One of the most amazing things I have seen throughout our summer program has been the way the children within each group interact with one another. As classmates during both the regular school year and the summer program, they know each other far better than we are able to within the six weeks we work with them. On multiple occasions, I have seen the kids looking out for each other and helping one another through challenges and frustrations in ways that we as teachers would never be able to. Although social skills can be very hard for children, especially with autism, I have seen many instances in which the level of understanding and caring has not only surprised me, but also avoided potential problems.
A few weeks ago, the kids were playing a game focused on both giving and following directions. They took turns assigning tasks to one another, and completing the activities. One of the boys was very excited when he was instructed to ride three laps around the room on the scooter, but was not happy when he was not allowed to continue for a fourth. He told us that if he could not ride the scooter anymore, then he was no longer going to play the game. A few more rounds went by, and we were allowing him to take a break and thought that he would come back to the game when he was ready. The next student to give directions selected the one taking a break and said; “I think you should ride on the green (flat) scooter twice.” Although it was not the speedy razor scooter that he had originally loved, this was enough of a compromise that it brought him back into the activity smoothly and happily. In addition to being an activity that he liked, the student did not feel put on the spot or defensive because he brought back into the game in a subtle, social, and natural way. His classmate was able to bring him back into the game with no fuss or extra attention and all four boys were happy. Although I thought this was an amazing and helpful move, I did not really think much about it until two weeks later.
Fast forward two weeks, and another group of kids was working together to create a story-one of those add on chain stories that get more and more elaborate as the story goes around the circle. One of the kids had a difficult time coming up with something to add on. As the seconds passed, it was clear that his nerves were increasing and his focus was decreasing. Without being asked, one of his classmates crawled across the circle and whispered something into his ear. His face lit up, and it was clear that his friend had given him an idea. “There was a magical forest made of candy!” He added, and the story continued. For the rest of the activity, the one that had been struggling was smiling and attentive. Not only was the hint enough to get him back on track, but it was something that he was interested in, making him want to hear the rest of the story.
I immediately thought back to the day with the scooter, and realized that these groups of kids are far closer to each other than we could possibly become in six weeks. Even with unlimited time with the children, we would still be unable to achieve the peer-peer connection that these students have and deserve. The interactions between the groups and the relationships they have with each other are strong and meaningful. Even though they sometimes disagree or don’t get along, they spend so much time together and using ts within the center has helped us to achieve a lot, and it is amazing to see them looking out for each other without us asking them to.