Article first published as Autism and Floor Play with Your Kids on Technorati.
One of the interesting behaviors that both my sons tend to exhibit that is unique to most children with autism is their relative willingness to socialize. My oldest child had a friend at his last school, and likes to play with other kids he knows. He loved playing with his cousins, as did my youngest son. Yet this is unique to children on the spectrum, as most find it difficult to socialize, even with their parents.
I hadn't thought much about it, because in our home we get down on the floor and play quite a bit with our kids. I remember when my oldest was a lot younger (shortly after he was diagnosed), he would often lose interest when we played. Now he can't wait, often tackling me when I sit down, just to right on my back. The difference is that I would play a lot with him, trying to get him to give me eye contact. I would sit and tickle him, praise him for giving eye contact, and tickle him again. We went the rounds quite a bit, and he still loves to be tickled.
Apparently, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Children who received the Early Start Denver Model therapy saw a significant change in their brain functions relating to normal social behavior, normalizing those functions to coincide with the control group. The study was well done, and fascinating to read.
Of course, this begs the question: what is the Early Start Denver Model, and what does it have to do with playing with your kids? Well, the Denver Model is a version of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy that takes the therapy to the floor with the child. Parents can quickly learn to use this method to help their children, and it all comes from integrating play with the therapy. I'm sure there is a lot more that goes along with it, but the core is teaching while playing. Early Start Denver Model is specifically designed for those children between the ages of 12 and 48 months to help them while their brain is developing.
So it seems that while I was playing with my son, I was implementing, at least in a rudimentary form, the Denver Model to help his development. From that period he gained some pretty impressive skills for his age at the time, and they have helped him as he goes through school now.
How did I get the idea for playing with the kids all the time in order to reinforce behavior? Well, my parents did the same thing while we were younger. I knew what to focus on because the psychologist that evaluated our oldest had told us, "work on his eye contact". So that's what we did, and apparently it worked.