Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Increasing Play the Professional Way

DISCLAIMER: This blog post ended up full of jargon; I didn't mean to, but it just happened. If you make it through to the end, there is a great anecdote in it for you :)

As I sit at my desk, waiting for my printer to cooperate, I have some time to think about what exactly I am trying to achieve in what I call the "revamp" of the office play space. When I work with kids in my ABA office, I think it's really important to systematically target those play skills, in a way that is natural and child-centered. One of the ways I have decided to foster this, is by creating a Structured Play Area. Discrete trials are an incredibly important part of my ABA programs, but they do not take the place of child-centered play skill building. The at the table learning is only one of many components of a successful ABA program.

As I was saying, the first thing I do to ensure that it is child-centered, is provide tons and tons of choice. I do this by providing choice boards, but more so, by teaching my kids how to  make choices, how to engage with options and how to plan their play. Using a dry erase marker and a laminated schedule, we check off one box after each activity is complete and tidy; in this way, my kids are able to anticipate the beginning, middle and end of their play.

I always plan for momentum. I structure my activities as such: a highly preferred activity, then a a less preferred activity, then a highly preferred one, and then a less preferred one. This helps with momentum, but also helps with engagement. At the start of a play intervention, guided play is the only way! Lots of modeling and imitation with objects leads into following plat activity schedules; first simple 2 step schedules, and eventually more complex 3-step schedules.

My main goal in working with kids on the autism spectrum (and other language deficits), is to increase the appropriate and functional language that stems from appropriate play. This kind of language is easily generalizable into the home, since most often kids do the most playing at their homes. Play is one of the primary ways children expand functional language, and it gives your child a way to interact with various toys and objects, through the use of speech. The more speech we use, the more fluent we become in it.

Like all of our teaching, we use most to least prompting to motivate performance and increase the likelihood of reinforcement; we use transfer trials in a skillful and systematic way to ensure skill acquisition and prevent prompt-dependency. Fading prompts like we would in a discrete trial, or in a language or math lesson, we go backwards down the prompting hierarchy (starting with full physical prompting and ending at independence). I have been doing all kinds of research about evidence based methods for increasing play skills, I will post a few great links that I feel all educators should have on hand; parents, if you want me to decode the jargon for you I would be delighted, just send me an email.

As promised, your reinforcement: Today we took our kiddies to the grocery store, it was the field trip of all field trips! We chose our own snacks and then shared our choices with our friends. As we were walking into the store an elderly gentlemen extended his arm to choose his shopping cart; well one of my little monkeys thought this was a personal invitation and proceeded to hold the elderly gentleman's hand in delight. "Oh my!" exclaimed the gentleman, "isn't he friendly!". We laughed, and promptly made a note to write a social story about touching strangers. Eek. At least it was a nice old guy; if you are out there in cyberspace somewhere, thank you for accepting my monkeys the way they are, and having a sense of humour!

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