If so, here it is:
Our students with autism don’t do this.
- Never give a child with autism an object when they walk into a room, and if at all possible, they should not have any access to objects. In my opinion it is always possible, but I know some preschool teachers who might disagree.
- The student should not have access to an object except through an adult. We have to teach that people are the gateway to objects so we have to be the gatekeepers of the objects.
- Use a bag (that they can’t see through) or a large box or container to keep all the objects. Recently I watched a new SLP walk into a preschool classroom with her arms full of toys. It was as if she had walked into a lion’s den covered in meat. They descended upon her and snatched them all up. Chaos and insanity ensued when she tried to regain the items. Don’t do that to yourself, y’all.
- If you have shelves full of objects, cover them with curtains, put them in opaque containers or store them high out of reach or vision.
- All access is gained through us through communication (verbal or nonverbal). Our goal is to teach them that all objects are in relation to us.
- This will not be pretty, but it is necessary, because most children with ASD come from situations in which they’ve been in charge.
- Limiting access teaches the student that interactions with people benefit them. Before that they only view us as interference to what they would prefer to do. We need to change their view of us from nuisance to gatekeeper.
- NOTE: objects you offer the child have to be enticing! Get to know your student and what will float his/her boat. As one of my fellow SLPs says, “hashtag be desirable.” #bedesireable! Use the same techniques mentioned in part 1 (have a high interest item, play with it, have student interact with you verbally or nonverbally in order to gain access. Then take your turn. Give access to the student only when requested).
- It’s crucial that we use whatever positive reinforcement behavior system or supports that are in place for the child. For me that typically means a picture schedule, reinforcement schedule (choices of what the child wants to work for), token economy system and/or a timer. NOT doing so is simply shooting yourself in the foot. If you need help learning how to use these, ask. Student with ASD need consistency.
- Once they’ve earned the preferred item, imitate the child. Too often we focus on the child imitating us, but adult imitation of the child’s language, play and body movements increases the child’s attention to us, responsivity and continuation of the activity. I know this is tough for us SLPs, but don’t use much language during this time.
- WHY use little to no language? It just makes sense really. We can’t very well teach social reciprocity (or any skill for that matter at this point) with language. We should not use a weakness to work on a weakness. Dr. Pat Rydell confirmed this for me this summer when I had the chance to hear him speak.
- Model play and social reciprocity without talking As SLPs we feel the need to talk and model talking to teach kids to talk, but at this level, what we do with non-verbal actions will result in talking later down the line. Remember that nonverbal communication is still language, and it’s very important.
- Whatever the student does with the object he’s earned, you do it too. It will continue to build joint attention and establish a back and forth social interaction between you and the child. Does it feel weird? Yep, it does. Talking will happen later.
- Check out this video from RealLookAutism. It shows an SLP training a grandparent to do this. While it’s meant for a parent (and you can definitely show this to the parents of your students), it’s also a great lesson or reminder for us.
4) Once the child is interacting with adults to obtain objects, increase expectations.
- Expect them to use longer utterance to obtain the object.
- Expect them to wait longer to obtain the object. (remember that “wait” video from part #1 of this series).
In order for students with autism to be successful in school and in life, they have to be able to orient to people, not just objects! It’s not a quick process, but it’s a crucial one.
See you soon with #3!