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. 

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Remaking Recess: Matching Kids to Well-Meaning Peers Doesn't Always Work

Assigned Friends Outcome

By Judy Endow, MSW

Many programs or teachers place children with developmental disabilities like autism in a pair or group with presumably typically developing children who volunteer to help them – but what do the children intended to benefit want? Who is really benefitting, if anyone? Often these arrangements refer to the children as “friends” or “buddies”, whereas they would not automatically assign that status to fellow neurotypical classmates. This inequality and control puts the targeted children at risk for a life of submissiveness and pity, rather than self-efficacy and respect.

Judy Endow, an autistic author and speaker on a variety of autism-related topics, elaborates:

I was taught to say, “Thank you for being my friend.”
So I say it.
I was told to smile like I mean it.
So I smile.

I know I am supposed to feel grateful
That you are my friend
That you took the class
On how to be a peer mentor to me –

The good friends way –
A pal for six weeks
You have been defined

You are a good person
For giving up your spot
At the popular kids’ lunch table

To earn the community service hours
You need for graduation
By eating lunch with me,
By being my assigned friend.

I ask, “Do you know Jerry Lewis?”
Because I think you would like him
I think you are a modern day Jerry Lewis –
A Good Samaritan who calls himself friend.

You don’t have a telethon on TV,
But you have the Jerry Lewis Telethon
In you heart
Imparted by Mrs. Jones in her Good Friends Program.

You are a good person.
You are a trained Good Samaritan now called “friend.”

Definition of Good Samaritan

“A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy
to those in distress.”


 Next month you will get your community service credit.
Your lifelong attitude about people like me
Will have been shaped

Because the peer mentoring training
Has passed on to you
Society’s adoption of Jerry Lewis’ ideas about me –
A person in need of sympathy
And a person in distress
Only because I am me – an autistic

We have become fake friends
For six weeks –
A Mrs.-Jones-Good-Friends-Program-success!

Your benevolence;
My neediness
Having been defined

With a line drawn between us
Our two groups separated
Defined, distinct, different from each other –
Society’s wisdom at categorization…

When it is over
We say our goodbyes

And like I was taught I say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And I remember I am meant
To smile like I mean it.
So I smile.

Goodbye peer mentor –
My assigned pal
From Mrs. Jones Good Friends Program.

You go on to your next project
I wait for my next assigned friend to eat lunch with
Both of us having been marked by the experience

Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones and to us –
The indelible ink of societal attitudes
Wrote messages on both our hearts
Confirming my place in your world…

That it is indeed YOUR world
And thus, your right
To continually put me in my place

For which I am meant to say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And to smile like I mean it.

And this status quo could march on and on

Yesterday I stopped smiling
And for all the rest of my todays

I will no longer say
“Thank you for being my friend.”
Even though I know I am meant to.

Reposted with permission from Judy’s blog Aspects of Autism Translated:

Universally Accessible Playgrounds

By Steven Kapp

Children should have equal opportunities to play. Playgrounds potentially offer children a place to enjoy exploring, and in doing so giving them exercise and further developing their physical, sensory, cognitive, and social skills. Yet playgrounds not designed to include children with disabilities in any of these developmental areas deny them access to, if not physically be in the space, fully participate in it.

Unfortunately, the legal accessibility mandate for playgrounds, the Americans with Disabilities Act, only applies to wheelchair uses, with basic guidelines that may still not enable an equitable experience for children with mobility disabilities. Children with these and various other disabilities need playgrounds that go beyond mere compliance with the law, that proactively provide a fun environment for everyone.

Many are trying to meet this challenge. A growing number of public parks have, and organizations build, what they call Universally Accessible Playgrounds. According to the principles of Universal Design, for something – as concrete as the built environment or as abstract as ideas – to work for everyone, it must be flexible enough to be adapted for individual needs. For example, children’s sensory sensitivities may clash, as one may enjoy and need a lot of stimulation while another finds much input overwhelming, and this can vary across all senses or even for the same child depending on context. Therefore, a truly inclusive playground allows each child to choose how to engage in it.

Some children may wish to engage with peers but not know how or are unsuccessful when they try. For these children, an accessible playground experience extends beyond the physical structure, and the design may include knowledgeable adults who help to facilitate positive peer interaction. The strategies and resources offered by Remaking Recess may help to make this possible.

For further information on Universally Accessible Playgrounds, Landscape Structures is a good place to start: Among its resources is a site that provides a directory of Accessible Playgrounds in the U.S. and Canada:

Neurodiversity at Recess

By Steven Kapp

Steven Kapp is a PhD student in educational psychology and a graduate student in the Kasari lab at UCLA. A self-advocate, Kapp researches autism; as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Science Committee Chair, he influenced the revision of the autism diagnosis in the DSM-5. A member of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities, Kapp engages in capacity-building and systems change for fellow Californians with developmental disabilities. 

Interacting with people of different backgrounds and abilities deepens our perspective, furthers our connections in the social fabric, and enriches society.

Diversity is also a fact of life. In the U.S., children are fast approaching a “minority majority”.

Furthermore, inclusion is a human right protected by various laws.

  • The Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 decreed that “separate but equal is inherently unequal”.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates a “free and public education” in the “least restrictive environment,” regulated by the Department of Education in support of inclusion.
  • Over 150 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which asserts people with disabilities’ right to “full inclusion and participation in the community”.

Thus, schools can and should help prepare children for a life of engaging with a variety of people.

Yet countless evidence shows that mere exposure to peers of different groups does not maximize the benefits of inclusion.

The quality of contact is what counts most.

The most natural way for most children now to have positive experiences with diverse peers is through play at recess and breaktime at school.

  • Children spend most of their time with peers in school.
  • Classrooms do not necessarily allow children enough opportunity to engage with peers.
  • Research has shown that play is “the work of the child” – that children learn and grow through play.

Unfortunately, many schools are limiting or taking away recess.
Even when recess is offered, many kids do not know how to play well.
Many children are rejected and neglected.

Let’s break this cycle by ensuring that schools have breaks, with the support available for children to engage positively with peers!

Check out this news video on how the IDEAL School in New York City is working to advance neurodiversity and social justice.