Recess Jungle : How it Impacts the Lives of Children with Autism
Sarah runs up to a child on the playground at recess time. She pushes the child and runs away looking back at the child while giggling. The child immediately tells the supervising education assistant (EA) that Sarah has pushed him. The EA knows something is amiss. She approaches Sarah to ask her why she has pushed the other child. Sarah immediately burst into tears. The rest of Sarah’s day at school is filled with tears and requests to go home. The chaotic Recess Jungle has struck yet again!
Sarah is an 8-year-old child with autism. Last year during recess she had peer buddies that would set up games like chase and tag for her and her peers. These peer buddies were grade six and seven students who acted as play guides, ensuring that Sarah and other children were included in meaningful peer play. With the support of these peer buddy students, Sarah successfully maneuvered the Recess Jungle.
This year there are no peer buddies. The powers that be felt that since Sarah did so well last year she no longer needed the support of peer buddies. A common and frustrating occurrence in the lives of children with autism. Successful supports are put in place only to be taken away when they work. This is a ridiculous notion to those of us who walk the walk and talk the talk. But because people view autism as an invisible disorder, that is exactly what happened in this case.
Sarah, remembering the fun times she had the year before playing with her grade 6 buddies attempts to engage a grade 6 student in a game of tag. Her attempt to play is misinterpreted as “pushing and laughing” at the other student.
Recess is a jungle for many individuals on the autism spectrum. The social cues that most children understand are completely lost on children with autism. Add to that, the gross motor activities that usually take place at recess time (running, climbing, soccer) and the sensory stimuli of a noisy and busy playground. These factors make recess a jungle often negatively impacting the child’s ability to engage and cope with the expectations of school life.
What’s My Number? Teaching Regulation Strategies to Children with Autism
Regardless of whether you are crying or laughing, if you cannot control your emotional state, then you are dysregulated. From time to time most of us need a little help staying well regulated. Sometimes we need a walk, a hug, to yell, scream, cry, or even talk to a trusted friend. Individuals on the autism spectrum are no exception. Driving in the snow in Vancouver makes me frustrated. I know that our families are going to have a hard time getting to play groups. When I am feeling frustrated I ask myself, “What’s My Number?”
Janet (aged 6) regulates herself by chewing on toys, and pulling strings or ribbons through her fingers. Therefore, Janet uses primarily behavioural strategies to communicate and meet her regulatory needs.
Ivan (aged 4) arrives at play group appearing to be mildly dysregulated. When asked what his number is, Ivan’s answers, “I already know my number. I am at a 3 because I am not so happy when not all of my friends are here”. Ivan is using language strategies to communicate and meet his regulatory needs.
Our Integrated Play Groups® programs support all the players (children with autism and their peers) with the tools they need to meet and express their regulatory needs. We also model and teach language and metacognitive strategies by designing a What’s My Number activity. This activity teaches children to identify, express and reflect on their emotional state using emotional “check-ins” throughout the play group sessions.
Brian (aged 8) is preparing to play with his favourite play theme (Star Wars) at play group. He appears to be feeling mildly dysregulated. When asked how he is feeling, Brain’s answers, “Well I am feeling happy, because I love Star Wars. But I am a little worried that my friends will not want to play it too. Can we check with them to see?” Brian is using both language and metacognitive strategies to communicate and meet his regulatory needs.
What’s My Number activities provided at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centres supports children to learn about their emotional state. Thus giving them a strong foundation for staying well regulated, even during stressful times.
So the next time you are stuck in traffic or look outside and see another 10cm of snow, ask yourself, What’s My Number. Modeling for the children around you how to stay well regulated by labeling and expressing our internal states even during blasts of winter weather.
Where did you get those boots? Modeling Social Inclusion for Children with Autism
While delivering our Simulation Game program one day, two adults sat together chatting while frequently reminding the students to “be quiet”. After the program, one of the ladies came up to me saying, “Heather, can I ask you one question?” Following the program questions are typically about the program, therefore I turned to the lady and said, “Of course.” She said, “Where did you get your boots, I just love them.”
