Having good manners is an important social skill everyone needs. Most of us know that it’s not acceptable to push someone out of the way to get what we want, to cut in front of a line, to talk loudly on a cell phone during a movie, to talk with our mouths full, or to spit our gum on the floor. We know that it is polite to say “hello” when we see someone we know, to look at someone who is speaking to us, and to say “thank you” when someone gives us a gift.
For many kids, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), good manners are either sparse and inconsistent or completely nonexistent. Like many social skills, manners are not innate. Children on the spectrum often have difficulties with social interaction. They may not automatically acquire social skills that many other children pick up intuitively, through modeling, or with a little guidance. Therefore, kids with ASD can benefit from direct, intensive instruction on such skills, including manners.
That’s where the new board game, Manners Mall, comes in.
Recognizing the Need for a High-Interest Manners Learning Tool
As a school psychologist, I saw the need for manners instruction first-hand a few years ago when working with an elementary school social skills group. In my work, I often facilitate groups focusing on such topics as self-control, anger management, and social skills in general. These groups include children with special needs, including those on the spectrum, as well as students in general education.
In this particular group of second and third graders, the need for manners instruction was obvious. No one seemed to know that you say “please” when asking for something or “thank you” when someone gives you something, or to listen to the person who is speaking.
Having good manners is such a big part of social skills, yet, it wasn’t being addressed. I began to incorporate some manners training activities into group sessions. I also started thinking of effective ways to make learning about manners fun.
Then it hit me! I knew that most students I had worked with responded well to social skills board games. I would often facilitate the playing of theme-specific board games based on the topic of the group. During these games, students had to answer questions related to the topic at hand while they moved their pawns around the game board. The students really tuned in while playing these games. It was, by far, a favorite group activity.
Manners Mall in the Making
I decided to create a manners-related social skills board game that was fun, engaging and motivating, while highly educationally and socially beneficial. I started brainstorming all kinds of possibilities – the specific skills children needed to acquire, how I would present those skills, what the question and discussion cards would feature, and what the design and hook would be.
I drew on my creative side – prior to becoming a school psychologist, I had been a writer for many years, and I also have a background in art – and let the ideas flow. Then, the “a-ha” moment came! It would be set in a mall. Manners Mall had a nice alliterative ring to it, and a mall was a great setting for a board game. Most (if not all) children have been to and know what a mall is, and understand the concept of shopping. The name lent itself to whimsical illustrations and fun parallels (i.e. a Fitting Room for “trying on” mannerly phrases to “fit” different situations).
Over the next several months I developed the game. Once I had a solid premise, figured out how the game would work and what the card question categories would be, and completed a written summary of the game, I contacted a social skills game producer who agreed to publish the game.
Unfortunately, the publishing company was sold, so Manners Mall was put on hold for a while. Later, however, it was picked up by Guidance Group, a company that produces tools for counselors, teachers, schools, and parents. I worked with the publisher for several months to complete the game. Manners Mall was released in Summer 2015.
Why Manners Instruction is Necessary for Children on the Spectrum
Famous author, educator and Autism activist Dr. Temple Grandin, who is on the spectrum herself, has often said in many of her speeches and interviews, that it is imperative that all children on the autism spectrum be taught manners (from shaking hands to saying “please” and “thank you”).
She said that having been taught manners from an early age in the 1950’s is one of the contributors to her own success. She has seen a significant decrease in the use of manners for people on the “milder end of the spectrum.” She said that while typically developing children often pick manners up, kids with autism need to be taught.
Grandin said that she the lack of manners for many children on the spectrum is going to “hurt them,” and that autism is too often used as an excuse for poor behavior.
Because of some of the challenges children on the spectrum face in terms of social interaction, manners instruction is imperative.
How families with children on the spectrum can benefit from Manners Mall
Manners Mall makes learning about manners fun. It was created for 2 to 6 players, ages 7 and up, and can be played in the classroom, in counseling group sessions, and at home. Manners Mall combines a high-interest theme, important information about and opportunities to practice manners, and familiar board game components – structure, rules and expectations, visual cues, and turn-taking. These components are especially effective with children on the spectrum.
Grandin said that one of the other things that helped her when she was young was that she had people in her life who never gave up on her. One of these people was a nanny “who spent all day playing turn-taking games” with her. She said that learning to take turns (which she reiterated is taught with board games and can be applied to many other activities) is among the most important skills for children to learn. Among the other skills she noted are saying “please” and “thank you;” and greeting others and shaking their hands. These skills are enhanced by Manners Mall.
Playing Manners Mall helps children to learn:
- Which manners to use in different situations;
- Why manners are important and the deeper reasons for using them;
- To develop problem-solving, decision-making, and creative thinking skills by answering thought-provoking questions;
- To deal effectively with challenges;
- To work with and get along with others.
Other benefits include: language and communication skills, following directions, cognitive skills, and prosocial skills.
Children on the spectrum respond well to board games because they’re visual, structured, predictable, and have rules. Board games give them opportunities to interact with others, make eye contact, and take in their perspective.
Manners Mall makes a great family activity! It’s easy to learn and play, and is enjoyable for all ages. Having good manners is an important social skill that is conducive to success. Studies have shown that children with good manners do better in school, are more successful in life, have more friends.
This article was featured in Issue 41 – Celebrating Family