Children around the world learn through play from the earliest stages of infancy. Playing with mom is the foundational learning experience for babies. Watch any young mom and you will see her looking into the baby’s eyes while talking and singing to her newborn child. Four weeks later the baby begins to recognize his parents’ voices. Mom makes faces and tickles baby and the baby learns to respond with smiles and cooing.
Play continues to enhance learning as children grow. Recently I visited some public schools in Kenya and was intrigued with the motivational signs tacked to trees on the playgrounds and written on the school buildings. The sign below was one that caught my eye. WE LEARN THROUGH PLAY.
You may be a parent looking for ways to strengthen your child’s social learning. You may be a teacher wanting to incorporate play into your students’ school experience. Consider using TURN-TAKING GAMES AND ACTIVITIES to:
- encourage children to share and cooperate with other children,
- teach appropriate winning and losing behaviors, and
- to enhance problem solving skills.
It is especially important for a child with autism and other social communication difficulties to spend time developing these skills. Adults can demonstrate how to play the games, how to wait for turns, and how to cooperate with others. Typically-developing children can then continue to model these appropriate behaviors with students who need more practice.
When a typically-developing student has an altercation with a student who has autism or other difficulties, I quickly consider the situation and the social communication level of the students. Then I ask the involved students to do the following three things:
- Sit on the floor (away from the rest of the class but where I can see them.)
- Talk to each other about what happened and decide what they will do better next time.
- Come tell me what they decide.
This exercise brings the conflict to a good conclusion most of the time. It gives both students time to think about:
- what went wrong,
- how the other person feels, and
- how each one’s behavior affected the other.
If the students are not successful in resolving the situation themselves, I will ask them questions to help them think deeper about the situation. Here are just a few ideas of questions to ask.
- “If someone did this to you (fill in the blank), how would you feel?”
- “What do you think he was thinking about when he did this?
- “What might be a better way of handling this next time?”
- Could you try. . .?
- Could you say. . .?
- Could you…?
When a child is non-verbal or has severe social communication difficulties, education concerning the disability is imperative for the typically-developing playmate. Whenever possible, a parent or aide should be present.
What experiences have you had teaching children to take turns? I’d love to hear your experiences!
In my next blog, we’ll take a look at another type of play: COOPERATIVE PLAY.
Supporting YOU on your journey with autism.