At Thrive, one of our primary goals is to make learning fun. The first step towards this for us is to work hard to build great rapport with our clients! Our hope is that, at the end of the day, through fun and effective ABA, our clients will increase not only their assessment scores, but also their happiness and the happiness of their families.
Interacting with peers and siblings is a huge opportunity for a child with autism to have a lot of fun—but these interactions can often be quite difficult for them. As a result, they may not readily initiate or respond to their peers, preferring instead to play alone with activities they enjoy.
One great (and easy!) way for teachers, parents, and therapists to increase social skills with a child with autism is proposed by Watkins, O’Reilly, Kuhn, & Ledbetter-Cho (2018): plan an interactive activity based on the preferences of the child with autism!
Their intervention included the following simple steps:
- Make a list of what activities the child with autism enjoys: perhaps playing with cars, coloring, or lining up objects by color.
- Pick an activity from that list that would be appealing to the peer or sibling. For example, if the child enjoys coloring, plan a coloring craft. If the child enjoys playing with cars, plan a red-light/green-light game with the cars. If the child enjoys lining up objects by color, plan for a game of Connect 4.
- Set the child up in a play area with their peer or sibling. Get out the materials they’ll need, and give them 2-3 minutes of instructions on how to engage in the activity. Model the play for them as you give instructions!
- Move away from the children and allow them engage independently in the activity for about 10 minutes. Only intervene to redirect them back to the activity or to remind them of rules (e.g., “ask for a turn before taking”).
In their study on this incredibly simple intervention, Watkins et al. (2018), found amazing results! All four 4-6 year-old children significantly increased their initiations with peers, their responses to the peer’s initiations, and the duration of their interactive play! Not only this, but 3 of the 4 participants increased these skills to age-typical levels during the play sessions!
This study is a great illustration of the power of preferences and the power of play! Without any added teaching or reinforcement, simply planning interactive activities based on what your child enjoys can provide them with the opportunity to increase their social skills—all while having a lot of fun!
Watkins, L., O’Reilly, M., Kuhn, M., & Ledbetter-Cho, K. (2018). An interest-based intervention package to increase peer social interaction in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 52(1), 132-149. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.514