Thursday, May 8, 2008

Let's Take a Walk

**NOTE: I moved this blog written back in April, so that it would be next to Emily's Guest Blog, as the two make more sense read together.

With weather finally warmer here where I live, I feel a strong desire to get outside. I hear that kids feel the same from all my families. Back in November, after reading a very cool blog about Hiking with Children, I thought that I should create some games to do while out walking with children who have ASD, but it was November and I set the idea aside. But this morning I brainstormed some outside ideas with Emily, who works/plays with one of my clients. Here is the plan we made together for a child who uses a Speech Generating Device. We planned what is essentially a Route Game with a Visual Schedule. If you decide to do this with your child, you might want to create some other Route Games first, so you child understands the idea of going to a spot and then doing a particular activity. Walking in a somewhat rural area, gravel roads and houses spaced far apart, we tried to think of some activities that Emily could offer to her young friend before they left the house. The goal is to make a visual schedule together before each walk and then do the activities in the order depicted. On the Speech Generating Device, she put pictures to represent the options, so that her young friend can communicate three or four activities to do on any particular walk. She will take pictures with a digital camera to represent each of the following activities:

  1. Get a leaf (picking leaves off of plants is a favorite activity)
  2. Look at Fig sign (the road sign for their street and interesting because of the letters)
  3. Draw in dirt (using a stick to draw a face)
  4. Get 3 rocks (he likes to pick up and throw rocks and is learning numbers)
  5. Run (they hold hands and Emily says Not Yet, Not Yet, Go!--varying wait time
  6. Rocks in water (they throw rocks in the water filled ditches)
  7. Climb tree
  8. Spin (Emily picks him up and spins around)
  9. Go in house and eat chips (going back in the house without a good plan is a struggle)
Emily might go on three different walks a day, each time coming back to each chips in the house. Only choosing three or four will help her friend understand that he is choosing what to do before they go outside. Over time, they may be able to make longer activity schedules but for now it is better to take more walks and plan each walk together.

Emily will print out pictures for the Speech Generating Device and have the same pictures printed up, laminated and ready to put in list form on a visual schedule. Although she will use pictures as well as words, her list might look like this for one walk:

  1. Draw in dirt
  2. Throw rocks in water
  3. Get a leaf
  4. Go in house and eat chips
The next walk might look like this:

  1. Run
  2. Climb tree
  3. Spin
  4. Go in house and eat chips
Her young friend will be encouraged to tell her with his Speech Generating Device, what he wants to do on each walk. As they complete each activity, she will remove the picture from the list and point out the next item on the list.

Why go to all this trouble? Here are two of the many reasons that it will be worth the effort: 1) Children who are non-verbal often live in a kind of perpetual now. They want to do the next thing that captures their attention. It is harder to make a plan and complete the plan without the tool of words. We are substituting pictures for this little guy but encouraging him to learn to think about and carry out a plan. 2) Children with ASD have trouble initiating activities on their own and unfortunately, too much therapy for these kids is organized in such a way that the child is told, moment-by-moment, the next thing to do. Not wanting children involved for long periods of time in repetitive activities that do not contribute to learning and are not social in nature, it is understandable that we would just take over the job of deciding what these children should do. Initiating is hard for children with ASD and they quickly get stuck in patterns. Children need a structure for learning to make choices and learning to vary their choices. In this waking game, Emily may need to encourage variation, perhaps saying Choose a different game, not throw rocks in water again!

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