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.
Want to learn more about who to support the social, peer play needs of children with autism at school? Join us Feb 17th or Feb 24th for Demystifying the Classroom.