Developing play and leisure skills can be particularly challenging for children and young people with autism. This may be because it is difficult to learn from their peers (for example watching a classmate playing with a new toy may not mean that the child is able to play appropriately with the same toy); because it is difficult to know how to approach someone in the playground and initiate a new game; or may be because other behaviours become a barrier their participation.
All children and young people at TreeHouse have play and leisure skills programmes as part of their curriculum. This may include learning how to play the games that their brothers and sisters enjoy playing at home so that they can join in with them, or learning the rules of a ‘cool’ new game that their friends at mainstream are playing. Pupils may also be taught some leisure activities that they can enjoy safely with less supervision at home, for example learning how to watch a video for 15 minutes whilst their family or carer makes an important telephone call.
During outdoor playtime primary pupils have access to an exciting playground filled with a wide range of equipment including a trampoline, the ‘flying-fox’ zip line, climbing frames, swings, bikes, scooters, balls, sand and water. Teachers use this time to encourage communication, social interaction and initiative taking. Many pupils initially need targeted teaching to help them learn how to use each piece of equipment safely and appropriately. They may also have programmes designed to develop their turn taking, waiting and sharing skills as well as how to follow (or decide upon) a schedule of different activities within a playtime (rather spending the whole playtime ‘stuck’ doing the same activity).
Secondary pupils are able to choose whether to spend their breaks outside, playing games such as football, basketball or Trampolining, or whether to purpose leisure interests inside, such as practising a musical instrument, reading, or playing sports games on the Wii. Lunchtime enrichment activities include a ‘singing and signing choir’, cycling, and gardening club. Pupils choose whether or not to attend enrichment activities based upon their interests and things they enjoy doing. Often pupils need to have the opportunity to try an activity a few times before deciding if it is something they like doing. Pupils are always supported to communicate their personal preferences.