I know it can be difficult to keep any child entertained when they are at home for long periods of time and it can be somewhat an even bigger challenge and a very stressful time for children with autism and their families.
I deliver Block Therapy training quite regularly for professionals to use when working with children. This is usually delivered in educational settings. I thought about how I could use some of the guidelines to apply to families that are at home with children with autism. More than ever it is important that children with autism get the opportunities to develop social & communication skills when they are isolated from the school environment. These are my ideas on what I would do but families can change what I suggest to meet the needs of the children they have.
Block Therapy works on many social and communication skills that children typically with autism can struggle with. As I go through the steps of Block Therapy I will state what skills you as a family will be working on. The use of vocabulary they need to describe the bricks they need to build the model, is a great communication tool.
One of the first things that I try to see if block Therapy would be possible to use with children/adults with autism is to find out if they like blocks. It's surprising how many people think block Therapy will work on people who don't like blocks - it won't trust me!
To begin with, I tend to use alternative building blocks instead of genuine Lego for the purpose of Block Therapy. I do this for several reasons, including cost-effectiveness. Additionally, I've noticed that children with autism tend to be more accepting of using these alternative brands, which allows them to keep their own genuine Lego for their personal enjoyment without the constraints of Block Therapy guidelines.
I won't endorse a specific brand, but I have found that when working with children with autism at home, they are less likely to adhere to the rigid rules of Block Therapy when using non-genuine blocks. This enables them to play with the blocks in their own unique way, allowing for more creative freedom and self-expression.
If you're interested in trying this approach, you can purchase kits starting at £1.50 each. These kits are sturdy and affordable enough to replace if necessary. It's important to note that the principles of Block Therapy can be applied to other construction kits, such as Duplo and Sticklebricks, as long as there are instructions to follow.
Before starting block therapy with children, I usually establish the simple rules - don't put block in mouth, take turns, listen to each other. They can usually be found in a visual format on many websites for families to use.
The main thing to establish is there are 3 roles in block therapy that the children and you can be during these sessions. However, do not worry if there is less or more of you as you can pair up in roles or take on more than one role:
Again, it can be important to have the visuals of these roles near the children to remind them of what is expected of them in this situation. Less verbal instructions are usually a more positive way of reinforcing rules rather than expecting to listen to lots of different rules. You could also ask your family to come up with rules and they all have to agree on them, it can be very flexible.
Taking turns is a simple social skill, which benefits all children learning how to take turns without breaking into arguments. Joint attention is the skill of more than one person attending to the same thing at the same time - children with autism do tend to struggle with this skill. That is why it's important that you all share the instructions, not just the engineer. Eye gaze is something that can be potentially improved with this task and many more skills. What is ultimately one of the best features of block is that children are motivated and enjoy using blocks. This already is going to be a bonus when trying to do an activity with your child - the only issues you may have are introducing a step by step way of building the blocks, which might not be so motivating!
There are several ways to deal with the end of the sessions and what happens to the model you have built. You could take a picture of the model and find some way of printing it off or keeping it as a memento. Or display it on a shelf for a few days. Always allow the child that has built the model to take it apart and try to give choices of what they can do rather than demands as you will have more chance of success.
This might be quite challenging at first to introduce to your child(ren) as they may already have blocks and are used to playing with it in their own way. It can always be tricky to establish the rules and you must be consistent and fair in the way you apply with them. It is good to have the visual rules there so the children can refer to them and it can save your voice if you must reinforce the rules. Keep the sessions short to begin with to maintain their interest (20-30 minutes depending on age).
When the children follow the rules reward them with points that when they reach up to a certain amount, they can perhaps get another model to build, or they can have extra time playing with the blocks. You decide what you think will be the most suitable and motivating rewards for your child(ren).
People often think that the most important part of block Therapy is the finished product i.e. the model (they have built) it is not! It's the skills that they have been able to use to build their model with other people - it's how the 'group' operates and how they can work together to make the model. It's not about individual brilliance at building it's about joint efforts, which is what can make block Therapy so unique!
This is a whole lot more that goes on behind delivering good block Therapy sessions to group(s) of children, but I think as long as you work together with your child and you build a model that is of a 'joint effort' then you are making progress. Another thing is trying not to call it 'block Therapy' and give a cool name like 'Block club' or something else to make it more motivating and not so clinical sounding. Also have fun, this it's something that might take a while to 'get right' in terms of what is expected of you all. There are several videos on YouTube that show block therapy sessions in the home that can give you ideas. But also, block Therapy might not be right for you and your family and that is fine too. It's just an idea that might help to not only pass the time but to do something together with your child that you all can enjoy! Good luck! I hope this will point families in the right direction and it's not too confusing!
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