When developing an ABA program for each individual child customising lessons to teach play skills is always a priority. Not only do children learn language through play but in order to ensure social success we must teach appropriate play skills.
Depending on the age of the child, we will work on teaching them independent play skills. First, we expect them to play appropriately building blocks or making a puzzle for one minute then two minutes and so on. Drawing on the principles of ABA we extend the time expected of them to play independently. Teaching these downtime activities is important as children will engage less in inappropriate behaviours when we can replace those behaviours with appropriate ways for them to occupy their time.
Once we have taught some independent play targets we move on to teaching functional pretend play. These include play skills like making tea with a tea set or pushing a car up a ramp, stopping for petrol and loading people in the car on their way to the shops. Once these skills are in place we move to socio-dramatic play which is very important for social success at school. These targets include putting on a policeman’s hat – ‘stop stop I’m a policeman’ the child says or dressing up as a doctor and using the doctor’s kit to listen to their peer’s heart or putting on a plaster. Multiple routines of socio- dramatic play need to be taught which takes hours and hours in an ABA program.
Once socio dramatic play has been mastered we move to symbolic play and then comes imaginative play. We want the child to be able to take a blade of grass and imagine it to be an aeroplane. In other words, we want to get them to a place where they can have no physical props and still be able to imagine certain play scenes. All these skills are taught through drawing on the principles of ABA which has been entrenched over the last 30 years.
Two year-olds generally engage in parallel play. They watch their peers and then draw on their imitation skills to copy their peer’s play. Once children reach three years of age, more is expected socially and they begin to engage in interactive play. Having the vocal ability to engage with peers becomes more important the older they get. Without appropriate communication skills in place the child will struggle to be socially successful.
Parents often think that sending their child to school will help them to learn vocal speech and to catch up. This can only be achieved once the child has pre-requisite skills for school and if imitation skills and play skills are not yet mastered or in place, the child wont benefit enough from that social setting.
An ABA program which is focused on first teaching appropriate language, imitation and play skills, is critical to success. Time is of the essence. The older the child becomes the more skills are expected of them in all the areas of development.
Utilising their time effectively through ABA, will go a long way, in helping them to learn those skills needed to catch up. Remember that its takes many hours to teach those skills missing. Many children have benefited tremendously from a one-on-one ABA program focused on their specific skills deficits before enrolling the child in a school placement. Once the pre-requisite skills are in place, then it is a good time to look for a typical school setting where the child can continue to expand their skill repertoire initially, with facilitation and support.
Here are some pictures of Aaron who recovered from autism. It took four years of an ABA program, seven hours a day! When we taught socio-dramatic play and functional pretend play I enjoyed shopping for the things he needed in his ABA program. Looking back at these pictures, evokes so much emotion. Today, he is in Grade 3 in a mainstream school and has lost his diagnosis of autism