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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Using Visuals to Structure Play

I have often heard it said at TEACCH that for a child with autism "Work is play, and play is work". The increase in free time during summer vacation shines a spotlight on the fact that our kids thrive on structure and predictability - two things which play typically are not. In addition, our literal-minded children on the spectrum may not realize the wide variety of activities which they can choose to do when "play" is on the schedule.

Picture cards created using Mrs. Riley.

While we don't often share personal stories on CHART, the first week of summer vacation brought up two examples of this truism that we found worthy of sharing. I discovered last week that my 5 year old had no idea that he could choose to read a book or do a puzzle when his schedule called for playtime. Not only was he taking a very narrow view of play, but he was finding choosing toys or activities too overwhelming.


Structuring Free Play:

The good news is that visual supports can be used to structure up any part of the day, including free time. I grabbed a choice board and attached a wider strip to it to present several ideas for free time. I decided to change the name on the schedule from "playtime" to "free choice time" to emphasize that a variety of options were open, and also was careful to call it "free choice ideas", because I wanted my son to understand that these were suggestions, but not the only possible options.

The suggestion cards are attached with Velcro so they can be changed out each day. Some children would find this to be too many choices, in which case the classic 2 choice board would be better. For my son, I wanted to emphasize the variety of activities from which he could choose (gross motor, games, reading, creating art, building, etc.), so I added the wider strip.

And guess what? It has been a resounding success! Having ideas for what to do during unscheduled times has made play time much more fun for everyone.

Structuring Playdates:

We had another successful try at structuring play during a playdate last week. My son loves to have friends over, however tends to start games like chase or tag that get everyone very excited. When it is time for the friend to leave, a meltdown was inevitable. I had been thinking for some time about how to structure a playdate for a more successful ending, and I finally decided to try a simple schedule. This is an example of what a playdate schedule can look like:

My son really wanted to show his friend "Noah" his new Transformers, so we put that first on the schedule. Then a turn was built in for the guest to choose an activity to promote flexibility and turn-taking. After that, we moved to a planned craft with a finite ending, then it was time to say goodbye. I made the schedule red because it is my son's favorite color. Adding pictures to the schedule could be a good idea for many children (and I probably would have done it in this case, had I not been in a rush.)

The playdate schedule worked like a charm! For those familiar with the "How Does Your Engine Run?" self-regulation program, you will know what I mean when I say that the planned activities kept everyone's engines running at a "just right" level. Having a clear ending point for the playdate made the transition much easier, and reminding him that his friend could come back made the end of the fun easier to take. Not only that, but it turns out that my son's friend loves crafts! The addition of a very simple schedule made it our most successful playdate at home ever.

Need more ideas on how to plan for a great summer? Check out our post "Summer Ahead: The 5 "S"s to Make It a Great One!". Also be sure and follow CHART on Pinterest for more helpful tips and tools.

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