Autism is defined as a non-progressive, neurological disorder characterized by complexities in communication, verbal or non-verbal. Symptoms also include incapacity in social interactions and experiencing certain drawbacks when it comes to learning as this disorder alters the information being processed by the human mind. This particular disease impacts the nerve cells and electrode responses within synapses, hence affecting motor reaction, language, social skills and reflexes. Autists represent a range of behaviors which might vary from mild to severe. Infact two young kids with the similar diagnosis will behave rather differently from one another and therefore the solutions to make them more socially viable might also differ. Children with Autism experience life and understand world in quasi-imaginative patterns. A high-functioning variation of this disease is known as Asperger's Syndrome and symptoms develop in children possibly even before the age of three. Asperger's syndrome is less severe compared to autism disorder. Children suffering from Asperger syndrome are physically more active and have improved communication skills. There is no specific cause as to why this disease might surface except the fact that it is caused by abnormalities in brain function. There could be a number of reasons; genetic, environmental, medical problems, viral infections, metabolic imbalance or complications during pregnancy. Autism has no known cure and lasts throughout a person's lifetime.
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Other traits that is atypical in autist children is difficulty in expressing their emotions, resistance to change, repetitive behavior like uttering the same sentences and having a somewhat aloof personality. They barely make eye contact and don't prefer being touched and avoid physical contact as they might fear that their personal space is being invaded. Contrary to popular belief, children with autism are not weak in cognition or any less in intellect than their peers. Infact children with Asperger's have shown amazing abilities in the field of music, art, mathematics, spellings and general knowledge. They are often dubbed as 'autistic savants.' Since these children are socially awkward and don't mix with people adeptly, psychologically solutions like role play and drama can be very beneficial. It enables them to integrate with their parents and other people with much ease. Role playing can be very helpful in strengthening their social skills by providing them with precise information about a hypothetical scenario and what exactly would they need to do in such circumstances. These little sessions where they can role play and carry out gestures or conversations according to a script or written information is very conducive in eradicating confusions that might appear in the future about any given situation. Through these subtle shows of dramatics, children can learn to respond more easily in collective connections and feel less threatened. They need to be given clear social cues as they experience slight trouble with what others might perceive, say or not say for matter. Social stories can be incredibly therapeutic and effective for children for example teaching them how to respond when someone greets them, how to act when they're visiting someone and how to play with other kids their age.
Child development can easily be sustained through various treatments like play and drama. Play time can commence with interactions with their parents and later on with their siblings or peers. Pretend play nurtures the mind and encourages children to understand underlying meanings as well as symbolism. For older kids, these fun activities can be elevated to full play productions for further mental development with the aid of props, costumes and dialogues. Such engaging therapies can be carried out at home and social environments alike. These projects can be an excellent impetus for bringing families together and creating a comfortable environment for disabled kids. Not only would this help children with autism in expressing themselves or understanding others but also prepare them for better quality of life ahead. This paper will explore the manifesting of autism and how aforementioned experiments can lead to social development as well as elevating their imagination, intentions and emotions through communication via 'role-playing' and 'drama'.
The Meaning of play
Play is the application of diverse behavior patterns and social experiments which are central for normal growth and child development for autism. Lack of creative pretend play can severely hamper any chances of understanding symbolism within children suffering from autism. The objective of these modes of play is to challenge the child mentally and further their imaginative process. Hence, they have to be carefully premeditated and ascertain that it be an entertaining experience for whoever is involved. Play can be anything from supposed social interactions to leisure or play activities. It must be rapturous at all times or else the child might get bored or have inconvenience while paying attention. Play must be voluntary, spontaneous, must involve an active engagement from the actors participating and most of all, it must be systematic in nature. The audiences should not be mere spectators but feel as if they are a part of the play. The actors should engage the audience by asking questions of which they do not necessarily need the answer and consult them on and off. This is to ensure that the onlookers are wholly concentrating on the happenings of the play in question. These terminologies are representative of adult definitions as well as developmental functions when applied to children with autism. Acting out a play, role playing or fantasy is a pivotal part of childhood learning and cognition. It gives the children an opportunity to 'practice' being like adults. Plays and skits incorporate social knowledge and guides playtime activity thoroughly. This paper will further debate on the term 'play' to refer to the specific activities of children engaging in self-created dramas, skits, role-playing, social stories and therapy.
