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Social Butterfly: Social Interaction Game for Children with Autism
Carol Bennet 03/24/2020 01:40 AM CST


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by hampered social communication and interaction combined with problems in behaviors and interests. Additionally, most children suffering from autism have also impairments of learning and language delays or disorders. However, it should be noted that there is a group of the so-called “high-functioning” children with autism who possess well-developed language and cognitive skills. The symptoms of ASD usually begin early in life, in the first two years, though care should be taken to distinguish its diagnostic picture from other developmental problems, such as severe general developmental delay, language disorder and hyperkinetic and attentional disorders. Overall, individuals with ASD may repeat particular behaviors or demonstrate unusual ones, focus on certain interests or things, demonstrate abnormal eye contact, ignore other people, and show unusual reactions to their emotions. Besides, they do not respond to their names, have linguistic impairments (like echolalia) combined with inappropriate movements, mimics, and gestures. Sensory difficulties include being oversensitive to temperature, light, noise, textures of food or clothing. In order to get an idea about the prevalence of ASD among American populations, it is useful to familiarize oneself with the reports of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Thus, among the sites covered by ADDM surveillance, 14.7 per 1,000 (one in 68) children aged 8 years have ASD (with variance from 5.7 to 21.9). Concerning gender differences, approximately one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls are diagnosed with the disorder. Importantly, 31% of individuals demonstrate intellectual disability (IQ ?70), 23% in the borderline range (IQ = 71–85), and 46% in the average or above average range of intellectual ability (IQ >85).

The Population of Special Needs Children

Due to the abnormal development of many spheres of personality, children with autism have serious difficulties and need special attention and help. Even before the diagnosis is stated (normally, at the age of two), parents can detect particular deviancies in a child’s development. The earliest indicators of the autistic syndrome include isolation and failure to play along with a seeming deafness, empty gaze. At the same time, healthy babies show the signs of the needs and desire to interact with other people early in life. For instance, they look at their parents with interest and pleasure, turn to the person calling them or telling something, grasp a finger or touch mother’s face, and smile to those communicating with them. On the contrary, the children with ASD have difficulties interacting with other human beings; they cannot attract attention, respond to others, smile, involve with peers because it seems they just ignore them as if deaf. Parents also complain that children cannot master movements, display restlessness and hyperactivity, as well as delays in speech production.

Starting with the first year of living, children with autism demonstrate behaviors which signal of their problems in learning, adapting to society, and overall complications of productive functioning if compared to normally developing children. Thus, it is difficult for them to settle social contacts because they lack smile, necessary gestures, emotional and facial expressions, or eye contact. After all, they start ignoring people and prefer being alone; such children do not even look at or listen to other humans, point to objects, respond to the own names, and hate being touched.

Normal children quickly learn to read and understand social cues, which help them interpret other people’s feelings and intentions. At the age of five, healthy children already can understand gestures, facial expressions, and in such a way they properly recognize others’ perspectives and goals. All these vital skills are hindered in the children suffering from autism. Furthermore, learning ability of children with ASD is significantly hampered due to many factors. First of all, they have a wide range of health problems that hinder learning and adaptation to the outer world, including hypotonia, poor attention, and impairment of all sensory organs, such as hearing, visual, and motor development. In such a way, orientating in the environments is hampered from the very first months of life as troubled children cannot master appropriate behaviors, which could help them achieve normal adaptation and social learning. On the contrary, they engage in abnormal behaviors and communicative deviancies and suffer from the motor, language, and cognitive insufficiency.

Social Development as a Focus of the Social Butterfly Game

The Social Butterfly game I invented for the children with ASD concentrates on the development of social skills vital for constructive adaptation in society. The principal concept belying the theoretical framework of this tool is in compliance with the majority of developmental research that places social capacities in the center of attention in regard to children’s early development. It is hard to overstate the role of efficient social skills in life of a human being since these behaviors ensure successful interaction with others and the whole environment. Furthermore, highly-functioning social skills constitute favorable conditions for a child’s academic efficiency and still later in life, career efficacy and professional fulfillment.

The importance of social development of any child is evident from numerous attempts by researchers to suggest effective methods on how to enhance these capacities to interact. For instance, some researchers mention the creation of special classrooms, playing opportunities, direct teaching techniques – all following the goal of fostering social development. Still this task becomes more vital as well as complicated when dealing with ASD children. Due to their peculiarities of all the personality spheres, which hamper appropriate social evolvement, educators and caregivers should seek to meet the challenges by elaborating specific, appropriate methods.

Since it is vital to focus on a child’s social skills in the formative early years, one should create the most favorable conditions for their improvement, especially for children with disabilities. Game is an effective means to enhance social learning; it can help to develop such vital skills as empathy, group cooperation, generosity, helpfulness, communicating, negotiating, and problem-solving. All of these key capacities are hampered by the above-mentioned peculiarities of children with autism. Therefore, I attempted to account for these difficulties in organizing the current game.

