Myriad studies that have examined people suffering from autism have taken note of the fact that social isolation and the inability to properly interact with people in a social context is one of the main problems people with autism suffer from. It is in this regard that to help autistic children develop the social skills to interact with people in a social context it is necessary to expose them to a variety of socially interactive situations to help them get used to dealing with other people.
One way of looking at this particular concept at work is from the perspective of high functioning autistics in that through constant training as a young child they were able to internalize particular social and behavioral lessons into their long-term memory and as such utilize those as the basis for their future interactions with other individuals. It was seen in the study of Toichi & Kamio (2003) that examined the connection between autism and memory that autistics that we’re able to internalize certain social behaviors and norms of conduct early on in their life were able to perform almost normally in social situations when they matured as compared to other autistics that did not receive the same type of need-based education (Toichi & Kamio, 2003).
It is based on this that when students arrive for their pre-activity snack time at Kencrest they will all be paired up and placed into various groups and all the students will be encouraged to talk and interact with one another. Encouraging social interaction during mundane activities will help to build up the confidence children with autism have and help to better prepare them for abrupt or sudden social activities that involve interaction with people they don’t know personally. This particular activity will last 15 to 20 minutes or longer depending on the length of time it takes students to finish their food since eating together and at the same time will be encouraged.
After students have had their snacks a variety of the University of Penn. volunteers will help the students cope with their homework assignments. This doesn’t mean that the volunteers will do the homework for the students rather what occurs is that the volunteers will teach the students the finer points of the topic the assignment is on or clarify particular aspects of the assignment that the students don’t quite understand.
What must be understood is that high functioning autistics are capable of taking care of themselves, becoming very successful in the various careers they enter into and are capable of communicating and socializing at a proficient level however this takes time and the same can be said for the ability of some autistic children to understand the lessons being taught in class due to certain “limitations on their ability to properly understand the lesson.
What must be understood is that autistic children at times cannot understand the lesson being taught at the same pace as everyone else since they are more proficient at slow and internalized learning processes. As such the normal pace seen by everyone else can at times be considered a rapid-fire immersion by a child experiencing autism and as such it is necessary to help ease children suffering from autism into a lesson bit by bit rather than exposing them to the same rigors as everyone else. It is based on this that the homework session during the afterschool activity will last roughly 30 to 40 minutes to help students understand what it is they need to do in regard to the homework they need to finish.
During this particular period, students will be separated into a variety of teams for sports such as dodge ball, basketball, volleyball, and other team-based sports. The reason behind this is to help build up their ability to work within a team setting with other people. What must be understood is that while autistics have a great deal of talent in inward thinking, they seemingly lack several norms that people take for granted, one of which is the ability to effectively interact with other people towards a shared goal during physical activity (i.e. team-based games or sports).
It is based on this that team-based activities will be chosen for this afterschool development activity to help develop the foundations necessary for team-based games and activities. By constantly immersing autistic children in such activities daily they will be able to remove the “fear” associated with interacting with others in group-based projects and activities thus resulting in a far greater degree of social immersion and acceptance. This particular activity will last for 45 minutes or up to an hour depending on the activities involved and the level of physical exertion necessary.
Delving into Developing a Talent
A rather interesting aspect of autism explored by Geddes (2008) details how people with autism can be quite imaginative when it comes to the use of certain words and leads to many individuals with this particular type of disorder seeking careers as writers (Geddes, 2008). Krebs et al. (2011) explain this by indicating that people with autism are more “inward thinkers” rather than input interpreters (Krebs et al., 2011). This means that the imaginative and at times almost brilliant and striking artworks they can create are a direct result of inward thinking wherein a particular aspect, object or topic is looked at from every angle in a rigid and almost repetitive manner.
This is one of the main differences between people with autism and normal people since in most situations individuals take into account various forms of external stimuli in order to interpret the world around them. In the case of people with autism, expression and interpretation are done through internal processes which concentrate on a particular subject of interest and only concentrate on that particular subject. Ordinary individuals cannot delve into such deep personal introspection into a particular object, topic, or interest since such levels of analysis excludes oneself from the outside world which for most people cannot be done due to the need for constant interaction with the external environment. It is based on this that once students have finished with the scheduled physical activity they will be allowed to “relax” so to speak by promoting their talents in writing and art.
