Stories can be used to establish social routines (using ‘fill in the blank’ procedures) and improve the ability to make social judgements. They may also be useful in helping others better to understand the child’s perception and responses.
Children With Autism & Aspergers Syndrome: A Guide For Practitioners & Carers (By Patricia Howlin)
The above statement is one made in one of many books I own that covers topics relating to the autism spectrum.“Children With Autism and Aspergers Syndrome – A Guide For Practitioners & Carers” was one of the very first books I acquired on the subject and I will still often refer to it from time to time. So, naturally when day 18 of the #HAWMC was set with the prompt “Pick a random statement from a book and write about it for 15 minutes” this was my first port of call.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of statements made within this particular book, so, why this one?
I feel it’s important to highlight the above to other care givers, especially those with a newly diagnosed child. Yes, this is a life long condition that cannot be cured. Nonetheless, there are things that you can do to help your child develop better social interaction and communication skills, along with important life skills with the use of some commitment and good old-fashioned creativity.
When my own son was first diagnosed, I didn’t really get sat down and given all the answers, if the truth be told no one really has them to give. Yes, I was sat on a chair amongst an entire room of professionals and all though I was asked that question… you know the one “Do you have any questions” I just didn’t know where to start, I just remember having plenty. I was therefore sent on my way with a folder of bits and pieces and a very jumbled mind.
It wasn’t in-till long after the little guy was diagnosed that I attend something called the “Early Bird Plus” designed for both caregivers and teaching professionals caring for or teaching a newly diagnosed child. Now although “Technically” Little man wasn’t exactly newly diagnosed, I still wanted to attend and have some of those unanswered questions answered!
It was during this course that I was first introduced to the simple yet effective idea of visual prompts and clues. With this I didn’t only discover ways to formulate routines, making them visible to Little man so he remained aware of what was happening when and where, but they also still play a big part in Little man’s daily bathroom routine enabling him to better do things in sequence (though sensory sensitivities remain a huge factor we are yet to improve)!
There are many ways to use these visual aids (kinda like the visual symbols used for PECS). They are also very easy to create or if you don’t fancy that they can be found normally on a string of websites and are mainly free to download.
I designed and created a great visual aid for use in the bath room and that of the bedroom. Although he reacted in the way I expected when introducing the aids I soon discovered he was using that of the one in his bedroom to help him formulate his bedtime routine! Ok, he remains an extremely poor sleeper, though he does follow the chart removing the symbol cards that I attached to some Velcro dots, placing them in the pocket I attached to the bottom of the chart. He now uses a written reminder he keeps within on of his many organisers. Nonetheless, the bathroom system remains in place and although his very tactile defensive his got the sequence going and is trying much better than before. It’s my view that any positive improvements within this area really need to be fused over with lots of praise being given to the child.
So, how else can we use pictures and words as a visual clue and symbol to teach our children the basics in making the right social judgements as-well as good communication and interaction skills to formulate good friendships?
Some may have heard of social stories which are a great way of getting a child on the spectrum prepared somewhat for an unfamiliar situation such as a trip to the dentist or even a fun day out at a theme park.
You can easily make up a pretty effective social story with no more than an exercise book and some pens! However using photos (if available) of the places that you plan to visit and those people you are visiting (of course with their given permission) can really help a child with autism or aspergers feel more prepared with the situation and therefore calmer on the day! Lets face it, who likes visiting the unknown? Those with autism have difficulty regulating their emotions and that of anxiety can trigger a number of undesirable reactions both during the lead up and that of the day.