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Progress of play
Children with autism experience difficulties in understanding other minds and endure trouble while reflecting on their own imagination. Mind difficulties and improvised development of communication is ubiquitous in such individuals.
A child's play goes through a series of developmental stages which include the following (Boucher, 1999, p.162):
Sensory motor play
Exploratory and manipulative play
Physical play including rough and tumble
Pretend (make-believe) play.
Regulation of play activities helps in developing imaginative abilities and hence making judgments of their own. There are two distinct types of plays:
1) Functional Play
2) Symbolic Play
Functional play and symbolic play have evident differentiation. (Libby, 1998, p.3 ) Functional play involves pushing a toy car along the carpet or making a 'brmmmm' noise while symbolic play involves treating an object or situation as if it is something else for instance pretending a banana is a telephone or that a Barbie doll is a real person. In the study, children with Autism do not demonstrate less functional play than children with Down syndrome but exposed impairments when it came to facilitating symbolic play. However not all medical researchers were able to clearly distinguish between functional and symbolic play. A child's play should go through a number of developmental growth factors which include manipulation and pretence. While normal children can easily make judgments when it comes to playing with toys or understanding basic everyday events, children with autism will experience problems in distinguishing between reality and appearance. The first step in supporting autistic children is to equip them with a better understanding of social cues and develops their innate inability to make better judgments. For example, when we tell kids the story of Little Red Riding Hood, they grasp the idea that the grandmother in bed is actually the bad wolf. Or when Sleeping Beauty touches the spindle, she will fall under a spell or that the juicy apple in Snow White is actually poisoned. Children with autism will have obstacles when it comes to having a crystal clear perspective as to what others might evaluate and what information they retain at face value. Thus, when autistic children act out dramas, either alone or within a group, they can make apt usage of their imagination and judgment. Children can attain mental progression through object substitution, make-believe and acting out amateur dramas at home. To help us determine the aspects that set apart functional play from symbolic play, we must take the subsequent points into consideration:
• Functional play allows a child to imagine an object while in symbolic play a child has to actively pretend that the spoon he or she has is actually something else like a sword or a pencil.
• Functional play is attributed to an object at hand while symbolic play is attributed entirely to the mental resources of the child. For instance, a child pretends that a doll's face is clean when in actuality the doll's face is dirty or vice versa.
• In Functional play, the object uses an act as a substitute for some other thing while in symbolic play a child has to work with what they have. For instance, a child plays with a shell as if it were a real cat.
It is integral that we address the issue of child development in autistic children and identify with them at their level. Play has an important role in developing shared understanding and providing guidelines for common responses. It allows learning of sophisticated skills and ensures that that the child has the befitting social information to intermingle with the people around them. Normal kids their age can naturally people-watch, deduce assumptions, learn from part errors, and socially enlarge by communicating and playing. Autistic children are at a disadvantage and this is exactly why they need to be taught how to work around their imaginations and cultivate interactive aptitude. In addition to this, play also helps autistic children in diminishing repetitive patterns and helps in being more flexible and accommodating. Functional skills like remembering, memory retention, recollection and thinking are also heightened through this approach. They can analyze situations more relevantly and come up with solutions if they are presented with social stories or plays that make them think. Mood swings can be controlled and their energies can be focused towards a more specific goal. For instance, Sensory Saloon Play which is used to educate children about particular items, their properties and how it influences the environment around them. An example of that could be explaining to a child how exactly an air-conditioner works or perhaps how to switch on the television. Furthermore, Physical Play educates young toddlers about gross motor dexterity and how it relates with the entire body's functions. An important area of play is Social Play which allows for intercommunication and takes it to an advance pedigree. Children or parents can play out as doctors and nurses who instruct them in terms of social affiliation, first aid, crisis management and community engagement. Gender roles and cultural regulations are also defined within this realm. They can also be given constructive tasks like puzzles or fun riddles to work on. Plays should be unique yet simple so that they can process all the information that they are being specified. Through make-believe plays, they can be taught how to make new friends or ask for permission before entering a room rather than acting impulsively. This kind of role-play enhances interpersonal skills and strengthens their survival skills.
