Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cool New Link for Autism--Mouse Skills Broken Down

Update: Due to legal issues between the parties, the link to the switch activities is temporarily disabled--and just in time for the new school year, too. I will keep checking for a resolution and will search for alternatives! Thank you to Dave for pointing out the broken link.

I've a new on-line resource for those of you homeschooling or supplementing the public schooling of your child with Autism. 

Introducing mouse skills to children with sensory issues can be a real struggle. There are double clicks, clicks and drags, roller ball rolls, right clicking, not to mention what happens when you move the mouse around. Then if you turn your gaze slightly to one side there is also the visually and auditorily tempting display of all those tappity squares and rectangles (keys) on the keyboard. In a child with sensory deficits too many choices at the wrong time can lead to confusion, an overload, a tantrum or a freeze. This lesson is designed to eliminate as many sensory elements as possible and then reintroduce them in a controlled manner. Without modification this lesson would be great for teaching a toddler mouse skills, if you were so inclined.

The primary goals are to introduce and develop computer mouse skills. Secondarily, language and social skills are reinforced.

Go to this link, and find the "Cause and Effect" section. Here you will find activities that break down the mouse skills individually by deactivating functions of the mouse and keyboard. The activities are downloadable. They are not arranged by skill level, so you will have to preview and analyze each lesson in order to introduce only one new mouse skill at a time as you progress.

My son, Simon, and I began with the activities described as "for switch videos" or "for switch and touch-screen videos." In these activities you can choose from a touch screen or a mouse format. These are very simple activities that allow only one "switch" to be active. For the duration of the activity the keyboard will be inactive as well as all options on the mouse except for the left options. The mouse display icon will move across the screen in response to mouse movement, but this does not affect the lesson. As long as the left button is clicked, it does not matter where the mouse icon is on the screen.

We began the lesson with Simon and I alone. He was seated on my lap; both of us were facing the computer screen. The mouse was to the right. The keyboard was to the left. As we progressed through the lesson, we  introduced Simon's brother and sisters into the activity and called it a "family dance." Simon was our DJ! We chose the Madagascar "Move It" switch and touch screen activity.

Set up
1. Simon was on my lap with the mouse in easy reach.
2. To limit the visual input near the mouse button, our chair was against the right hand wall. When the other children joined us later in the lesson, they occupied the space on our left to avoid visually interfering with the mouse button or screen.
3. The lesson was already downloaded and set up to run. I had run through it to test it.

Introduce the skill
1. I demonstrated the skill to be learned by clicking the button while saying, "Click!" The song and cartoon playing is it's own immediate reward.
2. As each new animal appeared, I named the animal. When all appeared together, I categorized them by saying, "Zoo animals!"

Guided Practice
1. To prompt Simon to take his turn, I said, "Simon, click!" (using a cheerful tone. I repeated the tone and delivery as exactly as possible each time in order to limit the addition of any new auditory cues)
2. I gently nudged his elbow to prompt his hand towards the mouse and repeated, "Simon, click!"
(If this does not occur or if nudging from the elbow is not enough of a prompt, try moving his hand from underneath and placing it on the mouse while repeating the command to click. If necessary, push his finger down on the button while asking the child to click. It is important to arrange these cues in such a way that the child "sees" himself performing the required action as much as possible. If your hand is in the dominant position, the child will "see" you as the actor, not himself. Whenever possible, try to keep your hand out of the child's line of sight.)
3. Once he clicked the button we repeated the naming of the animals using the same tone and delivery each time.

Independent Practice/Skill Development

As Simon became more comfortable with the task we asked the other kids to join us. The children were eager to listen to the dance and watch the slideshow. They prompted Simon to click verbally and through pointing. Simon smiled when they were obviously pleased with him after he clicked the mouse. He watched them dance and watched the screen. He needed no prompting to repeat the song several times. He was very quick to click the mouse after the other kids joined in the activity!


Simon was able to maintain the entire activity for about 20 minutes even though the last 7 or 8 minutes was loud and boisterous with the other children dancing around. I should have ended the activity with an "All Done?" signal of some sort and then allowed him to continue if he wished. This type of formality and recognizable structure is very important to a person who has difficulty negotiating social interactions. It allows him to relax as it eliminates sudden and unexpected changes. Instead our activity ended without a formal acknowledgement of a transition: when he asked to get down I allowed him to go. He hung around for a few seconds, bouncing a bit, and then he left the room to run up and down the hall. The bouncing and the running indicate that he was slightly overstimulated but he dealt with it in appropriate ways and without a tantrum. The other children continued the activity, and Simon even continued to participate from the hallway by mimicking portions of the song! We were happy he found a way to continue to interact with the family while dealing with his needs.

Overall, it was a success. I hope this helps you in designing some "lessons" of your own!

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