At the beginning of the school year, even the most experienced teachers may encounter “controlled chaos” during circle time. Group activities are challenging for all pre-schoolers, but particularly for kids with autism. The first skill youngsters need to learn in order to participate successfully in group activities is to stay in the area of the activity. It is important for us to specifically define the space and help them learn to stay in that space during the “circle time” or other group activity. This is true of youngsters of all ages, not only at school but also in any group setting.
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EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES. The strategies have helped youngsters of all ages learn to find a place in the group and to stay there.
(1) DEFINE THE SPACE. Give each student a defined and specific space. Some teachers use carpet squares for pre-schoolers. I like using chairs because they are even more specifically defined and appropriate for all ages. I also like to arrange the chairs in a tight semi-circle in the corner of the room so that the two walls help visually define the boundaries of our group. Some students find circles of chairs in the middle of the room too wide open.
(2) THE “RUN AND GRAB” GAME. Walls also provide a natural barrier to runners – kids who tend to escape the group and run. I sit close to the group in a short chair so I sit down on their level. Youngsters who are likely to try to escape sit right in front of me or another adult with knees touching. Again, the knees are a physical and visual boundary that encourage the youngster to stay in his chair. It also helps us to avoid getting into a “run and grab” game.
(3) “GOOD SITTERS.” – Youngsters are praised for being “good sitters” with their bottoms on their chairs.
(4) GET A FAST START. – Don’t press your luck by making the kids wait for you to get started. Remember that your goal at this point is simply for them to stay in a defined area. As soon as their bottoms hit the chairs, start a captivating activity with visual and auditory interest. DON’T wait until everyone is paying attention. DON’T explain what you are going to do. Just DO IT!
(5) PICK YOUR BATTLES. – Some youngsters will adapt quickly to expectations for being good sitters, but, for a variety of reasons, others will not. Until the youngster has learned how to stay in his assigned place, don’t worry whether he is focusing or paying attention or participating in activity Don’t worry about it if his feet are up or if he is “sitting up straight” or if his eyes are on you. The first goal is for him to come to his defined space and to stay for ten minutes – then fifteen minutes – then longer.
(6) CONTINUE ON. – As long as kids are sitting in their chairs, continue with the activity as if everyone is paying attention. Remember that your first goal is to define their space and teach them to stay within those boundaries. Until they learn to stay put, you will have a constant battle on your hands. Once they learn how to be Good Sitters, the sky is the limit!
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