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Social Skills Scavenger Hunt

Joined: 1/22/2011
Posts: 9
If you have a child on the autism spectrum, or a child who needs practice in social skills, this story may give you an idea of how to help him practice.

Since Dr. H is on the autism spectrum, one of his deficit areas is social skills. Greg and I are both amazed at how far he's come, in a year and a half. However, we need to keep working with him so he will be able to have enjoyable friendships and reach out to others. One of my goals with the membership to the Henry Ford complex is to be there once a week. Greg's day off now equals "museum day". It is just as important as school. It is school for Dr. H.

Later I will do a post on the scavenger hunt we did at the museum over the weekend for Meatball's birthday. I want to share the idea so other moms can use it, too. Yesterday I wanted to find a way to get Dr. H to work on some more interactive people skills. I came up with an idea--a people scavenger hunt.

So, I wrote a list of five people I wanted Dr. H to find:

People Scavenger Hunt:

Find someone who

1) likes trains

2) has a name beginning with M or S

3) had cereal for breakfast

4) has a dog

5) has worked at the Dymaxion house
(a particular exhibit)

I explained to Dr. H at home what we were going to do and gave him some verbiage. It went something like, "Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, ma'am. I am doing a scavenger hunt. May I ask you a question?" I asked him if he'd like to practice. I got a resounding, clouded over, "No." Oh boy. This was going to be more work than I anticipated.

I reminded him again in the car on our way to the museum. I wondered if Meatball would get in on the action. Frankly, I wondered if Dr. H would get in on the action.

He did. I got him going on the first one when we approached one of the welcome desks. I encouraged him, "Do you want to ask this man one of your questions?" And that was all it took.

I guess the obsessive-compulsiveness inside him looked at this as a to-do list, a mission, something that just needed to be completed. NOW. Because the next man he saw, "Excuse me, sir. Did you have cereal for breakfast?"

"No." Dr. H looked a little surprised. I prompted him, "Maybe he has a dog."

"Excuse me, sir. Do you have a dog?"

"No," smiling. You could tell the man felt badly.

"Maybe his name starts with M or S."

"Does your name start with M or S?"

"No. Sorry."

Now, this could be tricky. Would Dr. H have a meltdown because the man couldn't sign his paper? "It's ok. Tell him thanks for helping you."

"Thanks for helping me," as he started running off to find another person.

My goal with the list was also to use it as an opportunity for thinking skills--where would you go in the museum to find someone who likes trains? (To the train exhibit.) Where could we find someone who has worked in your favorite exhibit? To the exhibit itself, or we can ask all the workers. Ah, the workers. There were none! They were all at an in-service next door, except for two. Good thing I made only one question docent-specific! And good thing Dr. H was happy to be at the museum, and not distraught over the fact he wouldn't get the last one done.

We found a lady who did not have a dog. Her significant other did not have a dog, either. But she did have a name that started with S! We found a man who walks the museum every day, Mr. Pete. He had cereal for breakfast. When he mentioned he comes every day, I told Dr. H he should introduce himself in case we see Mr. Pete again. He did. Then Mr. Pete stuck out his hand to shake hands. Moment of truth. We've been practicing this at home.

Lately, Dr. H has been saying he doesn't want to shake hands or give a "high five". So, I taught him to say, "I don't like to shake hands, but I'm very glad to meet you still." We've practiced it many times. So, I watched as Mr. Pete stuck out his hand, completely expecting the automatic reply. Instead, Dr. H SHOOK HANDS! Don't worry, I remained calm.

Believe it or not, finding someone who had a dog was the hardest one! We finally found what appeared to be a man in his sixties and his son about my age. The son kept laughing when Dr. H was talking to the older man. I think he was wondering why we were on a scavenger hunt at the museum! "Excuse me, sir. Do you have a dog?"


"Yes, you do," said the younger man.

Now that's funny. "Oh, yes I do!"

"Would you sign my paper?"

I think the man wasn't quite sure what in the world was going on, so I explained the scavenger hunt.

Mission complete. Dr. H had talked to six or seven strangers to complete his scavenger hunt! The biggest challenge was getting him to at least turn his head in the person's direction when he was talking to them. But he had fun, and he got to grow socially. School was a success today.

This worked so well I am going to do new ones from time to time. I don't want to do it every time we go, or it will lose its spark. If you have a child who needs practice using manners and talking to others, I highly recommend trying this. It made it fun, and less intimidating to talk to people. If you don't have a reasonably priced local museum or other attraction, just take your child to the mall! Hey, I like that idea. I just may have to do that myself.
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Comment by shamaker

Joined: 7/6/2009
Posts: 131
What a great idea to help children learn social skills. I would caution, however, to make sure the children only approach strangers with a parent in tow. Wouldn't want to undo all the lessons on not talking to strangers:)

We're working on making eye contact when a grown up addresses one of my children in public, such as giving a compliment while we're in line at the grocery store. We practice replies at home and I prompt the younger ones when we're out.

Practicing role playing at home is a good way to reinforce manners, too. My next goal is to work on developing good phone manners. For the two younger children, that involves not racing cars up and down the hallway while I'm on the phone. For the two older ones, that means knowing how to answer the phone and how to not ask me questions when I'm on the phone.
Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2011 8:26:14 PM
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