Thursday, November 29, 2007

Up Step. My Favorite Game

I have not posted information about Up Step on my web site or blog yet even though it is my favorite game. I created this game right after I returned from a four day Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) training in Texas, newly inspired by the idea of integrating movement into therapy activities. Those familiar with RDI will recognize the influence. Indeed when I got back from this training, now at least five years ago, moving together became an objective of many of my activities and I was amazed that 1) it was so hard for children with ASD to do (the child often has trouble shifting attention between what he or she is doing and what another person is doing) 2) that integrating movement into games was so motivating and fun for children 3) that games involving movement along a route were games that would allow me to teach any number of language and social objectives.

A little history related to Up Step creation

We had a pair of steps already at our clinic. These were part of a Raised Platform system that we copied from literature on The Miller Method. I have never actually tried to implement the Miller Method but I love the platform. I bought the big bean bag chairs after the RDI training as these are used in so many of the excellent RDI games. The proximity of big bean bag chairs and a place to jump off from led many a child to run up the stairs and leap onto the bean bag chairs. "Why not turn this irrepressible impulse into a game?" I thought. Since then it is hard to count how many children, parents and even grandparents (and one dog) have stomped up the steps together in interesting ways and leaped onto bean bag chairs. The video here demonstrates just one of many versions of the game.

The name and the theme

I have often been asked why we don't just say "Step up" and I explain it this way: "Up Step" makes a good name for the game and it serves as the organizing mantra of the game. The "Talker" says things like "Up Step, Down Step, Turn around Step, Kitty Step (where you pretend to be a Kitty), Clap your hands Step" and all this would not make sense if we did not say "Up Step" in the first place.

Environmental supports are visual supports

This game illustrates the power of environmental organizers (another kind of visual support). Environmental organizers are ways that you can set up the environment to help children know what to do and when to do it. The steps themselves are an example since most our young friends know what to do on steps--climb them. We typically only have to demonstrate leaping off onto the bean bag chairs once (if at all) and that part of the game is clear to the child (although not all children are comfortable jumping). We added two flowers (big hideous table place mats) at the bottom of the steps and this made the game 80% more successful. We say "Stand on the flower" at the start of the game and the child is more likely to stand rather than bolt up the stairs and leap before we are organized to start together. One flower we call the Talking Flower because whoever stands on this flower is the Talker/Director and the other person stands on the Listening Flower and that person is the Follower in the game. The talker usually asks "Are you ready?" before starting to give verbal directions. We support each child in these roles as needed until the child is independent in both roles--and this can be several days or even weeks or months.

Why did it take me so long to show this game on Autism Games?

I have been hesitant to discuss this game on the Internet because I know many of those reading this blog and my web site don't have a set of steps. I am showing the game now, though, because 1) it demonstrates the power of a visually organized game (a route game actually) 2) the game demonstrates the idea of moving together so well that adults watching it start to understand what a game might look like where moving together is the object 3) we have successfully taught a version of this game on wide steps in school halls and shopping malls and parks and even stairs in the home so we know the idea can inspire other similar moving together games 4) some families and clinics have actually created a set of steps and a high place to jump off of (be careful if you do this to make something that is safe--we have padded mats on the floor and we "spot" children if they seem to have poor balance).

The challenges are instructive

What are some of the challenges we have found in teaching this game? 1) some children have such poor body awareness or balance that they can't do the game without holding mom's hand--but the game allows safe practice for gaining body awareness and balance and some children used this game to conquer a fear of heights as well. The children who were most frightened of the climb up the steps became the most addicted to the game over time 2) many children couldn't inhibit the urge to bolt up the steps and jump, at least at first. We worked on inhabition strategies for these children ("UP STEP, stop, wait, wait, wait, UP STEP, stop....") It turns out that if a child can learn to "wait, wait, wait" on a step, the child can learn to do this in a parking lot as well. It was very helpful for parents to have a safe place to practice inhabition strategies with their child. We particularly love when children themselves spontaneosly would say "wait, wait, wait" to stop from running outside when mom opens the front door or car door 3) some children didn't see a set of activities such as we do in the Up Step game as a "game" and wandered off task at any point if we did not hold the child's hand and urge the child on to the next step. We have used this game to help these children learn the idea that a sequence of activities may be all connected. Each step in this game is interesting to most children and when they do all the steps of the game over and over, most children start to see the sequence as one game. A clear beginning and clear ending ("Stand on the flower", "All Done Up Step") helped children understand the activity as a game.

The Up Step game and all it's challenges have served as a practical tool to help us and parents see what is hard for the child. The information we learn about a child while playing this game is useful to understanding the child in other situations and provides us with ideas for creating better learning supports. I sometimes see this game as my therapy planning assessment tool. After playing this game with a child, I know what the child needs to learn. This is a simple, but great game!

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