Remaking Recess featured in "Autism Spectrum News"

Check out this article on Remaking Recess from the Autism Spectrum News. 

With the rising cost of educational services for these children and fiscal challenges that school districts face, it is imperative to identify cost-effective autism-related interventions that are easily implemented and sustained in schools. [...] Remaking Recess was developed to address the significant difficulties that children with ASD encounter on school playgrounds. 

Read the full article here

Three Engaging Games for Indoor Recess

By Mark Kretzmann

Photo by DC_Colombia/iStock / Getty Images

At many elementary schools indoor recess is common.  The weather, the location, and other factors may lead to recess being held inside the school building. Indoor recess is challenging but it is also an opportunity to help children practice unique social skills.  Here are three fun, engaging, commercially available indoor games that children generally like to play together.  These games are affordable, easy to learn, accommodate more than two players and are popular across multiple settings which allows children to generalize their skills to the home or community.  These games can still be used if they are missing a part or slightly damaged and no batteries are required.  remakingrecess.org does not sell or profit from these games.  We only recommend them.  Of course, there are many other fun, cost-effective options to support peer engagement.

Twister:  Twister is a classic game played on a plastic mat showing colored circles in a grid.  A spinner tells the players where to put their hands and feet.  Twister has simple rules allowing children to practice body control in close proximity to peers without a lot of instruction.  A good way to introduce a beginner to the game is to allow them to spin the spinner and observe the gameplay.  Twister is affordable retailing for under $20, and durable.  The plastic mat can easily be cleaned and the game can be played without the spinner if necessary.  Twister is produced by Hasbro.

Jenga:  Jenga is a block stacking/removing game.  Players take turns removing blocks from a block tower and placing them on the top.  Play continues until a player topples the tower.  Jenga allows many players and it holds  their attention because they don't want to miss the moment when the tower falls.  Jenga is available for about $15.  The blocks are simple and durable and the game can still be played if a few blocks are missing.  Multiple sets of Jenga can be combined.  Jenga is produced by Hasbro.

Uno:  Uno is a popular card game where players start with seven cards and take turns discarding cards based on the color or number of the card topping the discard pile.  There are wild cards and a few other fun specialty cards incorporated into the otherwise simple, colorful deck of cards.  Uno is easy to play and fast moving.  An Uno deck can be used even if it is missing cards.  Retailing for around $8 it's a great buy for indoor recess.  Uno is produced by Mattel.

A Recess of One’s Own

Shannon Des Roches Rosa
Senior Editor,
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

My teenage son Leo has always been a huge fan of recess. Like many kids enrolled Special Education who have full-time aides, his school time is highly structured and supervised, so he needs opportunities to blow off steam however he likes, and on his terms. But this hasn’t always been possible, because school staff didn’t always understand what downtime looks like for autistic kids like Leo, and in the past have pushed him to participate in recess on non-Leo terms, sometimes with unfortunate results.

Let me show you what happy Leo recess time looks like. In this
video, he is happily walking in a circle on a play structure. He makes room for other kids when they walk by, but doesn’t feel obligated to interact with them (note that the reverse is true as well). He’s busy, engaged, and content.  

Though this video is from a few years ago, this is what recess (or free) time looks like for Leo at his current school, where the teachers and staff understand him, and respect his needs.

It wasn’t always that way. When Leo was in kindergarten, he went to an autism-focused special day class on a regular school campus, which had an “inclusive” recess. But it wasn’t truly inclusive, in terms of staff helping kids of differing abilities learn to understand each other’s needs, and interact accordingly. Instead, the (very well-meaning but inclusion- and autism-undertrained) class aides spent recess trying to coax Leo and his classmates to play with the other classes on the non-autistic kids’ terms. Because they didn’t really understand autism, they didn’t see recess as the opportunity it was for Leo at least: the chance for a break.

Leo was able to deal with this recess social pressure for a while, because he’s a sweet-natured person. But after a few months, he’d finally had enough, and, during recess, pushed another kid. Hard. Right into that kid’s teacher.

Pushing is not OK, of course. But, anyone who
understands autism and autistic behavior would, in addition to letting Leo know that pushing is unacceptable, probably ask themselves, “Since Leo is non-speaking, what is he trying to communicate by pushing that kid?” Could it have been that, as Amanda Forest Vivian writes, “Even if social interaction is fun, it can be overwhelming to do it for too long, and it can make you more tired instead of less tired - which makes it a poor excuse for recess.”? It wasn’t that Leo was a bad kid, it was that he had been forced into a recess that didn’t work for him.

