Michael (not his real name) is a 5-year old boy who has autism. He loves playing outside. During school recess each day he smiles as he digs for worms in the dirt, shovels and sifts in the sandbox, and gleefully rides on the swings. Our school playground has areas that are both open to the elements and covered by a roof, allowing outdoor play regardless of weather.
As the temperatures began to get colder, Michael was quite willing to put on his coat, but he adamantly refused to keep his head covered with a hat or a hood. This was becoming a point of struggle at home, and his mother expressed concern about it. She also wasn’t sure what we might do to keep Michael’s head covered during recess.
I was intent on working with Michael’s mother to solve this problem because we both know how important outside time is for Michael’s his ability to focus during the day. Making a visual aid seemed to be the right first step.
Searching Google, I found the two photos I needed: one of a boy wearing his winter hat and hood, and one of the same boy without his head covered. I copied the images, side by side, into a Word document. Below the first photo, I wrote “YES playground” and below the second I wrote “NO playground.”
The next day, when the struggle first presented itself, I showed the page to Michael and we read it together, while noting the difference in the pictures. Then I pointed to Michael and asked, “Yes playground or no playground?” He replied, “Yes playground.”
I pointed to the photo of the boy wearing his hood and said “Hat on.” Michael took his hat out of his cubby and handed it to me. I put it on his head and we enjoyed a full recess period outdoors, playing in the snow.
Michael’s mother was happy to hear how well this had worked, and she took a photo of the page so that she could reference it as needed when not at school.
Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Early Learning program, for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.