Little man is growing up, his heading up to secondary school (lucky for us this is one that is attached to his current independent special school). People find it difficult to understand that many of Little Mans sudden outburst are caused by anxiety. I think this is not only because Aspergers is known to be the “hidden disability” but more the fact he can come across (at times) rather street wise, especially more so now. The truth is he is improving with the help of his school, his friend next door and some social modelling from others, but his still more than likely to say the wrong thing, something inappropriate, generally considered social unacceptable. But there are times I do wonder maybe they got it wrong then bang… something happens, a meltdown, over intense conversation on his special interest and the inability to shut off. Then there’s his all nighters and inability to switch off. That’s the thing, your child may have problems with social skills but as they grow they can often act a certain way for a chain of different social situations. I’m not stating Little man is socially correct all of the time but his learning. One thing I do try empathise & encourage is for Little man to be himself as he has at times totally moulded himself in a certain way to fit more comfortably into certain social groups and gatherings. He maybe a success but once home he off loads and he will normally have a hell of a lot of bottled up stress need releasing. It’s important that he knows how to behave for an array of situations but to reframe of hide who you are by either going into oneself coming across as a bit shy or maybe even a loner to avoid running into difficulties or act a way because it gets you liked by others, both something Little man engaged in during mainstream, I can tell you from a parental perspective that this isn’t anything other than a disaster waiting to happen.
As many a parent of a child on the autism spectrum can probably vouch, we as parents are presented with that bit more reason to worry when it comes to our children growing up and therefore having to experience new things as they embark on their journey to adulthood. Something like visuals and good social modelling are of the up-most importance and will in time become a natural way of life and acquired parenting skills that we will find ourselves doing with little if any thought at all.
You know your child and will learn what works best for them and you as a family. As mentioned earlier within this post, Little man no longer uses visual symbols for within his room but now uses words, just as you or I may write our schedule of order of events in a personal diary or organiser , this works and if even he remains awake till 3am with school set to kick of a few hours later, his still able to do those important steps to prepare for bed from brushing his teeth to putting his clothes in the wash. As for preparation for a new situation, we don’t always get things right (those that read about our Butlins holiday at Christmas will more than agree that it didn’t go smoothly) yet at times things go much better than maybe they would have if the effort to prepare Little man wasn’t made. I did the social stories with pictures, but he sees things very black and white so its important to have visual reminders of “Real life” places, people, etc this helps him to formulate some kind of image and expectation. The only danger of this is to be careful not to overdo it as spotted difference or unexpected changes could make the hard work go to pot!
Lately, I’ve tried to be more creative with how we do the above. I’m agree he knows he sees thinks differently and thinks and processes information a tad different from his age peers. I’m also aware that as his grown his not welcomed anything that causes him to stand out so I’ve tried to continue with the preparation while making it more fun, age appropriate and fun. Last week why searching the App store on my iPhone 4S for some type of daily planer and social story maker, I found Comic Book. As you do, I had great fun playing around with it and trying different things. I created the picture below of my toddler Harley, and sisters new baby Riley. It has a number of stickers with great phrases, themes, colours, fronts and more. After testing it with the toddlers pics, I felt assured that this would be a great fun addition to my social preparation tool kit and Little man agreed it was pretty cool. Maybe with the doctor’s permission you could snap a few pics during the next appointment and use this for your comic strip! For me, this is an App that will provide more than just good fun.
Other ideas are that of video recordings of places you may visit, memory books of the places you have been to before or even use small visual cards, laminated and hole punched and added to a curly key chain key ring and attach to your child’s belt loop. This is perfect for non-verbal children as they can use the symbols as a way to communicate their basic needs such as using the toilet while at school instead of become frustrated or upset. Again all these are easily made and need not cost a fortune.
I also mention in another of my recent #HAWMC post about the brilliance of Pinterest, I’ve created a great Autism and Sen board that’s packed full of ideas to help your child in the areas discussed and many more… Yes, total pin head here!
Below are some ideas on creating and using visual aids. These are taken from the autism & Sen board on my Pinterest and original author also included with these pins
from the blog rockabyebutterfly.blogspot.com
from the blog carrotsareorange.com
from the blog etadventures.blogspot.com.au
Visuals may not seem appropriate right now, you may feel your child doesn’t need them? Remember at some point in our life we all require the use of prompts and instructions as-well as organisation… a work timetable or organiser. When we experience anxiety concerning an upcoming situation or event we form a mental picture which isn’t always easy for a child like mine! Early intervention is the key so if your child could do with a little prompt or preparation, why no give visuals and social stories a try?
- Special Edition – Aspergers (education.com)
- #HAWMC DAY 13 – The 10 things I can’t live without! (aspergersinfo.wordpress.com)
- #HAWMC DAY 16 – The brilliance of Pinterest (aspergersinfo.wordpress.com)