Those who love, care for, befriend, and teach children with Asperger’s disorder or similar social communication deficits are familiar—and yes, even comfortable—with their particular, idiosyncratic, and often pedantic conversational styles. As the adults in their lives, we become proficient at supporting, guiding, and redirecting their interactions with us, adjusting our interests to accommodate their preferred topics and areas of expertise. We also ask for clarifications, explanations, and dig for information to facilitate more socially pertinent conversations and broaden personal topics. With peers or less familiar adults, however, the social interaction weakness in our youngsters is often glaringly evident and debilitating.
Difficulties identifying and disclosing narratives regarding personal experiences, valued associations, or meaningful interests can impede an ability to establish a mutual foundation with others on which to build lasting and satisfying reciprocal relationships. All the social scripting, social stories, and good intentions combined are not sufficient to provide our youngsters with an improved and increased sense of identity or the right “ingredients” for more meaningful social communication.
For the past five weeks, second-, third-, and fourth-graders in Mrs. Buddenbaum’s class have been developing their own unique scrapbooks. With the kind efforts of their families, we are collecting wonderful photos to help illustrate the people, events, and information important and relevant to our students. These are augmented with images from magazines and the internet and embellished with stickers, drawings, and text. Initial scrapbook pages contain factual, general information common to the types of topics we all include in casual conversations: early history, immediate family, pets, classroom membership, etc. Subsequent pages increasingly disclose more personal information such as significant events, items of emotional value, friendships, hobbies, future goals, and more.
In the first weeks of this activity, the impact, though currently contained within the groups, has been unexpected and immediate. It is remarkable to see small groups of boys with well-established conversation rituals involving simultaneous, cursory monologues, become excited and curious about each others’ photographs and information. Even on the very first day as the boys sat around baskets of scissors, glue, stickers, and paper with baby pictures in hand, the spontaneous reciprocal conversations took place. Not only did boys tell group-mates about family stories regarding their birth or first toy, but they huddled over all their scrapbook pages “oooh-ing,” complimenting one another on how cute they each were as infants, and asking questions. One group of boys gathered around to look at one boy’s sonogram. “Look!” exclaimed a peer. “Your baby hands were already practicing how to hold a video-game controller—even in your mom’s belly!” And so began an unexpected conversation about what talents they each thought they had been born with, and just one example of the regular delights brought about by scrapbooking. The activity is structured and certainly encouraged by the adult guiding the groups, but the communication between the students is often surprising, spontaneous, funny, poignant, and very, very social.
As our scrapbooks gain substance we will display them in the classroom for review during set times so that more peers can tell their stories, share information, and ask questions with support of the classroom staff. In the future, scrapbooks will be sent home to facilitate social conversations with extended family and friends. What a lovely experience it could be for a grandparent to contribute a special picture, and work with their grandchild to add a page to a scrapbook!
Although the “All About Me” scrapbooking intervention is in its infancy at Y.A.L.E. North, the early observations are encouraging and constructive. We look forward to expanding it to other classes and age groups, and developing a method to more formally assess the effectiveness of this promising method of improving our students’ relevant and reciprocal social communication.