These adults where not modeling social inclusion.
Adult behaviour plays a key role in modeling social inclusion for individuals on the autism spectrum and their peers. Adult models provide children with the behaviours they mirror when interacting with their peers.
The old saying “do as I say, not as I do” just does not hold weight anymore. If adults in the environment treat the individual on the autism spectrum as an equal, then peers will see that individual as an equal. However, if adults treat that individual as a person “needing help” or as “less than,” then peers will perceive the person with autism that way too.
Children need good adult models. This is especially true when the adults are modeling social inclusion. And our actions speak louder than our words, so make your actions count with a few simple rules for modeling social inclusion, they are:
– Be aware of your own behaviour, model the behaviour you desire in the children
– Use person-first language at all times
– “Not about me, without me” Never talk about a child in front of them or their peer group
– Privacy and confidentiality model respect
– Model, label, explain and normalize to create a culture of inclusion
Remember you are modeling social inclusion; don’t expect children to do as you say – because they will do as you do!
Raising Children With Autism: “Don’t want friends”
While delivering our Autism Demystification programs at a local school, a wonderful grade four student on the autism spectrum said, “Don’t want friends”.
During recess, I watched as this same child walked around the playground beside the EA (education assistant). While his same aged peers were completely engaged in peer social play, he stayed close to the safety of the adult.
This is not the first time an individual on the autism spectrum has spoken these words to me. If you take the phrase, “Don’t want friends” literally, you would assume that he does not want to engage with his same aged peers. However, I’m certain this child’s words were not literal; on the contrary, I believe his words meant so much more.
He may be saying:
he feels he has friends in the adults who are his support workers
the adults in his world are the only individuals who he has played with therefore they are the only “friends” he has ever known
adults are much easier to play and make friends with than his peers
he has tried to play and make friends with his same age peers but the attempts have been unsuccessful
it is too painful keep trying and failing to make friends with his same aged peers
Therefore, when supporting individuals on the autism spectrum our focus should be on demystifying peers. Helping peers to understand, accept and empathize with their peers with autism, making peer play and friendships possible.
“Peers are a necessity not a luxury in human development” Hartup
Facing the Crowd: Bullied Parents of Children with Autism
Facing the Crowd Six Strategies to Help the Bullied Parents
Bullying, regardless of its form, usually stems from a lack of understanding, acceptance and empathy. As parents of children with autism, we worry about our children being bullied. We protect them from it in every way possible. However, as parents of children with autism we often suffer bullying too.
The other day, a parent of a child newly diagnosed with autism, came to the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre for a transition visit before the play groups started. Fighting back tears she described her experiences, “I know I should take him [preschool], that it is good for him to be with the other children, but it’s so hard. The other parents stare at me, give me dirty looks, and talk about my son and me. It is not worth it – it’s so hard.”
The good news is that there are a few simple strategies that bullied parents can take to reduce bullying. They are:
Create an All About Us Letter. Write an introductory letter or email to other parents. This letter will introduce you, your family and your child to the other parents. If you are comfortable including the label of autism, do so. If you are not, you can simply say “my child struggles with…”
Create an All About Me. Help your child to create an “all about me book”. Or better yet, ask the teacher if they could have all the children in the class create “all about me” books. Share the books with their classmates and parents. Even if your child is very young, you can assist them in making this book, using photos, etc.
Join a Parents Group. Support of other parents who understand what you are going through is always helpful. Families of children with autism speak a language that is uniquely our own – therefore it is EXTREMELY important that parents connect.
Have an Exit Strategy. Always have an exit strategy. My exit strategy for facing the community is simply this – when I feel bullied by parents or professionals in the community I ask myself, “Do I care about this person’s opinion of me or my child?” The answer is almost alway “no”.
5 Categories of Importance. People in our lives can be put into 1 of 5 categories. 1 being family members and people we are very close to, and 5 being strangers. The truth is, most people who bully us are in categories 4 or 5. These are strangers, or people we may see but don’t even know their names. So why should we care about their opinions?
