Sunday, March 2, 2008

Game Level--Not Too Easy & Not Too Hard

Picking the right game or activity for your child is both easy and complex. It is easy if you show your child a new game and he or she jumps right in and can't wait to play. Ok. This is the right game! you say to yourself. It is complex if you are trying to judge the activity based upon the developmental level of your child because children with ASD are notably uneven in development. Systems for evaluating your child's developmental level may or may not be helpful. I want to help you have a general sense of whether a game is likely to be at the right level of complexity for your child. Your child will have fun playing a game if it is not too easy and not too hard.

I use the "my gut tells me this might work" system most often and my gut is pretty accurate after years of intense one-on-one child training. I also read about the systems that others in my field use to sort children into developmental levels or stages and find that reading makes my gut even more accurate. Many systems that I read about are complex and theory steeped so I can't just refer to these and expect everyone one to know what I am talking about without some serious background reading. SCERTS, which is also very theory steeped, none-the-less has a relatively simple system for putting children into one of three developmental levels. I spend a lot of time explaining this system to parents because I use the SCERTS system for tracking progress. I will try to explain these levels in a very simple way here for the purpose of helping you choose a game for your child. (My explanation here is downright simplistic but adequate, I hope, for this purpose). For more detail and a great system for organizing your child's intervention program, see the SCERTS Assessement and Intervention Guide Books.

Level 1: Social Partner Stage
These are children who are not really talking yet and have a hard time interacting socially at all, even for short periods of time. They are in the process of becoming Social Partners by learning skills like Joint Attention and Reciprocity and the tools of intentional communication such as words and gestures.

Games for the Social Partner usually employ the child's more well-developed interest in sensory experiences to pull a child into a social interaction. The previous post, Creating Common Ground is about how one starts to pull a child at this stage of development into social interaction. The page on Autism Games that is most associated with this level of play is Come Be With Me.
Joint Attention, reciprocity, and meaningful first words are the goals that should be the natural outcome of play with a child at this stage.

Level 2: The Language Partner Stage
These are the children who intentionally communicate but are still working out the basic systems. They are learning to stay socially engaged for longer periods of time. They are learning how and why and when to communicate. They have a vocabulary of under 100 words.

Most of the games on Autism Games are appropriate for children at this level of development. Still games may need to be modified so that there are less steps, or so that attention need not be shifted as often. The games may need to be modified so they include materials that are of more interest...and so on.

The natural outcome of play with a child at this stage of development should be longer periods of social engagement and the spontaneous use of new communication behaviors. During play, children should experience what it is like to communicate for new reasons, with new people, about new topics.

Level 3: Conversation Partner Stage
These are the children who can generate an original sentence and who can communicate for all the basic social purposes but are working on learning how to stay in a conversation. These are children who are learning how to tell a story about something that happened to them or something imagined. These children are often working hard on the mental flexibility that it takes to be a good conversation or play partner.

Many of the games on Autism Games are still appropriate for children at this level but I often increase the complexity of games for these children to include peer social partners. I may also increase complexity by including more pretend play elements. I spend more time with these children planning play and afterwards, discussing what happened. We also analyze together how we felt about it. I certainly require more variation during each play session and across play sessions.

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