Respectful Programming

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In much of my work, I am asked to facilitate or design activities that are accessible to people on the Autism Spectrum. As it happens, this is not rocket science. People with autism do not need to play ‘autism soccer’ or play the ‘autism guitar’. I have not had to create a whole world of activities that did not previously exist. Instead, I tend to support activities that are already fun with clear expectations, and structured choices.

Visual support, or visually based expectations is a way of being respectful to a variety of learning and communication methods. However, all the visual support in the world cannot make a lame activity fun, and planning activities that are actually fun is also a sign of respect.

In the photo above, I am explaining how I want group members to act, using a list of expectations. This particular group of kids can read, and have done groups like this before, so the list is targeted towards them. As they read the expectations, we run through scenarios that could happen, such as not wanting to play a game that is on the schedule. When we read the part that says ‘we can choose which activities we want to do’, I ask them to demonstrate various methods for opting out, such as verbalizing ‘I don’t want to play this one’, or sitting in a place we’ve designated as an ‘I’m not participating right now’ place. These opt-out methods can be supported visually as well.

Usually, allowing participation to be optional is respectful in a recreation setting. However, I have known individuals who respond better to different kinds of choices, such as “what you eat for snack is a choice, but soccer practice is not a choice”.

I’ve found that most people with autism can enjoy a huge variety of activities, despite their purported rigidity and restricted interests, when the activities are explained clearly, and they are empowered with choices about their level of participation.

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