Throughout the year students will slowly but surely develop a particular piece of art whether in writing or through painting or clay that can be considered the culmination of their talents. Students will be informed that everything they create will be placed into a scrapbook that will be given to all parents so that everybody will be aware of the talents they possess. This is in line with the concept of confidence-building wherein through the development of certain talents children with autism will begin to have more confidence in themselves and as a result, develop a greater predilection towards outgoing behavior. This particular activity should just last 30 to 40 minutes however it will be an ongoing and continuing project that should last throughout the entirety of the school year as a project that students can focus on and develop as a goal to be accomplished.
Developing Social Behavior Skills
Various studies have shown that the earlier a person with autism begins to learn the subtleties associated with adapting to social situations the better they will be in being able to interact with other people within a social setting. This is particularly important since being able to sufficiently communicate and understand the nuances of everyday social communication is a necessity Taking into consideration the social behavioral skills portion of the afterschool program shall consist of 30 to 40 minutes of adaptive behavior training the goal of which is to prepare students for the task of learning how to determine the mood of a person based on their facial expression, the topic being stated and the overall way in which they speak.
What must be understood is that in some social situations people with autism find themselves unable to express themselves in the correct manner such as showing appropriate empathy, happiness, or a certain degree of cordial behavior. To counter this one method that has been developed is to help children and adults with autism to develop a “script” so to speak wherein all their social interactions will be done through internalized “scripted” conversations that they have practiced giving the appearance of conformity to appropriate responses in a given social context. In this particular portion of the program, autistic children will be grouped into two pairs and each child will be given a cue card with a particular emotion to show (prompts will be provided) and a particular line to read to each other with cues indicating what to say after a given line has been stated.
One by one the children will display the appropriate emotion and say the appropriate line in the context of the conversation that was provided. After each partner has had their turn, they will switch cue cards and start the process again but this time with the other person displaying the emotions and stating the conversation previously given by the other student. By repeatedly performing this activity both with the cue cards and without the cue cards while at the same time changing partners with everyone within the class this will help students to develop the fundamentals necessary for proper social behavioral skills as they encounter different people and different situations and respond based on the situation given to them.
By continuously doing this the children in class will be able to internalize the “scripts” necessary for particular conversations and will, in turn, develop their scripts based on homework given to them by the teacher regarding this particular activity. Ranging from 20 to 30 minutes this activity should be regarded as a simple yet effective way of developing the social skills necessary to cope with common day interactions.
Creating Coping Mechanisms for Stress
Adults and children suffering from autism are often more susceptible to stressful situations with the result being either they withdraw inwards and become silent and don’t move at all or they tend to utilize physical coping mechanisms in order to cope with the stressful situation that they are presented with. One example of this can be seen in the character of Jerry in the popular show Boston Legal who uses hand flapping as a way in which to cope with various social situations that are either outside his everyday experience or induce a certain degree of stress. It is thought that the use of such actions is a form of calming mechanism due to the degree of familiarity that the person with autism has with that particular action and how they associate it as something familiar in a distinctly unfamiliar situation.
The inherent problem though with utilizing overt physical coping mechanisms is the fact that it often results in awkward social situations wherein people regard such actions as weird, strange, baffling, or the equivalent thereof which may lead to a certain degree of social isolation. To resolve this issue the physical coping activity will attempt to develop internalized or subvert methods of coping that are not overtly obvious to enable children to develop the habit of displaying an external appearance of calmness despite being stressed by a given situation.
In this activity children will be arranged in a classroom formation with the teacher at the head of the group and all of them will be presented with a series of slides, clips, videos, etc. that depict a variety of stressful situations. The teacher will then ask the children one by one what they feel regarding a particular situation and how do they cope with such actions. The responses of the children will be correlated with data provided beforehand by the parents to create an overview of how particular children adapt to stressful situations in an overt fashion.
