Persuading a child on the severe end of the autism spectrum to engage in verbal exchanges can be quite a challenge, and I’ve found that ENJOYMENT works better than anything else. I’m super grateful for the Dr. Seuss classic Mr.Brown Can Moo, Can You? My son, Jake, just turned 17 and we both still enjoy that book! Over the years we have shared it more times than I can count, but it has to be well in to triple or even quadruple digits. Why is it such a hit? Probably because I truly become a hippopotamus chewing gum while I read it. He loves that! It’s FUN! When things we take for granted, like attending to another person and oral motor and expressive skills, do not come easily to an individual; fun = MOTIVATION.
Motivation is key to getting participation, especially when something seems insurmountable. That same appeal from sound effect books can be used to create enticing card games designed to address the many communication hurdles that often accompany autism. Exploring one’s ability to make and control various sounds, as any babbling baby instinctively knows, can eventually help towards word formation. Making sounds can be pre-requisites to talking so chortle, snort, gurgle, click, and hoot away! If your child can vocalize sounds, words may eventually follow; especially as he/she develops more interest and skill in the art of social exchanges.
Benefits of home-made card games: They are customizable, inexpensive to make, adaptable for various levels, expandable, and an awesome interactive tool. You can use them to encourage turn-taking, promote longer attention span, and challenge individuals in specific and surprising ways. I find that visually having a clear finish to the game – “look, just two more turns” – makes it less intimidating for my son which makes him more willing to participate too.
Create the Cards: These are just a few examples of the limitless sound options you could use. Pick familiar things that will most likely attract the individual’s attention first, gradually mix new ones in after he/she is familiar with the game.
- A HUGE yawn
- A wolf howling at the moon
- A baby crying
- A person bumping into a wall
- A frog catching flies
- Someone whispering a secret
- An angry cat scratch
- Someone slurping soup
- A person clearing their throat
- A cow singing happy birthday
Write each chosen sound instruction on individual index cards. Add images or simple drawings if desired – web sources such as Google images make it easy to get what you need. Select just a few to start with, maybe just 6 or so, and you are ready to begin.
Play game level #1 –Establish interest and participation with minimal challenge. Make it as EASY and FUN. The kid picks or takes a card (from you, a line up, a pile, taped on a wall, etc.) and you read & make the noise. HAM IT UP! For instance you could say “It says ‘A frog catching flies’ – watch me! [Now slurp up those flies like you’ve never tasted anything better!] This is your chance to build interest and model what you eventually would like to see your partner do! Like a battery operated button toy, but much more varied and animated, you are a sound making machine whose goal is to engage your partner.
Play Game level #2 – Encourage attempts at imitation and/or making the sounds together. Once you’ve been through the cards a few times and you have interest established, it’s time to request your partner to give it a try. Use a mirror so he/she can see both your mouths at the same time. Celebrate any attempt or sound he/she makes, even if it is super brief or inaccurate. Attempts ARE success, one must TRY in order to succeed. Be specific in your requests, as in the frog eating flies example, “Let’s see your tongue stick out!” Once he/she can imitate several of the sounds you are ready to try out the next level of challenges.
Play Game Level #3 – Turn-taking, you make a sound and then your play partner makes the next sound. Put the cards in a stack face down and take turns drawing a card. At this point you are reading the card but not modeling the sound. This level requires significant processing of the verbal/visual concept and internal planning and execution to express the concepts. Ultimately, that’s what receptive/expressive language skills come down to – purposeful back and forth exchanges that both communication partners understand. The ability to make sounds and eventually form words at any level can improve the quality of an individual’s life significantly. Have serious fun with creating and playing these types of games with that special individual. RIBBIT!!!!!