So often children and young people on the Spectrum sail through lessons, only to run into difficulties at playtimes. The very time they are supposed to enjoy the most, becomes the time that both they and their teachers dread.
It doesn’t need to be this way though.
By employing simple strategies playtimes can be transformed into something enjoyable rather than challenging, something to work towards rather than something to try to avoid.
So how can you do this?
Use a buddy scheme
Whilst I strongly believe that no child should be forced to play with others – some prefer to spend playtimes alone – I also believe that no child should have to spend playtime alone. A buddy scheme where children know that there is always someone to play with if they choose that option can be really helpful.
Teach playtime skills actively
All too often as schools we put all our resources into classroom activities and forget about the important of the ‘soft’ skills that get us through each day. Actively teaching students how to ask others to play and how to resolve situations if they go wrong is really important in ensuring success. Many students with autism like to play games to their rules and can find compromising on these difficult, teaching the, how to explain their rules calmly and what they can do if their friends decide to play a different game can go a long way to preventing situations before they arise.
If you know a young person can’t cope in the playground, or becomes anxious when they are out there offer choices to help them. Ask them how they would choose to spend their playtime, perhaps offering indoor activities such as computer time as an alternative. Whilst we as teachers have a tendency to think that playtime should be social, for some children on the spectrum the constant need to be social during the school day can be incredibly stressful. Giving them the option of some quiet time, either alone (with supervision) or with a friend can have a huge impact on their ability to survive the day emotionally.
Have a calm box
Have an alternative ready for the student for those days when playtime becomes too much. A box of preferred yet calming activities is ideal. The key is that a student shouldn’t miss out on their playtime because they unable to cope with the environment, nor should they see being brought away from the environment as a punishment. Having items related to their special interest within the box is likely to be especially successful.
Think creatively about staffing
Many of the problems that occur during playtime, happen because staffing levels are lower than they are at other times of the day. It doesn’t need to be this way though. Although support staff are entitled to their break, timing their break differently to that of the child they support can make a huge difference. Why not look at the timetable and see whether there is a time of day that the student could cope with independence more easily. That way break time can be used as a way of positively working on the social and communication difficulties, with the adult support needed to make it successful.
Have a debrief
If a student is independent during break time, allow time for a debrief with a member of staff before lesson starts. This will allow time to resolve any issues before they start to cause anxiety and build up into bigger problems. Often a misinterpretation of something that has happened during free time can lead to further problems either during the day or at home, so resolving any issues early can make a huge difference.
If you do want to learn more you might find our Victoria’s Book a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
Why not join our private Facebook Group, which celebrates #UNIQUEANDSUCCESSFUL children and discusses strategies to help at home and at school.
Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.