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How to Teach Play Skills to a Child With Autism

Play skills are one of the most important areas that children, especially those with Autism, need to learn. These skills provide opportunities for the child to entertain themselves in meaningful ways, interact with others, and learn important cognitive skills. A successful way to teach play skills to children with autism is to initially teach the specific play skill in a very structured manner. Play Skills

  • Break the play skill into small, discrete steps and teach one step at a time. As the child demonstrates success in learning one step, add the next step. (After the child can add eyes to Mr. Potato Head, then add ears, then arms, etc.)
  • Use modeling to teach the skill (e.g. the adult builds a tower of Legos as the child watches, then the child builds his own tower).
  • Always provide reinforcement (behavior specific praise “Nice job putting the piece in the puzzle”, immediately following the child’s demonstration of the skill.). As the child exhibits improved accuracy of the skill, reinforce successive approximations.
  • The child should have plenty of opportunities to rehearse the skill in a structured setting. Practice, practice, practice!
  • In the structured setting, have the learning opportunities be short and sweet, so the task does not become aversive to the child.
  • Fade the adult prompting and presence out gradually, so the child can gain more independence. Systematically fade the reinforcement so that it is provided after longer durations.
  • Remember to keep the activity fun and exciting. You want your child to WANT to play with the toys and games.

Once the child masters the skill in the structured environment by independently completing the play tasks for extended periods of time, he or she can then begin to practice and develop the skill in more natural settings. Bring the toys and games into other rooms of the house, to school, and eventually have peers present, so the child can use the skills learned in a social setting.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Play: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Your Child Develop Better Peer Interactions

Imagine that you go to work in the morning and spend your entire day not knowing how to navigate thePlay Skills parameters of your workplace. You’re unsure of your job description, title, and workplace culture….and no one will give you any answers. By the end of the day, you feel utterly exhausted merely as a result of attempting to navigate a world with no structure or boundaries. Now, imagine you’re a child.  This is how children with limited play skills might feel as they are expected to respond to situations for which they don’t have the skillset each time they come in contact with a peer.

Play is the single most important mechanism children utilize to learn about their universe.  Play provides a framework to explain imaginative and real events in a child’s world. It allows them to learn about independence, manners, and character, as well as build confidence and practice new skills. Yet, some children have difficulty learning how to properly navigate these interactions.

The good news? You can help.

Play at Any Age

Play skills are developed in a progression.  Although there are times in which a child may fluctuate between all levels of play, the following indicates the age-appropriate development of peer interactions.

Solitary play (ages 0-2): Child is completely captivated with play and does not seem to notice other children.

  • Learns through trial and error
  • Copies other children and adults
  • Looks at other children playing but does not join in the play
  • Likes playing with adults as well as by himself/herself

Onlooker play (2-2 ½): Child is interested in other children’s play but does not join in. He/she may ask questions.

Parallel play (2 ½- 3):   Child shares the same space with peers but doesn’t actively engage with them.

  • Begins to use symbols in his play, such as using a stick as a sword
  • Starts to show some reasoning skills… may still learn by trial and error.
  • Copies other children and adults’ behaviors and language

Associative play (3-4): Child is interested in pursuing social interactions with peers while they play.

  • Shows more reasoning skills
  • Begins to ask “why” and “how” questions
  • Plays imaginatively, for instance, dress-up

Cooperative play (4+): Children play in groups of two or more with a common goal in mind; they often adopt roles and act as a group.

  • Shows understanding and uses reason related to experience
  • Begins to understand simple rules in games
  • Plays cooperatively, taking turns

Should I Be Concerned About My Child’s Play Skills?

Typical play:

  • Spontaneous
  • Flexible: child can add onto others’ play schemas*, play story** can change throughout, child does not become distraught if a peer/parent adds their ideas
  • Creative
  • Voluntary
  • Internally Reinforcing
  • Functional
  • Age-Appropriate

Atypical or Disordered Play:

  • Ritualistic: child engages with toy in the same order/manner, every time he/she plays with toy
  • Difficulty with Generalizations: child has difficulty accepting new patterns or rules, attempts to utilize one general rule for all similar events (i.e. “I know the youngest person goes first in Sorry, so I expect that the youngest person goes first in all games.”)
  • Non-functional
  • Repetitive: child performs the same action repetitively with a toy that doesn’t suit its purpose, ie. flipping, stacking, ordering items or repeats the same phrase over & over again while engaging
  • Limited Interests: child frequently finds a way to steer play story to a few favorite interests
  • Rigid: may accept when parents and peers join his/her play schema, but only by child’s rules and with his/her interests
  • Difficulty “bouncing back” from unexpected events in play: may recoil when a peer introduces a dinosaur, for example, when child expected story to progress in a certain direction. May become upset at changes or quit altogether
  • Avoids eye contact, or eye contact may be fleeting
  • Often requires prompting for basic communication, i.e. saying hello when approached by peer
  • Often includes non-reciprocal language: response frequently does not match question
  • Difficult for child to enter into an already-developed play scheme: two peers are pretending to be firemen, third child wants to join but can only talk about/pretend to be a doctor

