“The students with autism in my early childhood classroom really thrive on structure,” commented a teacher. “It seems that they have caught on to the concept of picture schedules and the general flow of the classroom. I need some strategies to help them in group activities. Our circle time is chaotic!”
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SOME THOUGHTS. Group activities are filled with multiple challenges for all pre-schoolers, but particularly kids with autism. Today’s podcast will just explore the challenging areas. Future podcasts will focus on strategies to overcome the challenges and to shape more successful participation in group activities in the classroom and other places.
TRANSITION. The first challenge is that of getting kids to leave an activity in order to come to the group setting. Even when heading for a favorite activity, individuals with autism struggle with transition. Just getting a pre-schooler to move to the general area of the group activity is tough.
BOUNDARIES. Many early childhood group activities are on the floor with no visible boundaries, so pre-schoolers tend to lie on their backs, lean on their neighbors, kick their feet, and other wiggly, squirmy actions that interfere with their participation in the group.
CHANGE OF RULES. During free time and play time, pre-schoolers are encouraged to run and shout and throw balls and talk to their friends. All of a sudden, the rules change when they come to circle time. Sometimes even very bright kids have trouble sorting out different rules for different places in the same classroom.
FOCUS. The teacher must be somewhat of an entertainer in order to capture and hold the attention of the students – singing songs, using puppets, telling stories, and using pictures to teach. When teaching youngsters with autism, there is a fine line between these two principles: (1) making things interesting enough to capture and maintain attention, and (2) making things too bright and too noisy and too fast, leading to sensory overload.
PARTICIPATION. Social interaction, receptive language, expressive language, and reciprocal communication are all skills necessary for successful participation in most group activities. ALL of these areas are inherently challenging for individuals with autism.
So, these are just some of the challenges that teachers and others who lead group activities for youngsters with autism encounter. None are insurmountable barriers, but all need specific strategies that will help each youngster participate successfully in group activities throughout their lives.
NOTE TO LISTENERS AND READERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. You can click on a button to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solutions. Check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. www.FAQautism.com