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Computer Games Might Help Autistic Children to Relate Better Socially

autistic boy playing game on tablet

Some say that, if you have met one child with autism, you have met only one child with autism. That is because every child who is on the spectrum has a unique set of needs and strengths. Consequently, it’s impossible to design a uniform online speech therapy plan for the autistic child.

At the same time, when you understand what works, you are in a better place to craft an effective treatment plan for the autistic child to whom you are delivering teletherapy.

Helping Children to Become Spontaneous

When performing your online speech therapy session, your initial goal with an autistic child is to assure that her communication is both functional and spontaneous. In other words, the child must have the capacity to communicate her basic needs and desires to those surrounding her independently, without being prompted regularly.

Many autistic children suffer from the deficit of being unable to speak spontaneously. They won’t initiate dialogue, even in expressing their own needs, but will merely respond to another’s initiative.

This being the case, it is imperative to gradually fade cues that prompt the child to speak, thereby cultivating the child’s ability to speak independently. There are many ways to fade cues for the child. And it is often the synthesis of the particular child’s challenges and the SLP’s creativity that will yield the most effective approach.

Socially Acceptable Behaviors need Direct Instruction

Once the autistic child’s communication has become both functional and spontaneous, it is time to move on to the social realm. In this area as well, autistic children require direct instruction, if for no other reason, but the fact that understanding someone else’s behavior is difficult for autistic children.

What most children pick up naturally in their social interactions beginning in playgroups or daycare, and continuing into Elementary School, often doesn’t happen for autistic children. Autistic children can demonstrate a poor understanding of how to behave or act appropriately in social situations. If not resolved, this deficit will inevitably carry beyond the social dimension of school and negatively impact learning and successful living.

It is imperative to explicitly teach autistic children what is both appropriate and inappropriate in various social environments. This goes beyond instructing the child as to what can and cannot be said, but includes how the child should listen and react to others as well.

Effective Communication Includes the Art of Subtlety

While teaching autistic children the basics of social communication is necessary, it is in no way sufficient. Learning what to say will help the autistic child to be appropriate, but it may also leave the conversation with a peer stilted. Much more needs to be done to help these children have healthy social interactions and relationships.

This more subtle art of communication can be taught to autistic children. However, the question is what innovative techniques might be utilized to help children learn the delicate art of conversation, which is contingent upon grasping the emotions of another and knowing how to respond appropriately.

It Could be More Than Just a Bunch of Games

The results presented at the 2019 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, suggest that digital games could help those on the spectrum to grasp another’s emotions.

Kristen Haut, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University in Chicago and her colleagues scanned the brains of 51 typical adults as they read short narratives that described a person’s thoughts, feelings or appearance along with something the person did.

The participants then answered a question about whether the person’s actions made sense, requiring them to understand the person’s thoughts or feelings. The team then randomly assigned the participants to one of two groups. In one group, 24 of the participants spent up to 15 hours over two or three weeks playing games designed to improve social cognition.

In some of the games, the players tried to recognize emotions in stories or on faces; in others, they attempted to interpret the tone of voice or pick up on sarcasm and similar social cues in scenes from a video. The other 27 participants spent their time playing regular computer games.

“The individuals who completed the training showed more efficient activation in the social-cognition network. Essentially, they have to work less hard to do as well at the task,” Haut says. “That suggests we are activating the part of the brain we want to be activating when people do this sort of training.”

Help Your Students Cope with the Crisis

The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented. Because of our unique role in children’s K-12 education including online speech therapy, we feel a responsibility to do what we can to assist schools, therapists, and students with this transition to online learning and seclusion. To ensure that our students remain engaged and supported, our therapists are providing complimentary “Support Sessions” to the country’s youth. We are also assisting schools by training their therapists for remote therapy.

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