*Play schema: diagrammatic presentation; a structured framework or plan 

**Play story: the story that is told through the play schema

Parent How-To Guide

If your child has underdeveloped play skills, here are some ways to assist in his/her development to encourage parallel, associative, and cooperative play:

  1. Provide Opportunities
  • Allow your child time for free play with same-aged peers
    • Don’t “helicopter” parent during free play, but provide modeling if necessary
    • Provide plenty of materials to encourage imaginary play, i.e. dress-up clothes, pretend food, cash register
    • Encourage symbolic play: child engages in imaginary play with an item and calls it something else, i.e. uses a banana as a telephone
  1. Model Feelings & Behavior to Encourage Problem-Solving
  • Provide your child with words to explain feelings
    • “Jimmy, it looks like you’re sad because Sally isn’t sharing her toy with you. Let’s tell Sally how you’re feeling together.”
    • If your child is old enough, encourage him to use the words himself. “Jimmy, you can say, ‘Sally, I am sad because I want to play with that toy too.’”
    • Starting your modeling sentences with the phrase “you can say…” is a very powerful way to neutrally provide your child with the words he/she may not know how to express
  • Provide your child with options for independent problem-solving
    • “Jimmy, do you want to wait until Sally is done with the toy or ask her if she can share it with you?”
    • This allows the child to choose between 2 options and learn to find solutions independently
  1. Set Expectations. Especially if your child demonstrates rigid behavior!
  • Be sure to set expectations before engaging in task
    • “Jimmy, we are going to the playground. At the playground, I expect you to play properly with friends. That means sharing the equipment, speaking nicely, and waiting your turn.”
  1. Give Positive Reinforcement
  • Encourage proper behavior and play skills by offering both natural consequences and praise.
    • Consequence, stated before engaging in task: “Jimmy, if you don’t follow the rules we discussed at the playground, we will need to go home immediately.”
    • Praise, stated after task is completed: “Jimmy, way to go! You followed all the rules by taking your turn and speaking nicely to your new friends. I’m proud of you.”

Seek Outside Help

If your child doesn’t seem to improve with these at-home tips, seek the assistance of an occupational or developmental therapist for hands-on support for both you and your child.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

References:

  • Parten, M. (1933). Social play among preschool children. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28, 136-147.
  • http://www.child-development-guide.com/stages-of-play-during-child-development.html
  • http://brighttots.com/teaching_playskills.html
  • http://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Teaching-Play-Skills.pdf
  • http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl2/

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Turn-Taking and Language Development

Turn-taking is a foundation for speech and language development. Think of language as a back-and-forth exchange system: one person talks while the other listens, and vice versa. The ability to understand and demonstrate turn-taking is a critical step in building speech and language skills in children. It’s the framework for which children will ultimately use their growing speech and language skills. Here are 7 ways parents can promote turn-taking skills in children:

Ways to promote turn-taking skills

  • Play a turn-taking game. Choose an age-appropriate turn-taking game (e.g. Barn Yarn Bingo), and guide your child while you each take turns. Give your child hand-over-hand assistance as needed, and verbalize whose turn it is (e.g. “Mommy’s turn!” or 2 kids taking turns“Your turn!”). Taking turns might feel very challenging and unfamiliar to young children, so be sure to make it a positive experience, and give your child lots of positive praise as they participate.
  • Pass a ball back and forth. Encourage your child to pass the ball to you, by reaching out your arms and asking for the ball. Encourage your child to get ready as you pass the ball back to them. Rolling a ball back and forth mirrors the reciprocal interaction that occurs during verbal communication.
  • Share a toy. Encourage your child to take turns while playing with their toy. Prompt them to give you a turn (e.g. “Mommy’s turn”), and give your child lots of praise when they share. Try to keep turns short and consistent, so your child sees that they will get their turn again quickly.
  • Imitate your child. Imitation is a critical part of language development, and an excellent context for turn-taking routines. Imitate your child’s actions in a fun and playful way. For example, if your child covers their mouth, cover your mouth too. You might imitate speech sounds, gestures, or actions. Imitation games involve listening, watching, anticipating, and repeating: all of which require turn-taking.
  • Create anticipation. Engage your child in routine games that create anticipation. For example, you might play peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, sing songs, or read familiar books with repetitive phrases. During activities, pause and allow your child to anticipate what comes next.
  • Wait for your child to respond. Show your child that you’re eager to hear their ideas, by actively listening. Lean in close, and give your child attention through eye contact and eager facial expressions. Most importantly, give your child ample time to respond by simply waiting.
  • Talk about “talking-turns”. For older children, introduce the concept of “talking turns”. Encourage your child to let other people have their talking turn, and wait for their own turn to talk. You might even narrate this (e.g. “It’s mom’s talking turn right now” or “Now it’s your talking turn!”).

