Mainstream primary

Background

O is a seven-year-old boy with a diagnosis of autism.  He attends a Social Communication Class within a mainstream school, providing opportunities for integration both academically and socially.

O loves outdoor play, both at school and at home. He has recently enjoyed playing outside with peers and attends a local autism specific football and martial arts club.  He enjoys playing on his bike, having trips to the beach with his family and playing games on his Nintendo switch.

In the school setting, O enjoys art, science, and IT, and is part of a lunch time group that often engages in such activities.  Specific preferences will also be reinforced following work, where O will be offered free choice after a series of work is completed using a visual work system.

O is a visual learner and independently follows a part day written, portable schedule, which helps aid predictability and informs O of what is expected of him and when preferences will occur.  He will also be directed to various visuals to assist with his understanding of specific social situations and how best to navigate these for himself.  

Triggers

The following are noted to be possible triggers for O:

  • Unpredictability, both with situations and with people.
  • Not having enough time for movement/regulation.
  • Feeling like his side of the story is not heard.
  • Not getting outside to play with peers.
  • Not having choice.
  • Not knowing the rules.
  • Others not following the rules. 
  • Not winning the game.

Strategies

Following a period of assessment and observation across settings, specific, bespoke visuals, using specific motivators such as Marvel were created and taught explicitly to support specific social skills. This allowed O to develop the appropriate tools to participate fully in his favourite indoor and outdoor play.

Other strategies employed were teaching O to pause if things were getting too much for him.  A simple post-IT or similar written visual was used to remind him of this rule.

These were taught on a one-to-one basis, initially employing a low demand manner. These strategies were then transferred to home for consolidation.

O could use one of his break cards and go and match this to the area assigned for break at that time i.e.: the swing.  He could then spend some time doing regulation exercises that were assessed to help him and potentially make a choice then to re-join the game or simply watch from the side-lines. These were O’s own choice.  This method taught O to take ownership of his own actions while increasing his awareness of how his body may feel when he is getting stressed and how he can stay in control and do something about that to make himself feel better. 

Once these strategies were embedded and taught across settings both in school and home, O learned how to give himself time to regulate and re-engage in the play activities he enjoyed the most. The development of more detailed and elaborate visual systems (see below), were then introduced, and taught explicitly in a one-to-one setting to further develop these skills and allowed O to engage further in a range of outdoor play experiences with his family and friends. 

Summary

The consistent use of these strategies across a variety of teachable moments both in school and at home has allowed O to engage in a vast array of his favourite outdoor activities with success. This has the overall outcome of increasing his and his family’s emotional wellbeing, while allowing O to simply enjoy favourite activities without the social anxiety of having to win the game or be the best.

There is no stopping O now…now that he has the tools, play is fun!