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. 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. 

Remaking Recess: Tearing Down Fences

Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.

“Once upon a time in a land not so far away, there lived a brother and a sister who loved each other very much. Each day, the sister went to school and learned many new things. But her brother was not allowed to go to school because he had a disability.  This saddened the girl very much. Until one day, a new law was passed that said that all little boys and girls could go to school, even if they had a disability. This made the girl very happy. 

A little yellow bus picked up her brother for his first day of school. At school, the little girl could hardly sit still until it was time for recess. She ran to her brother’s playground, eager to play with him. But when she got there, she was stopped by a big metal fence. The teacher stood on the other side of the fence with the girl’s brother and told her that she had to go to her own playground. The girl asked if her brother could come with her to her playground.  But that wasn’t allowed either.”  

This story is real.  It is part of my history. My brother’s history. Our nation’s history.  And although it seems so archaic, heartless, and unnecessary, it was the norm.  Way back then, even with the new law advocating for the “least restrictive environment” for all children, nobody thought twice about the appropriateness of segregation.  Even the best-trained professionals of the time were unaware of the long-lasting negative effects of segregating children and the long-lasting benefits of inclusion.

Nowadays, while many professionals and families have grown accustomed to inclusion in schools, and hence, on playgrounds, they still have little to no awareness about the importance of quality play and interactions, and how to foster them. Even with the best of intentions, good people can limit children with disabilities’ access to games and relationships. Here is an example. 

A few years ago, our school had a Jump-Rope-A-Thon to raise money for charity. Many classes were on the playground jumping rope, including my class.  I noticed a student in another class who was simply watching all the fun and action from the sidelines.  When I looked closer, I noticed that she had a disability. 

This girl’s teacher was an amazing educator.  A mentor of mine. Very professional. Very kind and thoughtful.  I was surprised to see her student left out of the games.  I walked over and, in front of my esteemed colleague, asked the child if she wanted to play too.  She did.  Although her cerebral palsy prevented her from jumping rope on her own, there were some things she could do with support and other things she could do on her own. 

The first thing I did was ask the student what she would like to do and how she wanted to do it.  She had some ideas: “I want to wiggle the rope on the ground while people are jumping over it.” And later, “I want to hop over the rope too, but I need help.”  She felt comfortable enough with me to ask for help. I helped her to get situated with her peers in order to wiggle the rope for others, and later I even helped her to jump tandem with me. Then her friends came up with some other accommodations to include her. It was a dream come true for any advocate for inclusion.

Inclusion in any environment is not just about parallel play or exposure or incidental learning.  It’s about a future. A future with purpose, with friends, with life quality. 

Children with disabilities on an “inclusive” playground will not necessarily be able to “play” with “friends” without support. Some children need help making friends and learning how to play. And some need that support over many years, especially those with communication and/or behavioral challenges.  Others simply need access to the games, activities, and environments to which all other students have access.

When we simply drop off students at the playground and hope for the best, we are ignoring possibly the most important part of a child’s educational experience.  And yet, the teachers who educate students in the classroom are in need of a break and cannot be outside during recess to support social successes there. Even though we do have supervision at recess times, often we become comfortable, and we forget to ensure that everyone belongs and everyone has access.  We do not train our staff to facilitate an inclusive recess community.  We train them to keep students safe. In that context, we do not ask children what it is that they want and need to truly be included. When we give no support, or we give inadequately aware, committed, and creative support, we drop the ball and miss a prime opportunity.  

If we are to see successful inclusion on playgrounds, then schools and districts must see the value of planning ahead and structuring activities and environments toward successful play experiences.  By investing in our students’ successful inclusion today, we tear down today’s “fences” and we create brighter futures for all children.

When we don’t have inclusion on the playground we put people with disabilities at risk for a segregated future. Joaquin went from being fenced in at school to being fenced in at an institution as an adult.

When we don’t have inclusion on the playground we put people with disabilities at risk for a segregated future. Joaquin went from being fenced in at school to being fenced in at an institution as an adult.

After years of fighting the system, Joaquin was finally allowed to return home to the community, to a home of his own, a home of his choosing, near family and friends, on November 4, 2011.  He celebrated 3 years of freedom this month.

After years of fighting the system, Joaquin was finally allowed to return home to the community, to a home of his own, a home of his choosing, near family and friends, on November 4, 2011.  He celebrated 3 years of freedom this month.

Diana and Joaquin.  Love is the best medicine.

Diana and Joaquin.  Love is the best medicine.

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     Joaquin now enjoys freedom and a sense of   belonging in his own community.

Joaquin now enjoys freedom and a sense of
belonging in his own community.

Joaquin is   no longer threatened by "fences."

Joaquin is no longer threatened by "fences."



Help Children Talk to Peers at Lunch

There are very few opportunities during the school day when children have a chance to engage with classmates in "free" conversation.  Lunchtime is a great chance to chat with peers.  Talking with classmates at lunch is a great way for children to boost their social skills.  Observe children at lunch/snack and see if they are able to eat, relax AND talk to peers.  Some kids need a boost!  Watch the video to see Caitlin help two boys talk to each other during lunch