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Top 10 Tips to get your Shy Child to Speak

Many children thrive in new environments or situations. They separate quickly from their parents, make friends easily and are eager to participate in the classroom. Not all children are like this, however. Some children are resistant to entering a room full of children and prefer to play alone. They may also be more reserved in circle time or in the classroom. They may have a hard time making new friends and having a conversation. Below are some ways you can encourage your shy child to come out of his/her shell.

 10 Tips To Encourage Your Shy Child To Speak:

1. Encourage play groups with friends – Many children will have an easier time playing or talking when there are less people around. Ask your child’s teacher who your child tends to sit next to or who shares some of the same interests and invite them over for a play date. Start by having the play date at your house. Once your shy girlchild is comfortable playing with his new friend in your house, change the setting and go to the park. When he/she seems ready to go over to the friend’s house, let your child bring some of his/her favorite toys to make the transition easier.

2. Help your child make friends – Making new friends isn’t something that comes easy to everyone. Start by introducing your child to someone his/her own age. Try to find out what the other child likes to do and see if they share any common interests. When you make the introduction, it’s helpful to say, “Scott is your age too! And guess what? He loves dinosaurs!” This will help your child ease into the process of making friends. Once your child becomes more comfortable or at ease, you can then invite the other friend over for a play date.

3. Role play – Use some of your child’s favorite toys to role play what may happen in real life. Let’s say your child has a hard time entering his/her classroom in the morning and saying hi to his/her peers. Use dolls or stuffed animals and act out this situation. Ask your child, “What could bear say to his friends?” If your child has a hard time playing with the other kids during free time, you could act this out as well. The goal here is to get your child thinking about what he/she could say or do. The roles can be reversed as well. You play the shy child and have your child’s bear be the one to help you think it through. Additionally, when you’re out in public, model what you would like your child to be doing in social situations. When you come in contact other people, say hello and ask how they are doing. Smile too!!

4. Don’t force your child – It’s important not to label your child as shy. While it’s okay to be a shy child, if you start labeling him/her or the behavior, it negatively reinforces the problem.

5. Incorporate their interests – What is your child really interested in? Does he/she love polar bears? Have him/her bring some books, toys or pictures to the classroom. While we just talked about how important it is not to force your child to talk, provide him/her with an opportunity to share what he/she brought in with classmates.

6. Give your child some “go to” lines – Sometimes it’s just the initial communication exchange that can be most challenging. Once they’re over the “hump” engaging with another peer becomes easier. Go over some “go to” lines that your child can use when meeting a new friend or wanting to play with a friend in his/her class.

  • Hi, how are you?
  • What’s your name?
  • Do you want to play?
  • Can I play too?
  • I like your ____.

7. Read books – There are many books that talk about being shy or have a shy character in them. Some book ideas include, “Are You Shy?” “Little Miss Shy” and “Shy Spaghetti and Excited Eggs.”

8. Social stories – Social stories are a great way to talk about difficult situations. Social stories provide a child with information about situations that he/she may find difficult or uncomfortable. You can find stories online or even write one of your own. By making one yourself, you can use pictures of actual people and places to make it more lifelike.

9. Improve your child’s self-esteem – You always want your child to feel good about him/her. Have your child tell you 10 things they like about himself/herself. Provide positive feedback when it’s appropriate (i.e. “You did such a great job saying hi to your friend.”) Teachers can also be helpful in promoting your child’s self-esteem.

10. Seek outside help – if it seems like your child is more than just shy, it may be helpful to seek advice from a professional. Some red flags include being socially withdrawn, avoiding eye contact, having a tantrum or crying before going to a social situation.  Remember to stay positive, be patient and always model good social skill behaviors!

