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Children with Autism usually have deficits in language, communication and social skills. One of the best ways to help them learn these skills is a circle time with a small group of children. However, this circle time must not be too long, and must be planned well in order for it to be effective. This article suggests ideas for a circle time schedule that can be used in a classroom, or playschool, to help children with autism.
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Orientation Time (2 minutes)
Circle time must preferably take place at the same time and place every day. A particular rug or mat can be used to mark the area where the children are to sit. You could also use a special signal like a bell to gather all the children for circle time. During orientation time, you can do a particular activity that you continue as a routine for every circle time. You could have a short attendance activity, sing a particular song, or say a rhyme. You could start with a greeting that all the children have to respond to.
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Warm Up Time (5 minutes)
Warm up time is intended to get the children to relax and get comfortable in their new environment. It also helps them transition smoothly into the new activity. During this time, you can explain the activity to the child, distribute the materials, and help the children get comfortable with the materials they are going to use.
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Activity Time (15-20 minutes)
The activity time is usually between 15-20 minutes, but it could even be as short as ten minutes depending on the children. Here are some of the various types of activities that you could use at circle time. For some activities, you can have one child come in front at a time and do the activity and the others watch. For other activities, all the children can work individually and finally bring their activity final product to the front and show it to everyone.
Physical activities are basically games that use physical skills like catching and throwing balls, crawling under a tunnel, jumping on a trampoline or doing an obstacle course.
Sensory activities are those that focus on any of the various sensations--vision, smell, touch, taste, hearing and movement. These activities include play dough activities, rolling on the ground, marching to music, guessing what’s in the bag based on touch or smell, etc. Sensory activities also help the development of sensory integration skills that are affected in autism.
Social and Language Activities:
Social and language activities aim at developing various social, language and communication skills. They could be identifying pictures, listening to a story, making animal noises, or practicing a particular social skill like please and thank you.
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Wind Down Time (5 minutes)
Wind down time is also designed to help children transition into the next activity. The children may come forward and show their finished activity. Children can also be involved in the process of putting back things after the activity. The teacher can show a picture or an object that depicts the next activity on the schedule to help prepare the children.
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This schedule is based on my own experience as an Occupational Therapist. Other professionals may prefer to conduct their circle times in a different way. This schedule can be modified according to the set up and the needs of the children.