Evidence suggests that social skills are best taught through direct instruction, modeling, role-playing and interactive games. While we engage in all of these modalities at East Side Social, one of our favorite ways to teach new skill sets is through games. There are so many games on the market today that lend themselves to teaching a number of social skills. In developing our lesson plans for our group meetings at East Side Social we’ve put much attention into structuring and lightly tweaking popular games to support social skills development. Over the next few weeks we’ll cover some of the skills we’re able to address through game play. Today we take on joint attention.
1) Joint Attention
Turn taking is a given in game play and an excellent space to build in opportunities to practice joint attention. The clear rules and inherent structure of most games gives children and teens on the autism spectrum an objective system that they can depend on. This allows a sense of security as they push beyond their social boundaries.
In the early stages we teach players to garner another player’s attention by using appropriate gestures, eye contact and saying the player’s name to inform them that it is their turn. The same sequence of behavior may also be used to request necessary game pieces to complete one’s own turn. Later on peers must learn to watch for their own turn by attending to another player’s game materials while they play to ensure that player has completed their turn. They are also supported to attend to the other player’s expression to ensure that player is ready to move on. If a facilitator is playing along, these skills may be prompted by “playing dumb” (e.g., acting unaware that your turn has come up or acting otherwise engaged so the learner must make repeated attempts to garner your attention. These repeated attempts make way for an extinction burst that generally evokes the desired behavior).
Such an approach allows for a more natural learning opportunity in which the reinforcing qualities are intrinsic to the activity and the desired behavior is come upon organically. This allows for the fun of the game to permeate the experience while the learning occurs under the radar.