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Teaching Children To Follow Directions

Here are some easy tips to help your child follow directions:

Yes and No Directions Simplify instructions:

  • Use short, simple phrases, with episodes of repetition when necessary.
  • When possible, break down multi-step instructions into distinct component parts. Say “sit down, put shoes on” rather than “Go to the table, sit down, and put your shoes on.”
  • Be specific “please put your socks in the hamper” rather than “clean up your room.”
  • Phrase directions as a statement rather than as a question (i.e. “please put the book on the shelf” rather than “will you put the book on the shelf?”)

 Check for understanding:

  • After hearing instructions, encourage your child to repeat them back to you.

Using pictures and schedules:

  • Implement pictures to provide visual representation and establish routine. For example, use sequential pictures to show the sequencing of washing hands or brushing teeth.  These can be placed on the mirror in the bathroom.
  • Use daily or task specific picture schedules to provide visual representation of language, assist in transitions, and establish routines.

 Multi-step instructions:

  • Apply a “first, then” model (i.e., first work, then play).
  • Pair related instructions together (i.e., Get your shoes, then put your shoes on).  As consistency and accuracy of following related multi-step directions increases, begin to incorporate unrelated directions (i.e., Take off your shoes, then sit at the table).

 Use positive rather than negatives:

  • Phrase directions positively and tell your child what you want him/her to do rather than what you want him/her not to do. For example, say “please walk” rather than “don’t run.” The same specific and descriptive language should be used when praising. For example, instead of saying “You are being helpful, ” it would be better to say exactly what you want/like about his/her behavior, such as “thank you for taking out the garbage without us having to remind you.”

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Choosing the Right Toys to Promote Your Child’s Language Development: Part 2

With the holiday’s approaching, you may be looking for gift ideas for your little ones, or it may just be time to revamp the toy shelves.  Parents often askwhich toys will help their child’s speech and language skills develop.  Flash cards?… Baby Einstein?…Wi?

boy playing on pretend phone

In Part 1 of this blog, we talked about principles to consider when choosing the right toys for your child.  In Part 2, I’m excited to share 5 favorite “go-to” toys to encourage speech and language skills in toddlers.  Keep in mind that every child is unique, including their developmental level and personal interests. And no matter which toy you choose, the most important contributor to promoting your child’s speech and language, is one-on-one time with caregivers and loved ones!

5 Great Picks To Promote Speech in Children

1. Fisher-Price Little People Animal Sounds Farm This activity encourages “make-believe” play as children bring each animal to life.  Imitating animal sounds (e.g. moo-moo, neigh-neigh) is a great way to develop speech sounds while having fun.  This activity also lends itself to following directions, playing with others, and learning about location concepts (e.g. in, on, under).
2. Barn Yard Bingo Barn Yard Bingo is an excellent way to encourage turn-taking skills.  This activity also promotes labeling animals and colors, matching, and speech sound development.  You can facilitate and encourage turn-taking (e.g. “It’s your turn!… my turn!”) while naming animals or imitating animal sounds (e.g. “cow says moo!”).
3. Basic Vocabulary Picture Books, such as Baby Einstein’s “First Words”  Books are a great way to build your child’s vocabulary and develop early literacy skills.  For infants and toddlers, choose books with large and simple pictures, and avoid books that are too visually distracting.  Practice identifying and labeling pictures (e.g. “Where’s ball?… there it is!”), and answering questions about each picture.
4. Melissa & Doug Pretend Food  Pretend picnic foods are a great way to encourage pretend-play and social interactions.  Your child can build vocabulary and learn basic categories while they plan a picnic with family members or friends.
5. Play-Doh Play-doh (or any molding clay) is an excellent activity to foster creativity and ideation.  There are many ways to enjoy play-doh, whether it’s making different shapes, or creating a pretend-picnic.   This activity encourages interactions with others, cooperation, pretend play, and vocabulary building.  **Children should be carefully monitored while playing with play-doh, as many children enjoy mouthing/swallowing it.

Developmental Skills While Playing With Cars

Pediatric therapy sessions typically involve a lot of play time! Why? Children learn about their world through play and child playing with car imitation of adults, and play is much more motivating than sitting at a table completing worksheets. When a child plays with a car, here are a few of the skill areas that are targeted:

Cognition while playing with cars:

• Experiencing cause and effect relationships, such as when a car drops down a ramp

• Labeling basic parts of a car

Fine Motor or Hand Skills while playing with cars:

• Strengthing hand-eye coordination skills and improving hand dexterity while building a toy car. Consider building a visual model for your child to copy

• Improving hand coordination and hand dexterity while repairing a car using toy tools. Facilitate this by placing your hand on the child’s and physically moving his hands if necessary

• Practice using both hands simultaneously while turning a steering wheel Read more