL STRATEGIES  

To restate the main points of the current blog series:  First, children with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders have trouble with “theory of mind,” that is, imagining and predicting another person’s thoughts.  Second, children with ASD often learn better when they are taught with engaging and meaningful visuals.  In this blog post, I explain how to use the inexpensive “Magic Drawing Slate” toy, pen and paper to help children with ASD to “picture” what kinds of things others are likely to remember about them.

Here is an anecdote  to help illustrate how impaired theory of mind awareness can affect a child with Asperger’s socially.  A colleague had a nine-year-old client with Asperger’s Syndrome who had gifted intelligence.  He had, at his age, read and mastered books on Norse mythology. However, he has a problem with remembering to zip up his pants while at school, and he could not be motivated to do it more consistently.  The boy’s excuse: “What’s the problem? Nobody ever looks down there!”

How to use the Magic Slate, paper, pen and pencil:

1.  Get a Magic Drawing Slate.  They are available online for a couple bucks. This is a toy that erases what you write when you lift up the transparent plastic sheet on top.  A small dry erase board will also suffice.  Get some pieces of paper and a pen.

2.  Draw on the Magic Slate  the outline of a person’s head.  Do the same on four pieces of paper.

3.  Write over the head outline on the Magic Slate: “Things other people forget.”

4.  Write over the head outline on several pieces of paper:  “Things other people probably remember the next day [first sheet of paper], one week later [next sheet of paper] and six months later [third sheet of paper]”

5.  Say something like this to the child: “Other people might hear you or notice what you do, even when when you would not expect them to. It’s like you are putting memories into their brains, as if you are programming a computer in their minds. Some things other people will forget about after a while.  Other things they will actually remember for a long time. Let’s try to figure out what things people will probably forget and which things might remember later.”

6.  You get the idea.  You are adding a visual dimension to you autism social skills activity.  Help the child write down on the magic slate things other people will not remember later.  Examples: What you ate for lunch yesterday. The color you wore last Tuesday. Then, help the child to write down with pen and paper some things others will remember later.  Try doing it in categories by dividing the paper “brain” into two columns, one side labelled “Nice things people might remember” and the other side “Not-nice things others might remember.”

Doing this social skills activity can generate revealing results.  Some children really regard other people’s minds as a kind of “Magic Slate” that erases itself frequently. The activity seems to help many children with autism to be more aware of how their own words and actions can affect other minds in an enduring fashion.

I hope that this social skills activity for kids with autism is helpful and useful for you.  Please leave a comment after you have tried it.

Joel Shaul, LCSW

 

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