Friday Lesson: Activities Adaptable for Use With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Courtesy of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez|

As the incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder continues to skyrocket (CDC report, December 2009) clinicians across the country are realizing the impact. Increasing demand for interventions that are effective with children and youth with serious social deficits, as well as those who present with an inability to learn from typical language-based interventions has challenged the traditional approach to individual counseling.

The Power of One: Using Adventure and Experiential Activities Within One on One Counseling is a beacon of light to therapists struggling to work effectively with individuals who present with symptoms of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. It contains 29 activities that the authors have earmarked as easily adaptable for use with children and youth with Asperger’s Disorder, for example. Two that are especially useful, called Key Position and the Bridge, are guaranteed to enhance the repertoire of everyone working with this population. The Key Position Activity from Power of One follows:

Key Position Activity
Place two small carpet squares (or washclothes or small tarp pieces) on the floor within arms reach of each other. Under each square, place a key. The larger the square, the easier the challenge. Invite your client to stand on one square and you stand on the other. The challenge is for you to get your key (the one under your client’s feet) and your client to get his/her key (from under your feet) at the same time without either of you touching the ground!

Matching Activity: Potential Themes or Metaphors for Learning
• Making Decisions: What strategies did you use to get the key? How did you use resources available to you? What happened when (if) you got frustrated?
• Relationship: How did cooperation help you to succeed? How did you help both of us get the keys? What kind of help did you request? What kind of help did you receive? Where do you help others in your life? When do you ask for help? What is it like to accept help? What was it like for you when we both had to climb on board one carpet square/spot? How do you think trust played a part in successfully completing this activity? How about safety?
• Keys: Sometimes the “key” to our problems seems to be hidden. What is a key that seems out of reach to you right now? How can we uncover that so that you can use it?

Facilitation Considerations:
• Easily applicable to: This activity works well with all disorders. It is particularly useful for engagement with the client in a collaborative problem-solving process that mirrors the treatment contracting phase of counseling. It may be particularly useful for clients who present resistance to engagement in goals for treatment which often includes Asperger’s Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and ODD.
• Most common age range: Late elementary through adult.
• Typical level of risk: Low. The personal closeness required to exchange keys and the possibility of competition developing between therapist and client add a low level of risk to this activity.
• Level of personal skills required from clients:
• Average problem-solving and communication skills.
• Some physical coordination and flexibility.
• Level of client buy-in required: Some willingness to engage with the therapist is required. We often use this activity to enhance buy-in to the treatment goals.
• Personal and physical space issues: Physical space required is minimal. However, this activity can bring up personal space issues for some clients and requires attention from the therapist before initiation of the activity.
• Sequencing of the activity: We often use this activity after two or more sessions (the late part of the beginning phase of treatment) to enhance engagement in treatment goals, as well as to assess the client’s current experiential functioning in areas of problem-solving, communication skills, and personal boundary issues.

Adapting Facilitation
• Set up the activity so that each person has only to get his/her own key OR has only to get the other person’s key. How does competition affect strategies?
• Name/label the key with something that the client needs to access more often.
• Frame the activity as parallel to what you are doing in the counseling sessions. You have things that you are working together to accomplish—each of you has to do your part, and most importantly, you both have to agree upon what you are trying to do.

Funn Stuff – Vol. IV by Karl Rohnke.

This lesson is compliments of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez. To find more information and to contact the authors, please visit:

Thanks for joining us in February, 2010 for Friday Lessons. Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez are the coauthors of The Power of One.

Leave a Reply

Wood 'N' Barnes: | 2309 North Willow, Suite A | Bethany, Oklahoma 73008 | Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved