Simon says, touch your toes. Simon says, touch your nose. Touch your elbows! Simon didn’t say to touch your elbows!”
Parents might be surprised to know that a simple game of Simon Says can actually help a child on the autism spectrum build his or her communication skills. But games are actually a great way to help kids on the autism spectrum with eye contact, learning how to be a good sport, following directions and more, says Lynnae Monson, a lead board-certified behavior analyst with Autism Home Support Services.
What are some other ways moms and dads can help their kids with autism build their social skills? Monson weighs in with ideas for families.
Skills to work on
Communication, awareness and the ability to relate to peers are three areas of social interaction that parents can work on with their children.
With communication, work on initiating interaction, a child’s ability to have conversations and his reciprocity of interest, Monson says.
When children learn how to ask questions like “how was the movie” or “how is your new puppy?” it makes them more relate-able to their peers, it shows they have an interest in a friend or family members life.
In addition, the child must learn to understand that when he is with friends, he may act one way, but he acts differently with his parents and his teachers, for example. “You might use different language with your peers versus your teachers or parents,” she says.
And when it comes to relating to peers, this is ultimately the ability to compromise, be a good friend and engage in others’ interests.
Steps to take at home
Pretend play, playing charades and more can benefit a child’s social interaction, eye contact and comprehension of someone else’s reactions, among others.
“I think a lot of parents struggle with this because it can be challenging, the reciprocity and engagement from the child isn’t always there,” she says.
If your child doesn’t seem interested in playing with you or struggles overall with social interaction, it can be easy to send her off to her room to play video games or watch something on his iPad. Instead, watch television as a family.
“Watch TV shows together that present opportunities to talk about interactions between people,” she says.
The Big Bang Theory is one show – as long as it’s age-appropriate – that Monson says is great for family watching, particularly because Sheldon Cooper, can, at times be rude and unrelatable to his peers. Use these shows to spark conversation and open up conversation about certain behaviors.
Play iPad and video games that require taking turns, too.
“This allows for opportunities to work on initiation of interaction and appropriate game playing skills, which is an important skill to have with peers,” Monson adds.
Use dinnertime and bedtime as opportunities to work on and build those conversation skills. Throw a bunch of written questions into a basket and select a new one each evening to help jump-start conversation with your child.
“I really feel family mealtimes are a great time to work on these skills,” she says. “Plus it’s fun to see how each person will answer the question!”
As your child is getting the lay of the land when it comes to communication, remember not to be critical. Redirect and guide them, possibly through imitation, to the right place, if needed, but try to avoid saying things like, “Don’t say that. Why would you say that?” as it can cause the child to shut down.
Praise them for remembering details about someone else, Monson suggests, by saying something like, “It was nice of you to ask about Jeremy’s soccer game. I bet that made him feel really special.”
As always, keep your child’s development in mind, too.
“Try to avoid situations they might not be ready for,” she says. “Don’t throw them in the deep end – develop their skills and ease them in.”
Content brought to you by Autism Home Support Services. For more information on Autism Home Support Services, visit autismhomesupport.com.