From Vacuums to Water Towers

My boys are obsessed with football. Isaac constantly spouts random football facts to me. He tells me how fast John Ross ran at the last combine (Who the heck is John Ross?). He remembers exactly how many games every team won this year. Football posters cover all of the boy’s rooms and we have a hundred different footballs lying around our house. Football games consume every television in my house during the fall.

Having a favorite activity or area of interest is not uncommon. For individuals with autism, however, these interests may become obsessions. This is only an issue if the interest becomes a barrier to life activities. One student who loved cars greeted each person who walked into the room with, “what kind of car do you drive?”. Once he knew that information, he never forgot it. It took this student months (and many curse words) to learn appropriate greetings.

These special interests can be used in a positive manner. Last year, Sophie’s teacher included her in making her behavior chart. Sophie loves sharks, so Mrs. Huffman let her pick different sharks for her chart. Sophie also gave input on the preferred activities she earned. This gave her more buy-in to the system and about half way through the year, she no longer needed the chart because she learned to manage her behavior without it!

When I was teaching, I used student’s interest areas for a variety of activities. One student loved water towers. He had a flip book made of water tower pictures that he earned as reinforcement. Another student loved the vacuum. At the end of the day, he vacuumed the classroom. Other special interests my friends have had include: the color pink, the US flag, drains, alphabet letters, pipes, fans, Little Golden Books, Thomas the Train, Pokemon cards, the letter X, tiny stuffed animals, dinosaurs, trains, and Lightning McQueen among many, many others. I created many token boards, social narratives and picture books using special interests. I also created independent work tasks and file folders using pictures or objects related to the student’s favorite things.

Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz wrote, “Just Give Him the Whale”. In this book, Kluth explains how to positively incorporate a student’s special interest into activities to maximize learning. This book includes 20 chapters full of concepts such as, “To Help Minimize Anxiety” and “To Encourage Chit-Chat.” Kluth and Schwarz provide tips to incorporate vacuums and water towers in meaningful and positive ways! This is a great resource for parents or teachers. You will find it under my Product Spotlight.

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