1) Set aside a table in the corner of the room. Make sure ample space is provided in proximity to other activities. In doing so, the child on the autism spectrum will not feel crowded or feel as though their personal space is being intruded upon.This should be left out as a long-term project and can be used to encourage non threatening solitary play during times when the child is anxious and needs space. It can also be used to gradually encourage participation in a group project, even if the child is parallel playing.Place a puzzle, snap together model, or construction project on the table. Children on the spectrum are often attracted to items like these. They are great as they can be done in groups or as a solitary activity.Children on the Spectrum will generally allow a trusted adult to assist with the project. On the first day allow the child to work on the task alone and get comfortable with surroundings. On the second day ask if you can participate in the project.Other children will inevitably wander over out of curiosity and ask to join in. When the child is engrossed in the project let him/her know that you need to step away for a moment. Make your absence short, no more than a couple of minutes. Each day lengthen the time that you step back from the group by a couple of minutes.This can be successfully orchestrated in a one on one card game as well. Play cards one on one with the child. As other children become curious and ask to join the game hand your cards to one child and step aside for a few minutes using procedures already mentioned.If this is done slowly over a week or so you should be able to start coaching versus being involved in what will have become a group project at this point. Intervening will be done at this point only during the presence of behaviors or peer difficulties.
Tabletop long-term projects can also be used to redirect a child to a solitary activity when the signs of over-stimulation appear.
2) When it is group cleanup time in the classroom, children on the spectrum can get anxious, and overstimulated if too many children are in close proximity to them. Using an example of putting wooden blocks away, discreetly place some blocks a few feet away from the other children who are cleaning up. Again, this will assist the autistic child in feeling non – threatened.Ask the child to please put the blocks away in the bin. He/she will generally comply dropping the blocks in the bin quickly and walking away. As time goes on move the blacks slightly closer to the other children during clean up time. As the child is introduced to this concept slowly and over a period of time they will generally feel comfortable after a week or two.These ideas can be adapted to group play at home as well. Invite a maximum of two or three children over as more will overwhelm a child with social, emotional, and sensory issues. Initially, sit with the children and encourage group play with a play dough kit, race track, etc. slowly excuse yourself from the activity for several minutes. Gradually extend your time without intervening in group play. Your goal will be to become a coach observing from afar, only intervening when difficulties regarding the social situation arise. This is an extremely slow process the can literally take a month or more to accomplish.
These socialization tips can be quite successful, but the child must not be pushed before they are ready. The ingredients to success are a safe non threatening environment, patience, and praise.
Mari Nosal, M.Ed., CECE