Play has always had an important role in teaching Jack Riley. They have used play to teach him how to use items functionally – like when they use pretend food and place it on a plate. Jack Riley has now graduated to doing socio-dramatic play with his therapists where they take on different roles. They have been playing ‘restaurant’ for the last two months, where Jack Riley pretends to be the waiter, costumer, or the chef. Now that he has played out these roles, Jessica and Mike are taking him to an actual restaurant to see how he behaves in public.
Jack Riley is working a lot on social skills now that he is in school, and because Lainey is now big enough to walk over and play with his toys. His therapists are having Jack Riley play with his sister during their sessions so he can practice how to appropriately play with her. Simultaneously, Jack Riley’s therapists are also making it a point to go on outings in the community so he and his parents can get more comfortable with what to expect while they are out.
Jack Riley has been having a hard time being nice to his little sister Lainey. In reaction to that, his parents are trying out some positive reinforcement to get him to behave nicer. They started a system called ‘happy points’ where every time Jack Riley is nice to his sister, they give him a ‘happy point’, and once he gets enough happy points he is able to get a fun prize. Simultaneously, with his therapist Jessica, they work on writing a social story about ways in which he should interact with his sister. Hopefully, with enough reminders he will be nice to his little sister all the time.
Jack Riley is now 4 years old. A lot has changed in the last few years. He’s a lot more verbal than he used to be, but occasionally his language isn’t functional. Today he keeps scripting the same phrase while he’s doing tasks like unwrapping his birthday present, or playing with his toys. Echolalia is fairly common with kids with autism spectrum disorder because it’s a self-stimulatory behavior and is intrinsically reinforcing. The behavior comforts, and helps regulate themselves no differently than body rocking or hand flapping; it’s just a different form of stereotypical behavior.
A lot of Jack Riley’s program are is about getting him to socialize with his peers. Jessica is working on a program with him called “statement-statement” which has him practicing making a statement after he hears someone else make one. For example Cheryl says, ” I am laying on the floor.” Jack Riley then responds, “I am playing.”
Playing is learning. With constructive play, a child learns how to imitate others, and to use their imagination to generate structures. With functional pretend play, the child is givenan opportunity to practice using items appropriately and to work on his conversation skills by having him narrate his actions.
Jack Riley began preschool this year which has been a challenging adjustment for the family. On top of the stress of starting school, the family had an IEP meeting. Typically an IEP meeting happens annually after the child’s birthday, but this year they are having two meetings.
Cheryl and Mike sit down and talk with Nick, who recovered from autism in 2001 at the age of four. They discuss what he remembers from being in therapy, and what school was like for him. Nick is candid about his experience with bullying, and gives Mom and Dad some insight on what it’s like growing up with autism.