I have an update on my previous post (H.U.G.S. Science) about using science materials and experiments with kids who have autism. This week my colleague, Tamera Pogin M.A.C.C.C. and I used The Launcher to Launch small objects into the air with several children. The kit recommended soft items and light items for safety and mostly we used these but launching small characters off into the air was popular, if slightly less safe.
There was a nice social, pretend play possibility to launching characters that made it a good bridge activity taking kids from a physical cause/effect idea to a pretend cause/effect idea. I carried on with my little characters pretending that they had bumped heads, broken shoulders, and so on. Soon my young friends were also pretending injury. Many characters needed to go to the doctor where bandages were gently applied to the character and sometimes to the child too. One child was not so sure who got hurt and wanted his own doctoring and that was ok because for him this was early pretend play. Parents and I were pretty loose and accepted any story line. We moaned and groaned and clutched our heads and shoulders--and then grinned and giggled because it was delightfully silly. For my young friends who have the symbolic skills to participate in pretend play for at least fragments of time, this game was remarkably engaging and a good system for helping children hang on to a pretend play idea for longer. Dr. Stanley Greenspan (Floortime Intervention) would have been proud of how well the parents and I connected one idea to another and added complexity with each launch. Characters were "all better" and ready for re-launch right away at first and gradually needed prolonged recovery time in the hospital with more and more medical care applied. For all the kids, the physicality of the launch itself was the lynch pin that held this activity together. Whenever the child lost interest in pretend play, or could not sustain the story any longer, we could keep the activity going by launching another character.
Tamera told me that she was surprised by how hard it was for some of her young friends to play with the launcher. It is easy to forget, or not to be aware of how many sensory issues get in the way of participating in play. Two of her little ones had trouble placing the launch board on the triangle piece underneath and unless you center it and hit the right side, it does not do anything. No launch. When Tamera placed the board on, and the child did hit the right end, it was still hard for these children to visually track where the launched item went. They did not predict correctly and/or look in the right direction and so missed the entire exciting event. Items, once launched, move fast, making them hard to track if visual tracking is not a well-developed skill. We discussed launching toys that had bells in them like pet toys often do because these would make a noice and might be easier to track. I thought a feather might move slowly enough but it turns out that a feather does not launch at all. So much for my physics instincts. So, motor planning difficulty, visual tracking difficulty and lack of experience with this game made it a failure for some kids. Tamera wants us to make some video models of using this and our other new science materials and this may help. If kids know what is going to happen to some degree, it is easier to participate. So, I expect we will make some video models and share them here with you in the future.
Tamera said that a strategy that made the game really fun for one of her kids was launching things that hit the ceiling. We discussed getting a pie tin and hanging it from the ceiling to make a fun target that was closer to the floor. The ceilings in our rooms are high and most items don't launch that high. With a tin, we could experiment with the placement of the launcher and problem solve hitting the tin. We could also talk about sound since a tin would make a better sound than our ceiling does. Dr. Greenspan would be happy with this idea too because he recommends lots of joint problem solving activities as one of the important componants of his intervention program. The launcher was, already, a good joint problem solving activity for all the kids who were able to comprehend and manipulate it. They did become increasingly purposeful and deliberate whether planning a ceiling hit or planning a painful landing for a character. Generally, we think The Launcher will become part of our standard repertoire of games.