After getting a “feel” for how the children respond to particular situations the goal is then to help the children deal with stress in an internalized fashion through various stages. The first stage is to help children understand that external means of physical coping mechanisms can be considered socially awkward and will not help them adapt to society. The second stage is to help them devise a way to cope with stress in a subversive fashion this can come in the form of memorizing a poem and remembering it when a particularly stressful situation comes up, holding ones breathe, closing one’s eyes for a few seconds or any form of behavior that can be used as an “anchor” so to speak to help them nearly deal with stress.
The last stage of this particular exercise is its application within a particularly stressful situation. To accomplish these short tests will be distributed to all students and all of them will be asked to finish the test within 2 to 3 minutes even though the tests themselves would be impossible to accomplish within this short amount of time. Beforehand the students will be informed that during the test they should utilize the coping mechanisms they learned at the start of the activity to help them deal with the stress of the test.
Continuing to have this form of activity daily and having students utilize what they learned in an actual stressful situation will enable them to cope with the various stressors they will subtly encounter in their daily life thus resulting far likelier degree of social acceptance rather than social aversion as seen in the case of people with autism that utilize overt methods of coping with stressful situations. This particular activity shouldn’t last more than 30 to 40 minutes.
Reynolds (2006) indicates “communication is the basis for all social interaction since it is the primary method of sharing ideas and emotions”, since children suffering from autism have problems communicating ideas properly due to certain differences in perception (imagery vs. words) this would, of course, result in them having problems expressing themselves and communicating in a social setting. On the other hand, based on the studies of Davis (2011) which examined the use of online social media by people suffering from autism it was noted that they were able to communicate and socialize almost normally utilizing tools such as online social media and online messengers (Davis, 2011).
It is thought that the distinctly impersonal and direct method of communication utilized by such forms of online socialization is more suited for autistics since it enables them to communicate in a manner of their choosing and not the rapid-fire method usually seen in a normal social setting. It was also noted by another unique study by Longman, O’Connor & Obst (2009) involving Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft (WoW) that people with autism were able to engage in the social elements of online gaming with little difficulty whatsoever (Longman, O’Connor & Obst, 2009). In fact, it was seen that autistic children and adults that played WoW were able to interact with other players, conduct missions, and establish friendships as well as all sorts of other social aspects of online gaming with the same competency as an ordinary player (Longman, O’Connor & Obst, 2009).
It is based on this that as a relaxing end to the day’s activities this particular part of the after-school learning program will consist not only of a variety of language-based learning games that will enable students to better communicate their ideas in the future but will also include a variety of games centered around social interaction. These can consist of either massively multiplayer online role-playing games or a variety of other games that allow students to interact with each other in a social context through the medium of electronic games.
By encouraging students to have fun with the concept of social interaction they will be able to subsequently carry such behaviors into their real-world social interactions wherein they will no longer fear the concept of social interaction but will revel in it. It must also be noted that allowing children to play after a long day of learning activities can act as a reward for all their hard work and as such helps to instill in them the thought that all the work they put into language and social skills has an inevitable reward in the end.
Davis, M. R. (2011). Virtual Ed. Targets Rise of Autism. Education Week, 31(1), S8-S11. Web.
Geddes, L. (2008). Are autistic savants made not born?. New Scientist, 198(2659), 10. Web.
Krebs, J. F., Biswas, A., Pascalis, O., Kamp-Becker, I., Remschmidt, H., & Schwarzer, G. (2011). Face Processing in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Independent or Interactive Processing of Facial Identity and Facial Expression?. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 41(6), 796-804.
Longman, H., O’Connor, E., & Obst, P. (2009). The Effect of Social Support Derived from World of Warcraft on Negative Psychological Symptoms. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 563-566.
Reynolds, T. (2006). Signs of Autism. In , 101 Autism Tips (p. 21). LifeTips.com, Inc. Web.
Toichi, M., & Kamio, Y. (2003). Long-Term Memory in High-Functioning Autism: Controversy on Episodic Memory in Autism Reconsidered. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 33(2), 151. Web.