Archive for December, 2012

Lonely Does Not Mean Violent

All of us are sickened by the school massacre in Newtown. Those of us who have an emotional investment in autism are also troubled by the possibility that the killer may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. Could that have caused his rampage?


I have worked with hundreds of children, teens and young adults with autism across every level of the spectrum. Some of them have personality disorders, but only about as often as other people have. Perhaps some of them could have been triggered into violence, but no more so than any other people I’ve known.

Of course autism comes with challenges. It is a lonely place to live, a place with its own sensitivities and pains. Autism asks for understanding and help. But we don’t need to wonder if it poses a special threat. All my experience says it doesn’t.

Posted by on December 18th, 2012 Comments Off on Lonely Does Not Mean Violent


Game Play Can Improve Language, Attention, Cognition and Social Skills

Children with language delays, attention deficits, social skill chalenges and/or sensory integration disorders frequently have poorly developed play skills.  When skillfully presented, game play  is particularly beneficial in improving all of these issues.  I use this term, “skillfully presented”, to mean thoughtful selection and presentation of the game.  The game must be enticing, but not over-stimulating; age-appropriate, but also at a cognitive and/or linguistic level in concert with  your child’s skills, short enough to allow for completion, but long enough to stretch attention spans, and have clear rules that provide structure and predictability, with enough flexibility  to allow for unrehearsed social exchanges.

The  most effective ways that I have found to encourage speech, language, social and cognitive development through game play all rely on adapting the game in such a way as to maintain engagement.  Once you have engagement, you can then teach your target skills.

  1. Tap into special interests:  Is your child a fan of Star Wars, Legos or Superheros?  Is she head over heals for Strawberry Shortcake or horses?  How about a passion for trains, Harry Potter, anything blue?  Use what they are interested in to draw them into a game.  I once had a client who was obsessed with clocks.  I put clocks on trains, made board game squares into clocks and the pawns became Grandfather Clocks, I used a clock for a target instead of a dart board, played Go Fish with clocks, etc.  One he learned the rules of those games, I was then able to transition away from clocks to more traditional formats.  Before long, he was playing all kinds of games with the other students in his private school classroom.
  2. Simplify!  Reduce the number of pieces, colors, turns required, etc.  For example, you can play Jenga with 10 blocks instead of the entire box, memory with 6 pairs instead of 12, Candyland with a board that you have drawn that is shorter and only has spaces of three colors and no special characters, require everyone to take only 3 turns and then end the game.  Anything that will reduce the number of things that your child needs to attend to, remember, process or do will make it easier for him to attend to, and enjoy the game.  For example, think about how  much more complicated it is to play a game with 4 people versus just 2.  Instead of having to track  red, blue, yellow and green pawns, he only has to track red and blue.  Instead of having to wait for three other people to take their turns, he only has to wait for you.  Instead of having to look from person, to person, to person, he only has to look at you.
  3. Introduce games when your child is calm.  After having had a nap, snack and/or a good dose of rough and tumble play is a much better time to bring out a sedentary game that demands focus, language processing and social referencing.  Don’t try to play “one quick game” just before bed, or while waiting for dinner to finish up.  If your child is rested,  has a full stomach and is well organized, he will be much more able to engage and have a positive experience.  The more positive experiences that your child has, the more he will want to play.
  4. Maximize positioning.   Make sure that your child is comfortable.  Perhaps sitting in a chair with solid support, or on a bean bag where he is cushioned, or under a weighted lap pillow- where ever your child has shown you to be the most calm and happy is a good place to begin.  Then, sit ACROSS from your child so that he can easily see your face, reference you and watch your actions.

Posted by on December 5th, 2012 Comments Off on Game Play Can Improve Language, Attention, Cognition and Social Skills