Many of you know that my oldest daughter was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum last fall. Officially, it's PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified), which means that she has autism-related delays in speech, motor skills, and social skills. In many ways, this has been a relief, because we now have a strategy to help her overcome her difficulties so that she can move through this social world in an easier manner. Right now, she attends a special needs preschool every weekday for three hours. She has speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy once a week for an hour each.
While these are great, I often feel like it's not enough. An hour once a week doesn't feel like enough for me, and no matter how many times I've asked, I can't get her therapists to send home exercises and activities to do at home. We're on the list for further services from the county, but we're still waiting to hear back. With money for these services always running short, we could be waiting a long time for additional help.
A few months ago, the Parent Bloggers Network asked if I would be interested in checking out a couple of DVDs that are intended for kids on the spectrum. These programs help teach basic social skills that are often hard for kids on the spectrum to learn: greeting someone, understanding emotions, keeping your cool, using your words, etc. Of course I wanted to give these a try.
The first one we tried was Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse vol. 1: Expressing Yourself. This DVD combines music and simple language to create a master class for autistic children on the topics of greetings and expressing emotions. The very first song is about how to say hello to someone, which includes waving or shaking hands, making eye contact, and saying "hi". I was impressed that they stressed eye contact - Cordy had a lot of trouble with that skill, and we constantly have to remind her to look at our eyes when she talks to us.
Verbal and non-verbal communication are addressed with each topic. When discussing feelings, all of the characters practice showing what someone looks like when feeling each emotion. It's hard for many autistic kids to "read" emotions on the faces of others, just like it's hard for them to express their own feelings. Cordy loved watching them practice each emotion, laughing at the silly faces, and trying to pick out the right emotion each time. (For the record, she still can't recognize angry, frustrated or sad faces.)
I really liked their use of an activity schedule to guide kids through the DVD. The activity schedule is a picture schedule showing what activity will come after each one is completed. Cordy responded well to the schedule - after a couple of viewings, she recognized the pictures and knew what was coming next. In the parent section of the DVD, the speech therapist said that kids on the spectrum often can't transition well between activities because they prefer the predictable and the routine, but as we all know, the world is a very unpredictable place. Moving from one activity to the next can be scary, so having a picture chart to refer to at all times can help provide some structure and prepare them for each transition. I'm thinking about setting up an activity schedule for our daily routine now.
The true test is: did Cordy like the DVD? Honestly, she wasn't that thrilled to watch it, and never requested it. But when I played it, she was drawn to the TV and would quietly watch and internalize the message. While she never asked for it, she still enjoyed watching it. She soaks up anything she watches on TV, and when she is tired or having a rough time, she often falls back on her "scripts," retreating inwards as she repeats entire conversations said on TV over and over again. (Thank goodness we don't let her watch anything other than preschool TV, right?) Now she's repeating some of Kibbles lessons also. And she's added "howdy" to her list of greetings.
The extras on this DVD are just as valuable as the actual program. The speech therapist and the two music therapists who helped design Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse talk about the theory behind the therapy and give parent strategies for incorporating music and speech therapies all day long. They explained that studies have shown that kids on the spectrum process pitch better in their brains better than the average person, meaning that music is a natural strength for them. This makes sense to me, because I know Cordy learns better when it is set to music.
They also discussed how their music is comforting to kids with autism, and how they used very structured music, with lots of repetition and minimal extra language to reinforce the lessons being taught. This was very effective for Cordy - she's only three, and a lot of extra words often confuses her and throws off her concentration. The speech therapist explained how they used video modeling to reinforce non-verbal cues and teach new scripts to kids who might not have a script in their heads for basic social interactions.
Overall, I was very impressed with Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse, and I recommend it for children with any kind of social developmental delays. Cordy is three years old and followed the 40 minute DVD fairly well, with only a few moments of wandering off. This probably wouldn't be as effective on kids who are younger than three, but I could see this as a useful tool for older kids. The DVD is made by NoteAbilites and can be found at Amazon. It also includes a sing-a-long CD for the car. Parent Bloggers will also be giving away a copy of both DVDs for this campaign - to enter, just click here and leave a comment on their blog post.
Check back Friday when I'll be reviewing another DVD for kids on the spectrum.