Setting Up A Visual Pattern
I engage children with autism in games with a number of strategies but none is so fail-proof as creating an obvious visual pattern. Repeating this visual pattern a few times and then inviting the child to help me continue is so successful that I use this play principle in dozens of games.
It is easy to set up visually obvious patterns with rubber ducks. Rubber ducks are bright colored. They all have the same unique but obvious ducky shape. If the rubber ducks vary just a little, but they come in matching pairs, matching rubber duck pairs is a still more obvious visual pattern.
Simply matching duck pairs is enough of a game to get some children involved. If you have enough duck pairs, you can just keep setting out one of a pair, hand your child the second in the pair, and your child will add the matching duck to a simple duck parade. This can happen on the edge of the tub or under the kitchen table or pair-by-pair up the steps to the second floor of your house.
Simple language is easy to add to a game of pairing up ducks and language both complicates the game in some delightful ways and teaches your child new words and new pretend play ideas. You might quack each duck up to the parade and that would be fun for a while. You might up the drama with simple pretend play ideas like knocking ducks over, kissing bruised feathers, and putting on bandages. After an exhausting set of mishaps, you might put pairs of ducks to bed for the night under a tissue blanket saying Night, Night, go to sleep. These are simple play frames and just right for some children.
Other children will enjoy much more complex language and more complex play ideas. A duck story is easy to weave with these versatile actors, since they can say or do almost anything that your child and you can imagine. If your child is ready for more complex duck tales, weave stories of high crime and drama. Remember the world from your child's perspective and you might be inspired to create stories of ducks that are naughty and won't go to bed. Ducks that are hungry but will only eat green worms. Ducks that are angry because sibling ducks get to sit next to Mommy duck in the front seat of the car. Ducks that are scared of loud noises or get lost from the pond because they wander off alone. In duck world, retell the story of your child's life. Telling such stories with ducks makes the story more concrete and the use of duck re-enactment can help a child listen, comprehend and enjoy whatever story you might tell.
Ducks Get Lost
All the ducks are in the pond. Oh No! One Flower Duck left the pond. Flower Duck is lost! Flower Duck, where are you? Everybody, look for Flower Duck! Flower Duck is in the house! Yeah! We found Flower Duck. Come down Flower Duck. Come back to the pond. Now Two Flower Ducks are together! Yeah!
Oh No! Now One Birthday Duck is lost! Birthday Duck, where are you? Look for Birthday Duck! Birthday Duck is in the house! Come out Birthday Duck. Come back to the Pond. Now two Birthday Ducks are together--that is happy.
All the ducks are in the Pond. Don't go away ducks, you might get lost!
Having matching ducks is motivating to many young children with autism--simply because it is a visual pattern that is easy to see. Matching ducks may still be motivating for older children with autism who might be ready to start enjoying longer pretend play stories but still find it hard to listen to that much language. One duck missing from a pair is visually easy to understand and is a pretend problem that will matter to most children. The rest of the story, if it resonates in a child's life or delights a child's sensibilities can gradually make sense. Putting together duck pairs works to sustain attention so that play and language skills can grow.