These few simple steps will help you and your family be proactive in fighting bullying – regardless of its form.
And the next time you see a child fall to the floor screaming while taking off all his clothes in the middle of a department store, instead of judging and ridiculing, try understanding, acceptance and empathy instead. Perhaps that is a child with autism and perhaps the bullied parents are doing the very best they can.
It is the first week back at play groups at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre for children with autism after the holiday break. The play theme this week is space. A highly motivating theme that is very versatile, becoming almost anything that the players imagine it to be. This flexible play theme is especially important on the first day back after the holiday break. The players arrive back at play group excited to be back to see their friends. But as every parent knows, raising a child with autism means that the transition back to the regular routine after the holidays can be a difficult one.
Many of the players arrive back to play groups carrying transition objects. Typically, transition objects after the holidays are toys that they have received. They proudly carry in their new prized possession, excited to share it with us and their friends at play group. And of course, we acknowledge their excitement and pride while attempting to include the object into the play whenever possible.
This past Saturday one of the players brought a pineapple to play groups. Yes, that is correct, a full, fresh pineapple!
When the player arrived at the door with the pineapple he handed it to the Master Guide saying something I could not make out. I looked in the direction of the Master Guide who was holding the pineapple asking, “Should I cut it up for a snack?” The Master Guide looked at me in horror, clutching the pineapple while shaking her head, “No”.
Clearly, the pineapples’ attendance at play group was for a purpose other than sharing it as a snack. As always, wanting to follow the players lead, I decided that the best strategy at this point would be to incorporate the pineapple into the play. I quickly put a space helmet on the pineapple saying, “Space Pineapple”.
During the play group session, we sang hello to the space pineapple, the space pineapple wore a space helmet, came on board the space ship and by the time it was time to sing good bye, all the players where keen to sing the “good bye space pineapple” song.
None of play guides skipped a beat, they swung into full space pineapple inclusion mode. Modeling for the expert players that pineapples are welcome in play group, and making what was unconventional the “norm”.
You see we are not about judging the space pineapple; we are not about changing the space pineapple and we are not about fixing the space pineapple. We are about accepting, understanding and empathizing with the pineapple in the true spirit of friendships.
I cannot wait to see what this player brings next week!
Raising Children with Autism – Necessity, are Mothers of a Children On the Autism Spectrum
Necessity, are Mothers of a Children On the Autism Spectrum
I will never forget the moment my child was diagnosed, I started to cry, but not because I was upset that the doctor had agreed with my suspicions. I cried out of relief that someone finally saw what I saw, that someone finally believed me. Up to that point I had been on my own. After eighteen long and torturous months and an incredible twelve different medical professionals, finally, one doctor had the courage to agree with a mother’s intuition.
What I did not know then was the events of December 4, 1995 would alter the course of my life. My path from that moment forward would be a journey with one goal – to ensure that my child and in fact all three of my children would know that they are accepted, understood and loved for who they are, within their family, within their community and most importantly within their peer groups.
Fast forward 21 years, I am writing this blog during take 12, filming our latest Autism Demystification Puppet Program entitled, “You Don’t Know, Jack!”. I watch with gratitude as the never wavering guides repeatedly preform the puppet play for the cameras. Watching them bring to life my life’s work is a humbling experience that reminds of the importance of understanding, acceptance, empathy and friendships for children with autism. For me, this intensifies the knowledge that for many children with autism, their peers and families, engaging in meaningful peer social opportunities would simply not exist without the help of Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society.
The road we travel in the world of autism is long, winding and amazing ride that can be filled with the joy of acceptance, understanding, empathy and friendships for our children and for ourselves. As Friend 2 Friend Social Learning Society enters its 15th year of service delivery, it is my hope that the Friend 2 Friend programs have helped, and will continue to help make the road a bit smoother for many individuals on the autism spectrum.
