Home Discussions Families Interdependence Creating tools to help students on the spectrum learn how to process social cues

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    Jessica Murray

    (This discussion was reposted with permission from a query via the STS “Contact Us” form.)


    I respect your writing and your courage to be forthright about being on the spectrum — you provide a resource that can only be guessed-at by a neurotypical person.

    I am a neurotypical parent with deep compassion for parents of children who are on the spectrum. I know two sets of parents who talk about their struggles in preparing their children on the spectrum to live independently. I expect the parents are terrified about who will take care of their children after they (the parents) pass. The parents are committed to helping their children learn how to deal with everyday life situations and the process is incredibly time-consuming.

    I am considering what sort of tools can be created to help viewers learn how to process social cues. This would give the parents of children on the spectrum a much-needed assist in preparing their children to integrate into society and maybe put some time back into the life of the parents so they can also be present for their spouse and other children.

    My initial thought was to create a virtual reality scenario in which the viewer walks into a room, chooses one of five selections as to what to say and do. Based upon the selection chosen, individuals in the room respond to the viewer.

    My neurotypical son remarked “We ALL need that.”

    Do you think creating a series of interactive videos or virtual reality experiences would help people on the spectrum and would it offload their parents? My objective is to create tools to benefit the parents as well as the children.

    What do you think would work better?


    This is Sara Sanders Gardner, not Arianne, but I saw your post and wanted to jump in with some thoughts. I hope you (and Arianne) don’t mind!

    What you’ve described is how some video games work – the characters respond based on how the player chooses. As an autistic person myself, I’m not sure how well that would teach someone how to respond in a real situation. Using skills across settings is our most difficult task, and this wouldn’t prepare us for that.

    Something that I have found to be immeasurably useful, though, is using Collaborative Problem Solving, which is researched based to increase Cognitive Flexibility, Frustration Tolerance and Problem-Solving skills across settings. It has recently been shown to also improve Executive Functioning Skills. I have personally used it for 17 years, and have taught thousands of families to use it as well. I currently use it in the college setting, teaching peer mentors to use it with autistic college students.

    To prepare your autistic student for life on their own, I would highly recommend learning and using Collaborative Problem Solving as much as possible, and getting everyone in your student’s life to do it as well, as much as is reasonably possible. You can learn about it at http://www.thinkkids.org or read about it in Stuart Ablon’s book “Changeable: How Collaborative Problem Solving Changes Lives at Home, at School, and at Work.”

    (I also used it with my now 28-year-old autistic son who recently purchased his own home and is living by himself, cooking, cleaning, getting to work, and doing all the things one does. Including holding down a full-time job.)

    Jessica Murray

    Thanks, Sara!
    Your reply got me thinking: what other books would you, our other contributors, or readers recommend, either on this specific topic or related ones?

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