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Old 05-31-2012, 10:39 AM
 
Location: Wisconsin
19,473 posts, read 22,353,493 times
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Hello C-D Friends,
A friend has asked me to assist their friend with suggestions for her teenage son with autism. Although, I already have some ideas I came here to get additional input.

Mom is mostly concerned about independent leisure activities. "John" enjoys doing a wide variety of things with family members but on his own will only watch the same two or three videotapes over and over and over again on the TV. Various toys, books, Legos, puzzles, etc. are in the room but he will only select the TV. If he is prompted & encouraged to do something else he will race through it (perhaps spend 30 seconds or a minute with a toy or book) and return to watching those tapes on TV. He is in his late teens and his overall functioning is at the 5 to 7 year old level.

As an educator I knew what works well in the classroom but I'm hoping to hear from parents that have faced this situation with their special needs child at home. The family understands that they may need to work with John to teach him how to do the activity but are hoping to find some things that he would select to do independently after he knows what to do.

Thank you for your ideas.
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Old 05-31-2012, 10:54 AM
 
Location: Middle America
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I do a lot as an educator with independent leisure goals, and work often with students with autism, both in school and the home.

It sounds like mom is concerned with easing away from perseverative routines just as much as with the actual leisure activity component of things...pretty typical. In order to support a teen (who's presumably had many years to set these patterns of "I watch THIS film, and only minutes 3:15-8:16, and then I skip back and watch it again, and that's what I do."), she will need to set up a variable schedule of reinforcement where sometimes the TV is on the table as a viable choice for leisure time, and sometimes, three or four other options are offered and the TV ISN'T one of them. Note: This will produce meltdowns, most likely - in the beginning. Be ready to apply a consistent behavioral technique, if this happens. Most important is not to allow the meltdown to sway them to give the child access to whatever activity wasn't on the table. Stay consistent. This is hard for parents, because it's easier in the moment to give in. But it makes it WAY harder in the long run.

Be sure to heavily praise/otherwise meaningfully reinforce when an alternate option is chosen and attended to for a set period of time that the child is aware of, in the beginning, at least...the activity itself should be fun enough to be intrinsically reinforcing...if it's not, it's not a good independent leisure activity...but it's also true that kids with autism need to have some prodding to select other potentially enjoyable options.

In the beginning, I would fade the activity of choice out very gradually. "Okay, John, we'll play checkers for three minutes, and when the timer goes off, then you can watch your video for x minutes." Use something visual, audio, or otherwise sensory to help the student keep track of the time, so they know that the time tolerating the new isn't indefinite. If a timer is meaningless to the child, use something that means something...like adding a sticker to a piece of paper for every minute on task (or whatever increment is appropriate. Don't enforce long periods of time on new activities...start small and build. Then, once that is established, up the ratio of time on the new activity, while decreasing it on the old one. Incorporate new options often so that one perseveration doesn't just get replaced with another. Building in new activities consistently, even though it's sometimes seemingly easier to go with the old standby type activities, is key.
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Old 05-31-2012, 11:10 AM
 
Location: Wisconsin
19,473 posts, read 22,353,493 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TabulaRasa View Post
I do a lot as an educator with independent leisure goals, and work often with students with autism, both in school and the home.

It sounds like mom is concerned with easing away from perseverative routines just as much as with the actual leisure activity component of things...pretty typical. In order to support a teen (who's presumably had many years to set these patterns of "I watch THIS film, and only minutes 3:15-8:16, and then I skip back and watch it again, and that's what I do."), she will need to set up a variable schedule of reinforcement where sometimes the TV is on the table as a viable choice for leisure time, and sometimes, three or four other options are offered and the TV ISN'T one of them. Note: This will produce meltdowns, most likely - in the beginning. Be ready to apply a consistent behavioral technique, if this happens. Most important is not to allow the meltdown to sway them to give the child access to whatever activity wasn't on the table. Stay consistent. This is hard for parents, because it's easier in the moment to give in. But it makes it WAY harder in the long run.

Be sure to heavily praise/otherwise meaningfully reinforce when an alternate option is chosen and attended to for a set period of time that the child is aware of, in the beginning, at least...the activity itself should be fun enough to be intrinsically reinforcing...if it's not, it's not a good independent leisure activity...but it's also true that kids with autism need to have some prodding to select other potentially enjoyable options.

In the beginning, I would fade the activity of choice out very gradually. "Okay, John, we'll play checkers for three minutes, and when the timer goes off, then you can watch your video for x minutes." Use something visual, audio, or otherwise sensory to help the student keep track of the time, so they know that the time tolerating the new isn't indefinite. If a timer is meaningless to the child, use something that means something...like adding a sticker to a piece of paper for every minute on task (or whatever increment is appropriate. Don't enforce long periods of time on new activities...start small and build. Then, once that is established, up the ratio of time on the new activity, while decreasing it on the old one. Incorporate new options often so that one perseveration doesn't just get replaced with another. Building in new activities consistently, even though it's sometimes seemingly easier to go with the old standby type activities, is key.
You have an excellent way of describing the process. Thank you.

