Because most of us just join into group activities naturally, we are not aware of the vast array of prerequisite skills necessary to do so. In addition to dealing with issues surrounding transition, compliance, peer interaction, and sensory overload, individuals with autism must be aware of and follow commonly understood unwritten group rules.
For whatever reason, many people on the spectrum of autism do not naturally pick up on social cues and unwritten group rules. We can help our friends learn to cope with these challenging social issues, but, first, we need to be aware of the list of rules.
Stay in the area of the activity. Don’t just stand up in the middle of a conversation and wander off. Don’t sit too close to someone. Don’t sit far away from the group. Wait your turn. Don’t grab. Don’t eat all the food. Don’t eat food off other people’s plates. Don’t pick all the red jelly beans out of the dish. Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t touch things that belong to other people. Don’t bite or scratch or scream if someone touches your stuff. Don’t bite or scratch or scream if someone touches you or invades your space or sits in your chair. Don’t interrupt. Speak when spoken to. Don’t echo what other people say. Don’t talk too much. Don’t laugh too loud. Don’t cover your ears when others talk. Don’t recite the script of your favorite television show. Don’t tell someone they are getting bald Don’t flap your hands. Don’t rock and hum loudly. Don’t rearrange objects in the room. Don’t announce loudly, “I need to go pee-pee.” Don’t forget to say thank you. Follow the leader.
Whew! And that is just a partial list of the commonly understood group rules! But it is very important that we are aware of all these social cues and nuances so we can systematically shape group skills rather than constantly running interference and saying “don’t.” Taking purposeful, pro-active steps helps our friends with autism eventually enjoy hanging around with other people.
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: 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. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com