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However the fact remains that children suffering from autism are more disadvantageous in their social competence as compared to children living without the syndrome. Their social cognitive knowledge is relatively weaker than their counterparts and might experience inadequacy when it comes to conceptualizing complex pieces of information. Play provides as a platform in generating their overall social functioning and helps them in making sense of the world they live in so that they don't feel isolated. It can also bring out the creative side in many autistic children and those skills can be further polished like drawing, singing or playing the piano. Play aids in handling their emotions and recognizing the intentions and motives of others as these concepts are not easy for them to understand. Visual processing enables them in getting an insight on underlying emotions of other people. Through stories they can understand figurative speech and things like irony, jokes, sarcasm etc. It is imperative that these plays and self-created dramas are entertaining, engaging and an enjoyable experience for the kids. The aspiration behind these activities is to boast their imaginations, inspire and provide them with foresight. The environment should be extremely welcoming and conversations should be friendly as well as productive.
Significance of Play Therapy.
Play and drama can bring about momentous changes in an autistic child's life. Playing and make-believe comes naturally to little kids and has a positive influence on their development. Not only do they find a forum to express themselves but can learn vital life skills. Treatment through play and drama correlates with growth of social relationships and its specialization. Symbolic play has been given preference over other alternatives like literature or practice because it provides more executive training in thinking, sequencing events and remembering information. Symbolic play facilitates thought flexibility and encourages self-expression for example pretending that a hairbrush is a microphone and that a bat is indeed a guitar. In addition it also gives children with autism an opportunity to think widely and broadly. Social plays can be a gratifying experience for children as it acts as a tool for improving social skills and enabling behavioral inhibition. Likewise, they can also participate in both social and cultural proceedings. One of the most important factors of symbolic play is structure. This allows the child to identify with the hierarchical order of skills required for the attainment of a particular goal. (Stein, S.M., Chowdhury U. 2006, pp.301-345).
The story of Little Red Riding Hood has a perfect structure: typecast characters, recurring idioms, hook line excitements of noticing that the grandma was in reality a wolf and ultimately an interesting climax. The story cannot appear mundane and boring. It needs to be as fascinating as possible and should pique their curiosity. The child must show interest in preparing material for making the play meaningful. Continuity is another important aspect which induces autistic children to assume the role of active participants in pretend play. Therefore one should use familiar objects and gradually introduce new toys or material to keep things spontaneous. Interaction with objects and the environment around them helps them in developing perceptions and problem-solving. To help develop motor skills, physical play is needed as well like tumbling, running, climbing, football and swings. Also, by mimicking real life scenarios, children with autism can learn about the society that they live in and exchanges through relationship roles can be extremely helpful, such as teacher and student, or parent and child. Their language skills and recognition of body language can also benefit through methods of interactive stories and scripting. Functional play can assist in imitating learned responses and reactions. This can be done through sound bites or sound effects, such as pretending to drink tea from a cup and then wiping his or her mouth or racing a car toy by making fake sounds.
Nowadays an important feature that can be used to motivate autistic children is digital imaging, television, videos, internet, digital cameras, cell phones and an array of new-age technologies. Computers can be virtual speech therapists and talking practitioners. Dance videos and musical instruments can chalk out a child's taste in terms of inclinations and field of interest. Like all children, these kids also have their likes and dislikes. This includes their favorite books, toys, pretend plays, board games, music etc. Through play and these incorporated props, we can make an autistic child appear quite typical as they can fit in social surroundings effortlessly. Strategic methods also allows for children with autism to smoothly transition from one setting to another (home to school), from one person to another (parent to fellow peers) or even different phases of life (childhood to adulthood). Play and drama, when used by the book can be the core dynamic for empowering an autistic child in becoming more self-sufficient, adaptive to their environments and preparing for adulthood.