“There is a path from me to you that I am constantly looking for.” Rumi
Heather McCracken 爱童
Thank you: Jennifer, Michelle, Katie, Jenn and Lucy for your support with the development, delivery and filming of “You Don’t Know, Jack!”
Demystifying the Classroom – Friday Feb 17 or Feb 24, 2017
Are you an education assistant, classroom or resource educator? Are you currently supporting a child with autism that is struggling in the classroom setting? Would you like to have a better understanding of autism, as well as current best practices in supporting children with autism at school? Join us Friday Feb 17, 2017 at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre, New Westminster for this full day workshop.
Manic Mondays Solution # 2: Embrace the Transition Object
Who among us does not have a cell phone? When you forget your cell phone at home – how do you feel? Cell phones are modern day conventional transition objects.
My son has had some unconventional transition objects throughout the years. At three, his favourite was the local newspaper (entertainment section). Later he would carry DVD boxes. As he got older his transition objects became more conventional such as, pen and paper, a computer and then later a cell phone. Transition objects for my child were and are anything that keeps him closely connected to his affinity for animation and movies.
We never discouraged him (even when he was taking newspapers from strangers in the local Starbucks) from carrying a transition object. We found that if he had a preferred transition object in his hands it made all transitions much easier.
At the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre we usually find transitions into play group are not difficult for most of our players, on the contrary they are usually very eager to arrive. However, the transitions out of play group can be a bit trickier. Therefore, we use many strategies to support the smooth transition out of play group, they are:
We provide a highly predictable routine with a clear beginning, middle and ending
We use a visual schedule and refer to the schedule throughout play group
We have a well-defined area for our opening and closing rituals which are located as close to the door as possible
We provide transition warnings, using transition cues such as songs, PCS, games etc.
We lessen our language – we only provide language that is absolutely necessary
We use “first/then” language such as, “first shoes, then stickers”
We provide redirection by creating and reading a Social Story about what will happen next week, shifting the player’s attention to returning to play group rather than leaving play group. Copies are then given to players as transition objects.
We will “wait them out” sitting quietly and calmly, not engaging until the player is “ready” to go
And last, but not least, we provide a second transition object “a sticker” which the players get to choose (last thing before leaving)
Does your child have a transition object? How do you incorporate it into their day? – Please share with us in the comments below.
Want to learn more about the importance of transition objects? Click below:
Exactly What We Need to Hear (and Know) – A Parents View
When my son was diagnosed with autism I felt like our life was over. Having worked in the field as a behaviour interventionist many years ago, I could not see how the therapies I was aware of could serve my child. In my eyes, my child was perfect the way he was and I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of shaping his behaviour to look like a ‘typical’ child. Quite frankly, I didn’t want a typical child, I wanted my child but the thought that others wouldn’t accept him in this world made me feel like I had no option other than to take him out of it.
I was feeling severely depressed and hopeless the day I (reluctantly) landed in an autism demystification workshop at Friend 2 Friend. During the meeting Heather McCracken addressed me directly and said, “there’s nothing wrong with your son, your son is fine, and by the way nobody ever stops developing.” These words were so powerful and unlike anything I’d heard about autism up to this point. It was exactly what I needed to hear and it changed the course my life. After that meeting, I unexpectedly had hope that my son could be accepted in this world.
Friend 2 Friend allows for the unconventional yet wonderful qualities of people on the autism spectrum to shine. My son looks forward to play group like no other activity I have ever put him in, I believe, because he can be himself and play with other kids. My son has always loved to play with other children but can find it frustrating without proper support because he struggles to keep up. The workers at Friend 2 Friend skillfully offer my son just enough support so that he is able to play and have fun with his peers without feeling singled out. His ‘typically developing’ peers are also having fun and learning ways to be inclusive which is a life skill any parent should want for their child. It is the only place where I confidently drop off my child. To date, he is as happy if not more when I come to pick him up.
I am so grateful for the climate of acceptance that exists at Friend 2 Friend. – -Parent