Monday, June 23, 2008

Blow Blow Blow

Here is an early game that I learned from my friend, Clinical Psychologist/Autism Specialist Extraordinaire, Sheila Merzer M.A. I talked about this game in a previous blog post but redid the post here with more elaboration. First of all, this game is a nice game to teach reciprocity. Reciprocity means that you do something, your child does something based upon what you have done and then you do the next thing based upon what your child has done. It is the back and forth of social interaction. It is a conversation, with or without words. Most children learn reciprocity before learning to talk so it is perfectly ok for your child to use an action rather than a word to keep the conversation going with you.

This game can be used to figure out if a child understands words for body parts and also teach words for body parts. One can assume that if a child loves this game, as many children do, and the child is not putting out a hand or foot on request, that child does not understand the words. Many parents are surprised that their child does not understand the words when I play this game with their child the first time. But he understands at home! is what I often hear. The little boy in this clip does understand the words, once he sees what we are doing, and this often happens as well. A child may need to see, one time, what you are talking about and then he or she can understand the words much more easily. These are kids that need a demonstration before you ask him or her to comprehend. As a parent, if you discover that your child needs this orienting bit of support, you can let teachers, grandparents and other important people know that they need to show your child the general framework of what is being discussed before expecting your child to understand and respond.

Some children can understand body part words or other words in one situation but not in another situation. Words get buried in new sentences and new contexts and then it can be hard for a child to understand the words again. Comprehension of words is a fragile skill for many children with autism and everything from a noisy environment to performance anxiety can make it hard to understand words and sentences. My friend Sheila uses the tennis analogy, telling parents that sometimes she can hit a ball beautifully for a whole game but this does not guarantee that she will be able to again the next day. This analogy works, in her case, because she is a good tennis player, at her best. My skills at tennis are so poor that there is no variability--I just don't have the skills at all. Your child might have language comprehension skills like Sheila's tennis skills--variable from day to day, or like mine, completely absent at this time.

One way to helps children get stronger vocabulary comprehension skills is to teach vocabulary in different places, with different people, in different games & activities, in different social situations. Teaching vocabulary while moving and singing also help make the skills stronger. Here is a link to singing about body parts from my friends at Super Simple Songs: Bath Song.

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