Variations in Autism and Social/Occupational Skills:
Children with Autistic Spectrum Syndrome often face comprehensive problems when it comes to responding to certain social patterns and general cognitive flexibility. Speech and language are significant factors when it comes to the mental functioning and linguistic mannerisms of an individual. Normal people have no setbacks when it comes to observing, guessing and understanding tone and comprehending what the other person is thinking. However, children with autism suffer from 'mental blindness' and often err when it comes to social situations. Consistent training and counseling can remove social gaffes of such accord. Learned techniques builds social skills which range from basic skills like making eye contact or mood stability to more detailed skills like interviewing for a job or hanging out with friends in a restaurant. Diagnosis for children with autism takes place at an early stage through a number of tests, indicators and questionnaire.
Behavior patterns diverge considerably in autistic children and can be quite unpredictable. They might also relate to objects or toys in unfamiliar ways. For example, a child suffering from Autism might be more preoccupied with spinning wheels on a toy car as opposed to engaging in a complex driving game. At any given moment, they can act out or engage in behavioral patterns that they missed out on, at the relevant age or partake in activities that are different from what non-autistic children of similar age would be interested in. Techniques used in developing social skills are miscellaneous in character and focus on things like playing games, sharing and verbal interaction. Oft role playing and performance related activities are limited to simple manipulation. Nonetheless, the eminence of their play is usually lower as compared to a normal child's. Most of the time autistic children will show no interest whatsoever in engaging in playful activities with fellow children and would instead prefer playing in solitude. Other autistic children may wish to play but will have complications showing interest. It is also common for autistic children to be hesitant in playing games that involve pretence or visions. Unfavorable experiences in role-playing can also lead to frustration, lack of motivation and negative emotions which eventually leads to refusal to engage in play or drama. Therefore, the process needs to validate in a supportive setting where they can work on social improvisation and practice new skills which can result in positive outcomes like self-confidence, improved identification of emotions and eminent self-esteem.
As far as symbolic play is concerned, children with autism will imitate what they see on TV or repeat bits and pieces of dialogues from movies that they watch. They also have a tendency to repeat others' conversations verbatim. Functional play is also carried out in an assortment of cases as it is much simpler and requires narrow motor skills as compared to symbolic play. For instance, children coming up with pretend games like preparing tea or dress-up and continued these games in similar fashion for days on end without getting tired. This is an indicator that a lot of children with autism if provided with proper training and guidance can become independent individuals when they grow up. The recent trend of teaching Autistic children a DIY or 'do-it-yourself' approach is gaining momentum and can have long term success. These techniques of developing personal skills helps in diverting attention from their otherwise irrational fears, phobias or obsessive habits and even overcoming them for that matter. These might include tendencies to self-harm, collecting weird objects or memorabilia, being a germ phobic or occasionally suffer from panic attacks.
Lack of child development can lead to these children being stuck with restricted abilities in terms of communication and social conduct. Hence, it is essential for parents, teachers and social workers to educate children with autism through play to enhance their social belonging and implementing advanced skills.
Impairments in children with autism and effective ways of communication.
Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder encounter disturbances when it comes to communicating their thoughts to others or figuring out what others might be saying. If play is taught and social interactions are carried out, they can engage in communication development with more flair. Since communication is damaged in these children, it leads to incapacity in comprehending simple instructions, directions and questions. Even with simple games like hide-and-seek or snakes and ladders, they might experience come hassle. Two way conversations are hard to carry out and speech is relatively impaired. Ways of speaking and pronunciation also differs from the norm. Sentence structuring might be a little off and they tend to often leave out punctuations, full stops and breaks in between. Sometimes their sentences are not fully formed. For instance, a child suffering from Autism may speak in the following manner 'Want Juice' instead of saying 'Do you want to drink juice?' or 'Look at the said' instead of 'Look at what you are saying' and many other immature sentences. At times, they cannot even manage to comprehend what they are saying themselves. When asked, they cannot explain their feelings to another person or even recall their previous chain of conversations. Practical impairments are inversely proportional to the success of development framework. Oft they can feel highly frustrated at the world around them or feel impatient. Valuable communication at personal and community level enables them in approaching others in socially acceptable ways, learning to follow directions, stick to a routine or a schedule and resolve personal conflicts. They master the art of overcoming social cognitive deficits and surviving to the best of their abilities.
Sensory differences are unique for every child with autism. Some might have excellent auditory skills but struggle with visual skills. Or perhaps have problems when it comes to taste or smell. Social phobias and intimacy issues are highly common as well. They might feel agitated at loud noises sometimes and are in certain cases are unable to differentiate between physical states like hot and cold or be aware of physical pain. Their behaviors can be intolerable at times characterized by temper tantrums and refusal to pay attention. Open interactions and practicing free flow of communication can be a way of therapy to gel in with their fellow peers at school and lead a normal social life as compared to an anti-social one. Teachers also make considerable efforts in assessing the abilities of these children so that positive behavioral changes can take place. A formal drama therapy group modifies behavior and builds on their imitative strengths. Teachers made observations that children suffering from Autism disorder spend minimal time with their friend and prefer being alone. Activities can get recurring in nature and they can play the exact same thing for weeks on end with the same details. (Boucher, J 1999 pp. 1-5) It is in such events that intervention and parental assistance is of utmost importance. Exchanging verbal and non-verbal communication aids them in being self-reliant and learning responses, personal care, daily chores as well as social predicaments.
Children suffering from Autistic Spectrum Disorder can conquer their inherent impairments by incorporating play and make-believe in their lives to make themselves more socially feasible and forthcoming in their communication values. Day to day activities can suffer if they have distorted experiences in the past and can severely impact thinking capacity and future social interactions. Nonetheless, they are more receptive to play therapies and self-created dramas that involve minimum societal contact and are loners at best. Children with autism have specific taste and preferences as to what they like and what they don't. Once an intricate situation is identified, social stories and play can be used to indicate the child how to behave next time in a challenging situation. Spontaneous communication is also introduced in these play sessions with the aid of visual representation, understanding concepts and at the end of the day making it a fun experience for the kids involved. They grasp abstract ideas with sensitivity and learn to appreciate subtle hints. Play and drama has its fair share of strengths and weaknesses. Thought processes become less rigid due to role play and they can understand management of objects in time/space.
The best thing that a social skills therapist or a parent can do for a child with autism is to help them cope and find a way around their apparent disabilities. Techniques like soothing them in distraught situations, teaching vocational skills and controlling focus is all part of the ongoing developmental procedure. They can work on their reading; verbally communicate to help them make friends, develop awareness and exercise confidence. Children with a milder version of the disease, i.e. Asperger's Syndrome have immaculate memories and pay close attention to detail as well as instructions. With lack of attention in earlier stage of life, they might become emotional, feel restless and lack concentration which can be result in complexities once the child attains maturity.
The objective of this extensive research is to identify and highlight the social problems faced by children with Autist Spectrum Syndrome. People with reliable knowledge, suitable solutions and expertise can improve the quality of their life immensely. Communication and social interaction in terms of child development in autistic children have been emphasized predominantly in this paper. Using motives, judgment calls, imagination, pretence, intentions and social affiliations, children and adults can initiate the learning process for a prolonged success ratio. These practices can be done at home or in a class environment with affable authority figures to offer assistance and improvement. The nature of child development issues as we have discussed previously can vary but play therapy and orchestrated learning through gestures, pretend situations and themes of social consciousness can be a constructive experience for these children.