Sticker Seekers.

It is accepted as a logical truism and empirical fact that children and adults with autism demonstrate some delays, deficits, or atypical characteristics in the frequency, type, and quality of social interactions and social relationships with other individuals. This characteristic was a central feature of the original description of autism (Kanner, 1943), and has been a common feature of virtually all diagnostic classification systems since. Available research suggests that differences in social development characterize children with autism from the earliest months and that delays, deficits, or atypical characteristics in this domain may be a “core feature” of the more general syndrome.

That quote, from here, sums up one of the major fears I have for my son and his future.  Simply put, he lacks social interaction skills.  When kindergarten ended, he had just begun recognizing faces of his peers.  He started attending birthday parties with less difficulty.  He knew names.  He knew what his peers liked to do.  And then, like an ax to a tree, it was all chopped off.  Kindergarten was the highest grade his school taught.  Every single kindergartner in his class had to go to a new school for first grade.  None of them, to my knowledge, landed at the same school.

When Tootles began at his new school, after Labor Day, he was with 22 other students he’d never seen before.  He was starting from scratch.  WIth a social interaction disability.

Tootles had a very good friend from kindergarten.  A boy who called Toots his best friend.  They had quite a few playdates over the summer.  They just had another last week.  This boy is sweet and kind.  Toots adores him and works very hard to “follow your friend”, switching activities when his BFF gets bored or wants to try something else.

At each playdate, Toots’ ABA tutors facilitate the play, make sure both boys share, mediate different ideas, and best of all, help them communicate and interact with each other.  The tutors take data concerning how well Toots responds to his friend, both verbally and nonverbally, and how well they play together.  Programs are run to teach Toots how to read his friend’s face (sad, bored) to ask appropriate questions about switching games or activities.  Programs were run to teach Toots to play hide and seek (yes, he’d never played before he was just about 6 years old) and tag and other ‘playground’ games.

The hope was that all of these “play skills” would transfer to new environments.

In little bits and pieces, the play skills came into use as he entered his current first grade class.  Before school, he was asked to join a game of tag.  At recess, he was playing hopscotch.  But, he was still, basically, a loner.

Cue the awesomeness of a good school with a great teacher.

The teachers at Toots’ new school, hand out “warrior stickers.”  The school “mascot” is a “warrior”.  “Warrior stickers” are coveted items that a student can earn by doing an act of compassion, or something outstanding or noteworthy.  The teachers pass out these stickers if, say, for example, a child is hurt on the playground and his peers help him get up or soothe him or her after a tumble.

But what does this have to do with Toots’ social interaction, you ask?  Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, shortly after school started, a couple of children approached Tootles on their own to play.  With his ABA tutor by his side, prompting, Tootles “played” with his peers, kicking a ball, tag, playing with foam shapes, and other games, building some social interaction.  Seeing that these other children took the initiative to play with Toots on their own, his teacher made quite a big deal out of it and awarded some “warrior stickers” in front of the class.

Once the stickers were handed out, the rest of the students wanted the same. Every day since that time, different children ask to play with Tootles, during recess.  When I first heard the story, I thought, they’re just using Tootles to get the stickers.  I did not feel good about it.  How will this help him, I thought.  But then, a funny thing happened. . .

As these “sticker seekers” initiated the request to play with Toots, they learned how much fun Toots can be.  He needs help to stay focused.  He sometimes needs prompting to stay with his friends.  His 1:1 tutor provides this.  At tag, everyone wanted to “tag” Toots and he was getting confused at the number of kids and what he was supposed to do.  His tutor intervened, setting new rules restricting the kids from tagging Toots until after three others were tagged.

In the quest to “use” Toots for a warrior card, all the kids were laughing – with Tootles, not at him.  There were smiles.  There was fun.  There was communication and good times.  The “warrior stickers” became bonuses, secondary to play.

Toots was a hot commodity for all the wrong reasons, at first.  But now?  The others are learning to play with him.  The good ones, which are nearly all of them, are sticking around.  He’s making friends.  He’s laughing.  He’s being accepted.

All because a teacher saw an opportunity and used it for the benefit of, not just Tootles, but everyone.  Now I just need a warrior sticker – because I want to give the teacher the biggest one of all.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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26 Responses to Sticker Seekers.

  1. I’m really glad this new school is working out well. Love the pic of a smiling Tootles with his friend. He’s a beautiful kid.

  2. Mina says:

    That is awesome. 🙂

  3. Jen says:

    AWWWWWWWWsome! I smile through tears as I read this post. I love the playground pictures! I’m so happy for you both at this new school.

  4. Mary says:

    Great teacher. It must have been hard for you to sit back and trust her. I worry whether Freckles is playing with other girls or just following them around on the playground. I know from visiting her school that some of the kids really do like her, but I think some of them are just nice to everyone and Freckles thinks they are her friends, you know? At least she picks nice people. 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      I adore this teacher at this school! I was nervous when I heard the kids were being “bribed” to play with Toots but it worked out just right. As for Freckles, I think regardless of whether they are just nice and she follows or they are friends, she will get something out of it. I’m glad she picks nice people – sometimes that can be the biggest battle.

  5. Good God, I love this post! You get a warrior sticker mama, and you know how much I hate the whole ‘warrior mama’ thing! 😉

  6. akbutler says:

    I am in love with this so much.
    I am also going to forward this to our teachers. Our school hands out “gotchas” for kids who are doing things in line with the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, so if they catch a kid being responsible, respectful, intelligent, courageous or kind they get a “gotcha” (and there’s a raffle each month through the whole school). I know my son gets them when he interacts in a positive way with his peers…but I don’t know if the other kids get them for interacting with my son and pulling him in in a positive way. I love it. Thank you.

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow, you’re welcome! I’m glad you liked this idea. It sounds like you have everything in place for this to work for you as well. Your “gotcha”s are pretty much like our “warrior stickers” and just using them in interactions between the kids is an easy way to benefit everyone! Yay!

  7. Loved the positivity of the post apart from the great pictures. Looking at them brought back so many memories of my own childhood. Thank you.

    Shakti

  8. Patty says:

    This is soooo awesome! And look how easy it was for the teacher to promote play and interaction! I wish all teachers had this sort of vision! It doesn’t take a whole lot to help our kids learn to interact at school. This year, Danny’s teacher is really helping him reach out to others and I am so grateful for that!

  9. Lana Rush says:

    Wonderful! Amazing! Fantastic! And what a teacher!

    You know, if a sticker or some kind of reward is what it takes for other kids to approach someone who is a little different, I say – go for it! That little sticker is just a “gateway” to learning positive social interaction for ALL the kids, not just Toots. The sticker gets them to make the first step, learning Toots is fun and can be a good friend is what will keep them coming back! 🙂 Hooray! I’m so happy for you!

  10. Lisa says:

    I love so much about this post. Sounds like this school–and his teacher– are a good fit.

    The biggest deficit that Tate has would be social interaction. We JUST brainstormed about ways to get him to play and interact at his IEP meeting. I think I am going to share this with his teachers, too. His regular ed teacher was looking for some ideas, too. What an excellent tool for promoting citizenship and inclusion and to motivate those on the periphery to get out and interact together. Thanks, Karen!

  11. hoorayforhenry says:

    Love this! Happy tears for you and T. I am ecstatic the kids know how much fun they can have with T. And from his smiles, he looks like he’s having a ball!

  12. Oh I love this, what a great teacher for stepping up to the plate and what great kids for seeing how amazing your son is.

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