Today I have Rosemarie Griffin presenting you with a guest post on the importance of leisure skills. Rosemarie Griffin is a speech language pathologist, board certified behavior analyst and product developer. She is the creator of the Action Builder Cards.
Disclaimer: having Rosemarie Griffin guest blog here does not imply that I endorse her, ABA or her products.
The Importance of Leisure Skills
Often times students with autism and other complex communication needs have deficits in the area of leisure skills and the social language skills that go along with these activities. When our students do not engage in play/ leisure activities they are missing out on a natural way to work on language instruction. Therefore, our students benefit from direct instruction in how to engage in these skills and the use of language embedded within these activities.
Leisure skills can be addressed in a variety of ways in clinic or school based settings. If you have a student who receives direct individual therapy, you could work on a specific leisure skill during therapy and generalize it to a larger group, when the student is able to engage in the skill with minimal prompts from an adult. Another way to target leisure skill instruction would be to teach a specific leisure skill (i.e. modified musical chairs) to a small group of students. It is important whether you are teaching the skill in an individual or small group session that the students know exactly how to engage in the skill. There are many evidenced based strategies, but we will focus on the skill of video modeling.
Video modeling is a mode of teaching that uses video recording. The video recording acts as a visual model of the targeted skill or behavior. It can take many forms. The video can be of the student engaging in the skill or it can be of another individual engaging in the skill. The learner watches the video and then they perform the skill in the moment or at a later time. For example, if you are teaching students to play the game modified musical chairs; you could make a video of students playing this game. You would show the video to the students learning the game and then have them play the game. There is a lot of research that supports using this strategy to teach skills to individuals with autism and other disabilities. Below I will describe 2 modified leisure activities that I use with my elementary aged students.
A favorite of my students is modified hangman. The modification is that I write out the entire alphabet on the board. When I write out the entire alphabet, it acts as a visual prompt for students who may have difficulty recalling the letters without being able to see them. This also allows you to play this game with a small group of learners with varying abilities. Some students may need to reference the alphabet letters written out and some may not need to. This is a fun game that is age appropriate for a large range of students. It can also be easily generalized to the home environment. What a great game for parents to play with children while they are waiting out to eat or while traveling!
Another game that my students enjoy is modified Simon Says. In this version of the game, it is always Simon Says. So students are working more on following directions and engaging in a cooperative group activity. Some example directions include “Simon says touch your toes”, “Simon says run in place”, “Simon says jump”, “Simon says wave to a friend”, “Simon says shout Hooray.”
The last area to think about when directly working on teaching modified leisure skills is to make sure that all educational team members are aware of this instruction. If the teacher, paraprofessionals, and parents know about what you are teaching, they can help to generalize these skills to other settings. Being able to participate in age appropriate leisure skills gives students the opportunity to practice social language skills and helps them to feel more included with peers and their family members. Working on leisure skills can be enjoyable for all; I hope that these strategies will help you incorporate this instruction into your therapeutic practice.