I know that every child is different but because he has been in this pattern for several years (maybe as many as 10 to 12 years) is there any "guideline" as to how long it may take to change the pattern of behavior?
I usually worked with younger children and they had only had a "pattern of behavior" for months or a year or two at most and it still sometimes took several weeks or months to change to a new more appropriate pattern. Would you suspect that it would take John much, much longer to change because he had been following the same pattern for so long?

Thank you.
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Old 05-31-2012, 04:25 PM
 
Location: Middle America
37,414 posts, read 49,325,798 times
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There is no guideline, unfortunately. While earlier intervention is always more likely to show results more quickly, it's completely dependent upon how deeply the patterns are set, and how resistant the child is to change. It also depends on how reinforcing choosing other activities is. It can be very, very hard.

Typically, the older the kid and the longer the behavior has been apparent, the longer it will take to fade it out and teach replacement behavior...but sometimes, things aren't as ingrained as we sometimes assume. I have definitely had students where I DREADED something we were going to change up, and it ended up being no biggie and surprising me. Make no mistake, though...changing routines can be very, very difficult for some people with autism. At any rate, finding the right reinforcement will make it an easier process, no matter what.
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Old 06-01-2012, 07:40 AM
 
Location: The Hall of Justice
25,906 posts, read 40,270,871 times
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Germaine, does this teen like cards? My 14-year-old is very much like the teen you describe. Left to her own devices, she will choose a movie every time, particularly Annie. We have to schedule time for her to do other things, which is sad and frustrating, because getting her to read or play sometimes is like nagging a child to do her chores. She does not like physical exercise or going outside to play, and while she will eagerly ask to go to the park, when we get there she will either sit on a bench the whole time or maybe go on the swings for a bit. She does not like to run, climb, or slide at all, and she is generally afraid to go on the play structures.

She does like to play cards, especially Uno, and she's a shark. She has learned how to be a gracious winner, thank goodness. Still, she shows no mercy. People will go easy on her out of pity, and she will trounce them. Her older sister hates to play cards with her, because she (the older, neurotypical one) almost always loses. Many card games are not "independent," of course, because multiple players are needed, but there are a lot of solitaire games. I think the clear rules of a card game, and possibly the frequent involvement of math, may appeal to many autistic people. Cards are quiet; my daughter does not like loud, startling games like Operation or Perfection. Cards are not physically strenuous, they are portable, there are hundreds of games to learn, and many of them are simple (crazy eights, war).
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Old 06-01-2012, 08:33 AM
 
Location: Middle America
37,414 posts, read 49,325,798 times
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Every kid is different, obviously, autism or not, but the following independent leisure activities have proven popular with various kids I've worked with:

-jigsaw puzzles
-painting by numbers (more structured than freeform painting/other art projects)
-solitaire
-listening to audiobooks, some like following along, some would rather just listen
-hidden pictures from Highlights magazine
-weaving potholders on a handheld loom
-crafts that have very clear steps and procedures and directions
-assembling simple furniture, small appliances, etc. that come with diagrams
-building with Legos, following diagrams and models



Personally, I tend limit movie or TV-watching and computer/video games as default independent leisure activities, and use them very sparingly...mainly because with the kids I work with, they become obsessive about these activities, and then deviating from them causes major behavioral issues. They don't get so obsessive about other pursuits. I don't have a problem with tech as independent leisure, but I strongly feel that it is inappropriately heavily leaned on with kids with autism, and these are kids who do need practice attending to a variety of types of activities for optimum functionality.
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Old 06-01-2012, 09:31 AM
 
Location: Wisconsin
19,473 posts, read 22,353,493 times
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I don't think that the parents have ever tried cards. Paint by number is a very logical option but very honestly it never occurred to me to suggest it. That is why I asked on C-D.
Thank you JustJulia & TabulaRasa for the ideas.
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Old 06-01-2012, 09:39 AM
 
16,085 posts, read 17,094,151 times
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how about horseback riding? something out of doors? a sport. what about music? learning to play an instrument?
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Old 06-02-2012, 08:54 AM
 
Location: Middle America
37,414 posts, read 49,325,798 times
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Re: horseback riding, if the parents have the means and it is available, therapeutic riding stables can be WONDERFUL for some kids with autism...some kids with autism fear animals, but others develop a very strong affinity. Therapy dogs are also great.
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Old 01-05-2013, 08:33 PM
 
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Default regarding teen activities

what activity would you recommend for an autistic boy who tends to pick up the cards rather than "play" with them?
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