Many schools like to use April to educate peers about autism. The following activites are from TEACCH. All of these activites can be modified to match specific students. These activities can also be modified for staff trainings. The "set the table" activity is a great ice breaker.
If you would like to see the entire article please go to the TEACCH webpage at http://teacch.com/understandingfriends.html
Abilities: We are different and we are the same
Explain to the class that the purpose of the program is to help them imagine what it might be like to have "different abilities" than they do now; to understand why some people act differently than they might expect. Write the word "ability" on the board and talk about what it means. Write the word "unique" on the board and talk about what it means.
Explain that everyone has different abilities. Say that you want to find out how the students in the class are different. Have them raise their hands in response to questions, such as these:
Who can ride a bicycle? Who can roller skate? Who can roller-blade? Who knows the multiplication tables through 5's? Who knows how to do long division? Who knows the multiplication tables 6's through 12's? Who has messy handwriting? (Or who needs more practice with their cursive?) Who has really, really, neat handwriting? Who is good at video games? Who runs in medium or slow speed? Who runs at a very fast speed? Who knows how to knit? Who can make a batch of cookies? Etc...
It is important that not every child answers affirmatively to every question, so you can show diversity. So, for the youngest grades, or if all the students raise their hands for every question, it is best to include questions such as the following.
Who has black hair ? Who has blonde hair? Who has brown hair? Who wears glasses? Etc...
Comment on the fact that everyone has different abilities or qualities about themselves that make them unique among others.
Now describe a scene on the playground, and ask..."Have you ever played kickball [or other relevant game] and when it was your turn to kick, you planned to really kick it hard so it would go far...and when the ball was pitched to you, you tried to kick it, but you missed?" You can act this out while you are talking to make it more dramatic. Ask "Who likes it when the other kids say, '...don't worry, try again, it's okay, you can do it,_...'?" Or who likes it when they say "...don't be so stupid, why did you do that?" Typically, all of the children will raise their hands to agree with wanting to be understood.
Now ask "Who likes it when people understand you?" Questions can also be phrased slightly differently, like "Who wants friends who understand you?" or "Who likes it when their friends understand them?"
Comment on the fact that even though everyone has different abilities, talents, and qualities, that we are the same in one basic way; we all want other people to understand us.
Experiential Activity Centers:
Introduce the following activities and have the teacher divide the class into 3 groups. If you have set up 4 experiential activity centers, then the class must be divided into 4 groups. I recommend using three centers. This makes the class and the program more manageable and keeps it within a realistic time-frame.
Introduce each center briefly, holding up the materials at that table. For example, for the activity to simulate fine motor difficulties, you might say: "When you get to the center at the round table, you will wear these big gloves...they are supposed to be too large for you, that's OK. When you are wearing them, you are supposed to string these beads and then screw these nuts and bolts and washers together. You will find out what it would be like if the muscles in your hands worked differently than they do now." For older children, you can explain the term "fine motor". Assure them that it is OK to have fun with this, but at the same time, ask them to think about what kinds of things might be harder to do if their fine motor skills were like that. Ask them what might be different for them. How would they (or their work) appear different to others? Would they need any special kind of assistance?
Each center should be facilitated by a teacher or other adult. This person can ask thought-provoking questions during the activity.
You will ring a bell when it is time for the groups to rotate from center to center. Keep this going pretty quickly, in order to hold their interest. After each group has visited each center, say that you are now going to pick a student to help you demonstrate something, but it needs to be a student who can follow directions well. You will choose your helper as soon as everyone is back in their seats. This encourages all the students to immediately return to their seats.
Receptive Language Demonstration: "Set the table"
While the students are returning to their seats, prepare a desk at the front of the room, by placing 10-15 different miscellaneous items on it. Among these items should be a plate, cup, spoon, and a fork, scattered about on the desk. Hidden from sight, you will have a manila folder on which an outline of a table setting (plate, cup, spoon, fork) is drawn. Keep this "table-setting jig" hidden for now.
After choosing a volunteer, have him or her come up and sit at the desk facing the class. Depending on the dynamics of the class, it is sometimes helpful to pick a student who seems to be a bully or most in need of developing some empathy. (But it must be a student who has volunteered.)
Ask the student if he or she is able to hear you well enough in order to follow your instructions exactly. Tell him that you want him to listen very carefully. Then with no change of tone, point to the materials on the desk in front of him and tell him to set the table, but give the instructions in another language. Being from a bilingual Greek family, I always use Greek. If you do not know a second language, make sure that ahead of time, you have someone teach you the proper verbal instructions, and memorize them. Obviously, you want to be careful not to choose a volunteer student who might know the language you are using, so choose your volunteer carefully and stay away from a very common second language in your area, like Spanish. Some presenters prefer to use a made-up lingo of gobbledy-goop.
Eventually, with older students, pull out the table-setting jig and show it to the student, laying it on the desk. If he is still confused, point to each of the shapes and indicate which item belongs there. Usually the student gets this immediately and will place the plate, cup, etc, on their outlines. Praise the student and have the class applaud. Ask the student why he did not follow directions when you told him what to do; didn't he hear what you said? Then explain that there are people who can hear all the words, but cannot make sense out of what is being said, just like it was a foreign language. Ask questions like, "Did you know you were supposed to do something? How did you feel when you couldn't understand what to do? You did a great job, finally, of setting the table...but how did you know what to do?" Draw attention again to the visual cue.
Fine Motor Activity
8 pairs of large cloth garden gloves 8 sets of shoestrings and beads, each in a small tub 8 sets of hardware (nut, bolt, washer), each in a small tub Table with 8 chairs
Each child wears the gloves and tries to string beads and assemble hardware. Hint: For K-1 students, have them just wear one glove and use large beads.
8 pairs of safety goggles Jar of petroleum jelly (to smear on lenses of goggles) or sandpaper to scratch lens 8 pencils and pads of lined paper Books at grade level Table with 8 chairs
Each child wear goggles (with obstructed view because of petroleum jelly or scratched lenses). Try to write sentences on the lines and read the print in a book. Hint: Do not let children take off goggles until they are done.
Perceptual and Sensory (Tactile) Activities
Roll of masking tape and binoculars: Place a length of tape on the floor and have children walk on the line. Have each child hold the binoculars on their eyes, backwards. This causes perception to be distorted.
Several strips of yarn, 4-feet in length: Have child jump rope using the yarn, instead of a rope. This causes the feeling of distorted perception of the weight of the "rope".
Garden glove with Velcro sewn on to inside of fingers and palm; and A large handful of lambs-wool or a feather duster: You wear the scratchy glove and hold the soft feathers or wool. While children are participating in the above activities, walk by and touch a bare arm. Simulates unpredictable sensation on the skin (either too scratchy or uncomfortably soft!)
Attention and Sensory (Auditory) Activity
8 pairs of headphones hooked up to a Listening Station Cassette tape of static-noise or noisy crowd sounds Worksheets at slightly higher grade level - requires concentration 8 pencils Table with 8 chairs
Students wear headphones and have to listen to noises in their ears. They must complete the worksheets within a given time. Simulates difficulty focusing on work while not being able to filter out distractions.