Social Skills as a Focus

I decided to focus my game on a multi-faceted development of children with ASD, including sensory, emotional, and cognitive spheres, the personality as a whole, whereby putting an emphasis on alleviating social symptoms of autism. The participants of my game engage in playing with bright, colorful toys possessing expressive faces, which demonstrate vivid, easily-identifiable emotions. For instance, one toy is experiencing joy, another one – anger, fear and other basic emotions. The plot of the game is made up by an educator for every particular episode, the condition of which allows flexibility of the activities and one more important factor. The latter is the importance of accounting for individual peculiarities of a concrete group and its participants. By introducing alterations to the plot and content of activities, it is possible to take into account individual differences and needs of children, as well as their progress and developmental dynamics.

For instance, children can be requested to help one of the sad toys find its friends (all the other toys with identical facial expression). In addition, the educator has to make the toy produce appropriate movements, gestures, and other cues, which will prompt the child of the toy’s intentions and feelings. Such a task can serve as a means to teach the children with autism to identify and understand particular emotions and people’s goals. Researchers highlight that such children have difficulties establishing positive social interaction due to their inability to understand and properly interpret the feelings and thoughts of other people. Thus, the described activity will teach them to read social cues presented in various facial expressions, gestures, and movements.

Furthermore, my game will teach young participants to control and regulate their own emotions, which is also vital for establishing an effective social interaction with people. For instance, children can be suggested a number of questions and incentives, which would make them choose the toys with positive emotions and then try to imitate them.

The Influence on Personality

The Social Butterfly game has to enhance all the aspects of growing personality, including motivational sphere and functioning of psychological processes. In particular, researchers highlight that children with ASD have problems in organization and attention. More specifically, it is a challenge for them to focus and sustain attention on important and typically interesting subjects. At the same time, they can exert over fixation on the things that present unexpected interest to them. In this regard, scholars speak about necessity to form the so-called “joint attention”.

Taken these points into consideration, I will apply the game as a means to positively influence all the qualities of attention as a vital psychological process, including the ability to shift attention that must be trained to become fast enough. For illustration, I can ask the participants to detect the differences in the toys which are almost identical, but have only slight alterations in, for example, certain items of clothing, coloring of separate parts, hair, eyes, ears, or similar small details. Except for interest of a child in another subject (that is also important for establishing effective social relationships), such an activity will improve cognitive skills, attention, and other psychological processes, such as memory, imagination, and thinking.

In the end, multi-faceted development of a child’s personality and integrated approach to its functioning in a group of peers will enhance their own positive self-acceptance and self-esteem. Additionally, the group must include children without any deviations from the norm or problems in emotional and social spheres. In accordance with the claim of researchers, the inclusion of healthy, well-functioning peers will supply the troubled individuals with positive role-models of productive social behaviors. In the end, consistent practicing and achieving substantial outcomes in shaping constructive changes will allow the children with autism to become more mature emotionally and raise their own self-evaluation. 

Healthy Relationships and Working with Others

Playing in small groups, as suggested in my game, will create the conditions which will imitate the interactions of the whole society and surrounding world. By designing a small model of social interaction and communication with healthy and special needs children as participants, I can supply all of them with the opportunities to develop the abilities to communicate and co-operate.

The children with autism experience problems in communication with others due to their inability to produce appropriate reactions to the attempts of parents or peers to interact with them. For instance, healthy toddlers start pronouncing words, turn in response to their own name, point to the object they want, or show with a clear gesture or mimic when they dislike something. The children with ASD demonstrate various degrees of speech impairment: while some remain utterly mute and unable to master linguistic system, others are capable of producing monologues. However, they lack the skills that would enable them to engage in a conversation with other people because of the problems with understanding. Based on such scientific observations, I have created the game that will pay special attention to the task to teach children with autism how to cooperate with other children and adults. Specifically, I will teach them to understand the meanings of different gestures, facial expressions, the tone of voice, and imitate these cues in appropriate situations. I think social learning and following the examples of productively functioning peers and adults are effective strategies for dealing with the impairments caused by ASD.

In conclusion, the children experiencing troubles caused by autism disorder need special attention and early intervention. In the first place, purposefully organized learning activities must focus on fostering their social skills since they are crucial for life improvement and productive functioning in the society. Besides, the development of communication and interaction competencies can contribute to the harmonious evolvement of other aspects of a child’s personality, including motor, sensory, cognitive, and motivational facets. All of these skills experience adverse effects of autism, which is the reason for designing the tasks and activities aimed at their development. The game described in the current paper focused on the above-mentioned goals and conceptual baselines. It proposed activities which could create favorable conditions for the emotional, cognitive, social, and general development of children with autism.

Carol Bennet, writer at