Play as a Means to Improved Social Skill Development

social skill developmentIn recognition of national autism awareness month, check out these tips from Kelly McKinnon-Bermingham, director of behavior intervention at The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, to include more interactive and educational play in your child’s routine.

Social play is the core of social development for children. Delayed or undeveloped social skills are often a component of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As a result, children on the autism spectrum often end up frustrated and socially isolated. Research shows that children with autism may be even more likely to experience loneliness and poor quality friendships than their typical developing peers.

Further, in the age of technology, the definition of and ways that children play have changed. Some technology is often a one-sided experience that does not provide children the chance to learn the subtleties of human interaction such as non-verbal cues, voice tone or inflection and body language. As adults, we have often forgotten how to play. Taking the time to bring out the child in you may help your child to develop their social play skills.

Start with simple, closed-ended activities. Toys that have a clear beginning and ending, such as puzzles, stacking a tower of blocks or lacing beads, is a great place to start because your child will know when to start and when to stop. Play several of these activities in a row to increase the amount of time your child is engaged in a functional play activity.

Pretend play skills often develop from a child’s personal experiences. Act out the day’s events, such as playing school, make-believe fireman or tea or birthday party. Add in some technology by making videos of your play to watch and rehearse. This can make for a fun, motivating play experience.

Supplement your play ideas by using books as a guide. Many books guide children through play experiences. A book on what a veterinarian does, for example, can be used to play veterinarian and follow along!

Additionally, literature suggests several variables that may be important to add in the facilitation of play dates:
1. Use of toys that are of interest to your child
2. Short, structured play experiences
3. Find a consistent, same or slightly older peer for your child to practice and play with

Schedule time to play with your child. Make it a routine and part of your day!

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Tips for Being an Active Participant at Your Child’s IEP Team Meeting

By Jeanne Anne Carriere, director of the Chapman Ability Project, a collaboration between Chapman University’s College of Educational Studies and The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders 

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may be a critical part of some kids’ educational programs, including those with autism and other disorders. The IEP meeting is a common, multi-discipline team approach for sharing information and decision making.

Unfortunately, for many families, the IEP process can sometimes be emotionally overwhelming and confusing.  For IEP collaboration to be successful, parents need to feel like valued, respected, and equal members of the team. One way for parents of children with autism and other disorders to become more engaged in this process, is to understand the Who, What, How and Why of their child’s IEP meeting.

Who? Ask who will be at the meeting. The meeting usually consists of a parent, general education teacher, special education teacher, and an administrator, unless you have given permission for them to be absent. If assessments were conducted, someone who can explain the assessments should be present, such as the school psychologist. Your child’s service provider/s should also be present, such as the speech and language therapist or occupational therapist. Make sure the participants you would like to be at the meeting have been invited and confirm their attendance before the meeting.

What? Clarify the purpose of the meeting. What information will be presented or reviewed? If evaluations were conducted, ask for reports in advance of the meeting. This will give you time to read the reports and ask questions if needed. Understanding the evaluation results before the meeting can reduce some of the emotional intensity of the IEP meeting.

How? Request a meeting agenda so all members will know how the meeting will proceed.  Plan, review, and agree upon an agenda as the first step in the meeting. This will help the team make good use of time and remain focused on the purpose of the meeting: to create a good educational program for your child.

Why? Ask questions to understand why certain goals, services or placement have been recommended. Do you see the link between your child’s strengths and needs and the goals that have been written? Do you think your child will achieve his goals with this level of service? If not, share your suggestions with the team. Ask for other team members’ opinions and for them to share the information they used to make their recommendations. Feel free to re-ask for clarification if you did not understand an answer or the plan moving forward.

For more information, please visit The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, a CHOC Children’s partner, at

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The Best Tech for Children with Autism

By Gillian Hayes, director of technology research at The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders and associate professor of informatics at UC Irvine

In the past few years, technology has been a big breakthrough in helping kids with autism learn and helping parents improve care for their children. I’ve witnessed this first hand through my work my work with the Social and Technological Action Research Group, wherein I help create, review and test new autism technologies.Mobile_Tech_Autism

Technology allows us to teach students in a personalized and customized way, despite limited human resources. When you add into the equation that so many kids find computers, smart phones, tablets and so on just inherently appealing, you have the ability to draw them in, retain their attention, and provide customized educational content all in one nice little package.

While people have been using computers for kids with autism for decades, the advent of simple, mobile apps has enhanced and widened our ability to reach children with autism through technology.

There are several apps in particular that I recommend for parents and guardians of children with autism:

The Autism Tracker Pro can help parents see the patterns in their kids’ behavior, as well as empower them to make their own decisions about treatments.

For non-verbal children, the app Proloquo2Go allows children to tap out what they want to say with the help of symbols. This app is expensive, but it’s less costly than the specialized hardware platforms that it replaces.

Finally, check out i.AM Search. This app helps parents find other apps that will help children with autism and their families.

Outside of apps, software that was developed for other settings has helped autism education as well. For example, shared calendaring, which is present on nearly all laptops and smart phones, is transformative for older students with barriers to employment and independent living.

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Raising a Child with Autism: What I Wish I Knew Sooner

Today, we hear from Teri Book, a nurse practitioner at The Center for Autism  & Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Teri shares what she’s learned as a nurse caring for children with autism, and also as a mother of a child with autism.

I have learned many things in my 12 years at the center, as well as from raising my daughter, who was diagnosed with autism at age 7.

The most profound thing happened on my first day at the center, when I met a mother who was also a nurse. She had a child who had been recently moved to a county program to help manage her behavior.20130425_0560

What struck me about this woman was how normal she was. For the longest time, I felt that it was somehow my fault that my child was different. I thought that if I was a better parent, or if I did things differently, she would be more like other children. In my heart, I believed that I was a lesser person because I couldn’t produce a “normal” child.

In this and other interactions over the next few months, I came to recognize how resilient parents of children with autism are. I began to realize that I belonged to a group of intensely dedicated individuals who face challenges on a daily basis. This began my awareness and appreciation that continues to this day for the strength and character of the parents I work with every day. Let me share a little of what else I’ve learned as a parent and professional:

  • Love means accepting
  • Be patient, both with one’s self and with others
  • One should be careful not to live their lives based on society’s idea of what it means to be successful
  • What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger
  • We are all much stronger than we realize when we are put to the test
  • Kindness is a minimum criteria, it is so easy to give but often seems in short supply

I appreciate others in a way I never would have without my daughter, parents I’ve met at The Center for Autism and the physicians and staff here. Today is a good day to be happy, no matter what your circumstance, because that’s all we really have.

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