No one at the school saw it that way, though. The principal, Leo’s teacher, and the other kids’ parents not only did not understand autism and autistic behavior, but were biased against Leo because of his autism. Despite recent, documented playground scuffles between non-autistic students resulting in actual injuries without significant consequences at that same school under that same principal, everyone saw Leo’s isolated pushing incident as a Very Serious Problem. So, together — and without consulting me — they made a decision to exclude Leo from recess from the rest of the year.

When I found out, I was livid. But I didn’t fight back, because at the time I had internalized social attitudes about autistic kids being “less than,” rather than having the same rights as any other student. The only thing I did was fume, and write an essay featured in a book about
parenting kids with disabilities but without apologies. Today, figurative heads would roll if anyone tried to punish my son for trying to communicate his needs while autistic, especially if they did so without consulting me or Leo’s dad.

What can we do to help today’s autistic kids not only avoid being misunderstood, but enjoy recess according to individual needs? I’d like to see strategies that follow the models set by play spaces like
We Rock the Spectrum — in creating autistic-friendly play spaces and environments that are actually fun for everyone:

“Increasingly, playscapes are incorporating what’s known as inclusive design — not only making equipment physically accessible to families of all abilities, but also removing common social barriers. So often, disability leads to peer isolation, and these places try to remedy that problem, with structures and layouts designed to enable and encourage children to play with each other.”

Though I’d modify that last sentence to read “…play with each other if they want to.”

Leo’s recess time is still not perfect. As wonderful as his school is, it’s not an inclusive school — 
inclusion may be the ideal, but in our area is simply not available for high-support students like Leo. So he doesn’t have the opportunity to interact with students of different abilities, should he choose to. But at least he gets to have a recess of his own. 

Reading at Recess

Amanda Forest Vivian is an Autistic musician and support worker. She also writes the blog I'm Somewhere Else: http://adeepercountry.blogspot.com/

In fourth grade, I was starting at a new school--a public school instead of the Montessori school I had attended since kindergarten.  On the first day of school, my parents were anxious to hear how everything had gone.

I told them things had gone pretty well; one of the best parts was recess.  Instead of the playground we had at my old school, we had recess on a blacktop that was set into the side of a hill.  Kids stood around and talked or played counting and jumping games.  As for me, I sat on the hill, looking up at the blue sky and the chain-link fence which thrilled me for some reason, and watched as some seagulls flew around and occasionally landed on the blacktop.  I was excited by them because I could pretend they were the characters from the Animorphs books, who could turn into any animal.  Sitting on the hill, I felt joyful, dreamy, and hopeful.

I realized my mistake when my mom said sternly, “Are you telling me that you spent recess imagining aboutAnimorphs?”  As usual, I’d been caught enjoying the wrong leisure activity.

Starting in first grade, my favorite thing to do was read--sometimes the same books over and over (the really good books got eaten), but also all sorts of random books and articles in magazines and encyclopedias. Many attempts to take me to psychiatrists were foiled when I spent the appointment reading all the books and magazines in the doctor’s office.  Next, I liked to spend my time in fevered, pseudo-religious daydreams, usually accompanied by sensory feedback like jumping, shooting around underwater in the pool at summer camp, or sitting alone on the schoolbus while I watched the trees and roads zoom by in a colorful blur.  But everyone made it clear I was supposed to put these activities aside and throw myself into the dubious magic of friendship.

In fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. A. about whom I thought, “She’s just like one of those inspirational teachers in books.”  It wasn’t a compliment.  She could be unusually fair sometimes and was dedicated to her work, but she was also tough and strict like her fictional counterparts.  Mrs. A. loved to tell the story of how she had out-stubborned a little boy who threw up whenever he was upset.  She made him clean up his own vomit and then, she said proudly, he never threw up again.

On the first day after winter vacation, Mrs. A. came up with a new idea to keep me in line. She decided that every morning, I had to give her the book I had brought to school and I couldn’t have it back until the end of the day.  She explained to me that this was so I would have to talk to the other kids in my free time instead of reading.

This bothered me, not just because I had to give up the book, but because I did talk to other kids and enjoyed doing so. I had friends in class, some of whom I just saw in class and others who I’d see outside of school.  I didn’t feel lonely, except that I sometimes wanted my friendships to be different (I wanted to talk about feelings and personal experiences more, and also about books).  I felt satisfied by the amount of time I spent with other kids; it was the adults observing me who weren’t satisfied.

