Kids with Asperger’s talk too much. They are so wrapped up in thinking about what they want to say that they ignore all of the non-verbal cues they need to know in order to talk with someone: How long. How loud? How complicated…..
At Camp Kindred, we help them learn to talk less, and look more. Here is an example, described in a favorite memory from 2012 counselor Laura Martorelli:
“One of my favorite memories was when a camper came out of his shell and his comfort zone when playing with other campers. We will call this kiddo “J”.
We were playing one of the campers’ favorite games – called “Home.”
In this activity, campers form a large circle with one player who is “IT” standing in the center. The goal of the game is for the players to switch places with others in the circle before “IT” can take their place. If “IT” gets to the spot you are going to before you do, you are now “IT”.
So the players have to scan the circle and use non-verbal signals to agree to switch spots in the circle without being detected buy “IT”. This activity trains the kids to continually scan the social environment for cues. They are scanning to find a partner willing and ready to switch. It also teaches them to use these non-verbal signals to govern their behavior: they want to try to switch quickly when “IT” is not looking. So to play this game, they have to scan the social world for non-verbal signals and use those signals to regulate their behavior. (That is called social referencing, maybe the single most important building block for social competence.)
“J is a very quiet guy. He tends to keep to himself, and did so even at Camp Kindred at the beginning. He also struggles with verbal communication with his peers, as well as adults. This particular day during “Home”, I watched with excitement as J switched spots with another camper. “IT” did not beat him to the spot. He switched safely. When he reached his new spot, a big smile lit his face and he gave a big thumbs up to his co-conspirator.”
Victory, in more ways than one. He safely made the switch and foiled “IT”. But more importantly, he joined with a buddy, coordinated his communication and action with his friend, practiced social referencing, and demonstrated social competence. And all that “social skill stuff” was actually fun.
It doesn’t have to be boring to learn social skills. At Camp Kindred, and in our Friendship Groups during the school year, we don’t give lots of instructions. No “Do this and do that and don’t do that.” That IS boring. We don’t script. We don’t use discrete rewards.
Using our social developmental approach, in which learning the building blocks of social competence is a natural part of the activity, learning social skills can be naturally rewarding, and FUN for kids with Aspergers and other autism spectrum disorders.