Integration for adults with autism means having the opportunity to access, participate, contribute, and be valued members of a community. Contribution of adults with autism begins by identifying individual strengths, gifts, talents and challenges. It seems straight-forward and reasonable, right? It should be!
Socialization for individuals with autism is often a struggle. In the areas of education, recreation and leisure, the prime focus for the person with autism should be motivation! Essentially, what’s in it for the person with autism? I regularly mention this phrase to my colleagues; “it must be intrinsically motivating to the person with autism!”
Making It Motivating & Interesting
For many of us, recreation and leisure experiences generally produce feelings of enjoyment and satisfaction. It’s an opportunity to reveal and express creativity, as well to accomplish and cultivate new skills. Recreation can be especially important for people with autism: drawing on opportunities to practice social skills, to develop physical abilities, and to expand the repertoire of motivational activities. Participation in these activities offers a setting for the individual with autism to learn social and communication skills related to a recreational or leisure activity. Just as significant, participation in these activities can help development of communication skills and the self-help that can be applied generally to education and employment.
How can a person with autism be successfully integrated into recreational and leisure activities? A Structured Opportunity!
So what is a “Structured Opportunity?” It’s an activity that is designed for the person with autism in mind employing best practice, research-based strategies; communication supports related to self-help and independence, visually organized and structured activities, prepared social stories, all in a sensory-sensitive environment fully considering any possible barriers to a successful activity. It is through providing a “structured opportunity” that a person with autism can have a measureable experience that ultimately leads to choice.
The prescription for success takes detective work on the part of the teacher, parent, and/or support staff:
- Intrinsically motivating interest
- Sensory sensitive environment; size of environment, number of people, sounds, position of desk, table: visit the environment, ask questions prior to the visit with the person with autism
- Communication supports related to self-help and independence: drink, bathroom, “Let’s go!”, I’m sick, It’s too noisy!
- Visual schedule that outlines: What? Where? How long? When will it be done? What’s next?
- Review prepared social stories with the person with autism based on “what if?”: For example, other people talking in the class, people sharing supplies, people standing close to you, etc.
- Assess support efficacy
- Data: Measurable outcomes; did they like or dislike the activity? Will this be an activity that the person with autism will want to do again?