Lest this turn into a typical autism memoir about how quirky l am, I better admit that reading and daydreaming were tied into a lot of real problems.  I would try to read in situations where you just can’t have a book in front of your face, like when I was crossing the street, getting a haircut, or at the dentist.  I also didn’t see the problem in just checking out of reality when someone was trying to talk to me about something.  In first grade, I literally refused to do anything but read (you can get pretty far with that at Montessori school).  Worst of all, being jerked out of reading or daydreaming was so startling that I’d explode at whoever tried to transition me.

So, it wasn’t that I should have been allowed to read and daydream all the time because I also needed to get dressed, eat, and get an education.  I also benefitted from getting to know other people.  And it was a big problem that I couldn’t manage my reaction to being interrupted, because it meant that I was at least rude, and at most physically aggressive.  All in all, I needed to be able to set boundaries around my favorite leisure activities and understand that they couldn’t be prioritized over my responsibilities as a person.  This is all stuff that by fourth grade, I was starting to understand; I didn’t want to blow up at other people and even though I liked my trances, I didn’t want to spend the whole day in one.

However, the constant harping that I wasn’t doing the right things with my free time just led me to feel confused and like there was something wrong with me.  I don’t feel there is a wrong thing to do with your free time, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.  I also feel like my desire to do these things, which is still present, comes from a genuine need for activities that are wholly predictable and undemanding. For some people, being in social situations doesn’t feel like “leisure” because it takes too much concentration.  It is time-sensitive and involves many kinds of processing, so you have to work hard to stay on top of it.  Even if it’s fun, it can be overwhelming to do it for too long, and it can make you more tired instead of less tired--which makes it a poor excuse for recess.

Understanding Classroom Social Networks

By Jill Locke

Do you know who your child's friends are in his or her classroom?

classroomsocialnetworkkasariUCLA.jpg

By asking children to privately write down who likes to hang out together we can reveal a social network of their classroom’s peer groupings that indicates: 1) who's connected to whom, and 2) the strength of that relationship. Four different classifications are possible that will help you understand a child’s social salience in the classroom. Children can be considered “isolates”, which means they do not belong to any peer group in the classroom or peripheral, which means they are in the bottom 30% of their classroom’s social structure. Children also can be secondary, which means they are very well connected in their classroom (the middle 40%) or nuclear, which means they are highly salient and within the top 30% of their classroom’s social structure. It is important for all children to be connected to at least one other child in their classroom to promote healthy social development.

Pictured above is a map of a real classroom's social network. All of the names have been changed. Each line represents a connection between children. The number in parentheses represents the number of times that child was nominated to any peer group, or his/her individual salience. The number among the lines is the child’s group salience, which determines how well connected the peer group is overall. Joe is a student with autism. Both he and Bailey are considered isolates. Felipe and Brian are considered peripheral as they were infrequently nominated (1) time each and have a group salience of (1) as well. Valery and Zara are considered secondary, whereas Jessica and Lily are considered nuclear given their high individual salience (10) and (12), respectively, and high group salience (11). Understanding social networks and the power dynamics within a classroom is an important way to learn more about your child’s social development. And remember, there are ways to improve social network inclusion – is your child, isolated, peripheral, secondary, or nuclear?

Counting "Everyone" in the Everyone Category

An 11-year-old student named Harriet wrote an insightful essay with the above title on her observations about an apparently neurodiverse classmate, Eleanor, at her new school. She powerfully describes that Eleanor’s exclusion from activities and the unfair treatment toward her means “Eleanor isn’t even counted enough as a person/student in my class to be included in the ‘everyone’ category.” Furthermore, Harriet brightly suggests practices, such as in use of paraprofessionals, generally aligned with Remaking Recess: “If there has to be an aide to help a student, he wouldn’t be there for any one person; the aide would help everyone. If any kid was having a hard time, the aide would check-in.” Indeed, she helped to inspire the “Flying Solo, or Birds of a Feather Stick Together” post on this blog through this pearl of wisdom: “Wherever you are in the world, everyone should feel comfort and belonging knowing that you always have people to hold on to you as you fly your way and they fly theirs. Eleanor isn’t given the opportunity to know that she belongs and to feel the freedom to fly.”

Not only as we enter this season of giving, but generally, we have a role to play in helping more students and other people support the need for inclusion. As Harriet’s mother Susan on October 15 explained in reply to comments, Harriet conceived the story and insights, but key adults in her life have helped shape her values: “All parents and teachers offer children a lens through which to make meaning of the world. Children take it and go. Where they go is how the world changes. Thank goodness.”

Read Harriet’s post here.