Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) benefit from direct instruction regarding leisure skills and the language that is embedded throughout these activities. Dr. Mark and Cindy Sundberg recently presented on this topic and noted play provides a comfortable and natural way for parents and children to interact. In addition, children with autism and other language needs may demonstrate deficits in play skills, especially social play skills. When our children do not engage in play/leisure activities, they are missing out on a natural way to work on language instruction.
As students get older, this lack of leisure skills can cause them to feel isolated and to not have as many social opportunities as other children. When we incorporate these skills into daily family routines, our children can learn so much.
I have always targeted leisure skills in my work as a speech language pathologist. But one student in particular made me want to share this information with other families. I was working with a student on how to play a modified game of Connect 4. The student would pick a game piece and insert it in the board. Getting four in a row was not the focus; it was more about taking turns and engaging in sustained cooperative play. I shared with the parent that we were working on this activity and outlined the exact way we were teaching the student to play the game. Around the holidays, the parent wrote me a note to tell me that this student received this game as a gift and was able to play it with his sister. Hooray—success!
The following steps may help to embed these activities into your family routines:
1. Collaborate with the school team
Is your student working on increasing play or leisure skills in the school environment? If so, this is a good place to start. Ask the speech language pathologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), or the intervention specialist about which games they are working on at school. If they are teaching something specific, ask them how they are working on the skill. Get the specifics and try to play it at home.
2. Modified leisure activities to try at home
If the school team is not addressing these skills, look through the examples listed below and try a few with your child:
- Modified ‘Musical Chairs’
My students love this game! I set up the same amount of chairs that I have students. So, if we have three students, we have three chairs. We never take a chair away. I tell the students the rules: when the music is on, we walk, and when the music is off, we sit down. I play music that my students enjoy, and we play for 5-10 minutes. So fun!
- Modified Simon Says
This game is great for those bursts of 5-10 minutes where you have unstructured time. Let’s say you are in the airport waiting for your plane, or you are at the pharmacy and it is taking forever. Try this to fill up that space. The modification for this game is that it is always Simon says. “Simon says touch your toes,” “Simon says jump,” “Simon says run in place,” “Simon says shout hooray,” “Simon says march,” etc.…
- Modified Uno
Most students love to play Uno but can be confused by the special cards that are included in the deck. There are two ways to modify this game based on the level of your students. You could take out all of the non-numbered cards (i.e., reverse, skip, draw two, wild) and have the students match the number or color of the card. If students would benefit from more modifications, you could put one card out of each color (red, green, blue, and yellow). The students pick a card and match it to the correct pile.
- Modified Scrabble
My students were excited to learn how to play this game. We modified it by allowing students to create words anywhere on the game board. The words did not have to touch each other. This makes the game easier to manage for all students. I would have the students create a word and then use it in a grammatically-correct sentence.
- The Store Game
This game allows students to use their language skills to come up with words. I write the entire alphabet up on the board, and we take turns coming up with a word that we could buy at the store that correlates with the letter you have. For example, “I went to the store and I bought apples,” “I went to the store and I bought bread,” etc. Students seem to love this game, and it is easy to play with a group. If a student has trouble thinking of a word on his/her turn, show a visual of an item he/she could say. If the student lands on ‘d’ and can’t think of anything, show a picture of a donut, and he/she could say “donut.”
Working on language and leisure can be engaging and fun for parents and children alike! Engaging in these modified activities with friends and family can allow our children to feel successful and happy!
Reference: Dr. Mark and Cindy Sundberg “ ABAI Play Presentation” www.avbpress.com, Accessed May 12, 2017.
Rosemarie Griffin is a speech language pathologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She serves students in a public school setting and a private school setting. Rosemarie uses the science of applied behavior analysis to help her students improve their overall communication skills. Her goal is to help all students become more effective communicators and to help all professionals feel more comfortable with providing effective instruction for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. If you have questions about the content of this article, please feel free to contact her.
This article was featured in Issue 65 – Back-To-School Transitions