Come Join Us

For a variety of reasons, children with autism are often reluctant to participate in group activities, and may resist joining “circle time” in an early childhood classroom, a play group, Sunday School class, or other setting. Short of picking them up and physically moving them to the circle, how can we encourage a youngster to come join the fun?

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There are many reasons why a child does not readily join group activities. He may not hear the direction or may not understand what it means. He may not want to leave what he is doing or he may have an aversion to group activities. He may be distracted by noises or activity in the room or he may have difficulty transitioning from one place in the room to another.

No matter the reason for failure to move to a group activity with the other kids, it is still to the child’s advantage to learn to follow directions to gather in circle time, to tolerate groups of kids and adults, and to participate in group activities.

One of the most effective strategies for helping a youngster tolerate groups is the “Sneak-In Strategy.” Especially when a child strongly resists change and transition, it helps to plan for a seamless transition from a preferred activity, gradually inserting some components of circle time into his daily routine.
(1) Rather than making a big production of putting away an independent play activity and “officially” beginning circle time, consider allowing the youngster to stay in the learning center where he is working. This helps alleviate his transition anxieties (an inherent characteristic of autism), and you avoid getting into a power play about “moving to circle time.”
(2) Consider allowing him to stay put while you gradually introduce the calendar, weather, and other familiar circle time songs and activities. After 5 minutes of circle time activities, allow the youngster to continue with the previous activity.
(3)) Follow the same routine and sing the same songs every day so he becomes familiar with the circle time activities. Gradually introduce new activities and ease one or two students into the area. But proceed slowly and calmly to avoid raising red flags that magnify his transition anxiety, his aversion to group activities, or other issues related to his autism. Eventually he will probably be able to tolerate – and even enjoy – circle time with his new-found friends.

Each student, of course, has different needs, but this is one example of a strategy to help ease a pre-schooler diagnosed with autism into small group activities. He may adapt to the change in a week or two, or it may take years. No matter the time frame, patient work in this area pays rich rewards that will most likely significantly impact his social skills, communication skills, and tolerance for transition and change.

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

Published on: May 16, 2008

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