April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2nd is World Autism Day. I'm lighting it up blue by changing my font color for the day. According to Autism Speaks, the prevalence of Autism has now increased to 1 in 88 children. Autism is more common in boys. For boys, the prevalence is 1 in 54. That number is staggering to me. Back when I went to school, I had a one day lecture on how to treat Autism. Since then I have worked with lots of children who are on the Autism Spectrum.
For April, I thought I would spend some time talking about my favorite goal areas for my clients who have been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum.
When I first started working with individuals with Autism, I remember writing goals along the lines of "Johnny will maintain eye contact for a 2 minute period." Apparently, my long term goal involved creating some type of stalker. Two minutes is an extraordinarily long time to try to maintain steady eye contact. If you don't believe me, try maintaining eye contact with someone on a city bus for 2 minutes.
Then I heard Temple Grandin speak. She talked about how it can be very difficult for her to listen and look at someone at the same time. It becomes too difficult to combine the information from auditory and visual information.
SO I started teaching my clients to look at someone's nose when they are talking to them. My clients would still be looking towards the person but they wouldn't have to try to process the visual and auditory information at the same time. Brilliant, I thought to myself.
Well, not quite. I went to one of Jill Kuzma's courses where she talked about how she teaches her students to identify emotions by breaking it down into individual parts (what do angry eyebrows look like.) Ruh-roh. Based on that lecture, I realized that noses give very little information related to emotions, thoughts or intentions.
Most of my early goals in eye contact were directed more for the listener's comfort than for any consistent benefit to my clients. If eye contact is so difficult, maybe we should just stop working on it.
There's an app for everything and there is even an app for Eye contact. I'd be curious to hear from someone if this app results in increased eye contact across environments. I'm skeptical that training children to look into the eyes of an image on a computer screen would translate into benefits in real life. Especially since it seems part of the difficulty with eye contact is the ability to process the visual information with the auditory information. Also, the eyes of the people on the app change into numbers. (this is how they track whether or not the student was looking in the eyes of the person talking.)
After taking some introductory courses in RDI (Relationship Development Intervention) and Social Thinking, I've changed my strategy for eye contact. My goals now are to help the child understand WHY they need to check in.
My favorite way to do this is through Yes/No Games.
Yes/No games are a variation of an "I lost my voice" activity that is described in some of my RDI books. Basically you just stop answering questions verbally. Now the child has to LOOK at you to determine if the answer is yes or no.
- Big clear head shakes maybe by mouthing yes/no.
- Decrease to subtle head shakes
- Work on the eyes or facial expressions-look mad or irritated when the answer is no.
- Eyes only. Try to communicate yes/no with only your eyes.
Fun Yes/No games include:
- Treasure Hunts: (They have to check in with you to see if they are going the right way)
- Races: (You let them know when it's time to GO by your expressions)
- Ball Toss Games: (No throwing until I say yes with my eyes)
- Games like Cranium Cariboo: (The child checks in to see if they should open that box.)
Autism Games is a blog that was run by Tahirih Bushey. It isn't being updated anymore but it is worth some serious blog stalking if you work with children on the Autism Spectrum.