This summer, we broke tradition at CIP Long Beach with scheduling our social thinking sessions differently. Instead of having two 45 minute sessions per week, we incorporated block scheduling and met for 1 hour and 30 minutes once per week. The rationale was to emphasize quality time over quantity and to have more time to go on field trips. For the first time, we had enough time for lawn bowling, swimming, going to El Dorado Park, cooperative cooking with 8 people, going to the Lakewood Mall, going to Yoga at the Beach, walking around Naples Canal and going to Rosie’s dog beach.
The benefits have been wonderful as 9 students compared to 2 students wanted to see this block scheduling again in the fall semester. The students were also grouped according to having similar social skill competencies. Attendance and participation in these groups were high, and students began suggesting places that we could go for future sessions. Pretty soon, the social skills coordinator no longer had to plan for sessions as students took initiative and advocated that they wanted to try to mix with others at the mall or at the dog beach. The students’ favorite activities were going to the Lakewood Mall, participating in swimming games, Rosie’s dog beach, walking in El Dorado Park and participating in lawn bowling.
In addition, we participated in three community events that included Polly’s Pies for a fun game night, the Costa Mesa Adventure Run, and yoga at the beach. Through those activities, students learned to valuable social lessons. For example, one student learned that when people are quietly doing yoga, that it was important to be quiet when calling out to peers when ready to leave. Another student learned that strangers may not be as warm to students with learning differences; however, it was important to educate the general public that students with learning differences could interact with neurotypicals and develop friendships. One student initially had difficulty finishing long hikes and learned to act in a more adult-like manner and complete a hike with 25 other people and to be flexible dining later than usual.
Due to block scheduling, we were able to raise our student participation to 94% for community meetups. Our students are able to meet people outside of CIP and branch outside of their comfort zones. Previously, students questioned whether we could have a game night at Polly’s Pies given that it was a family restaurant, however, they got use to meeting people that they were initially unfamiliar with to play games. In addition, the members of meetup upon meeting our students were delighted with them and informed me that they looked forward to having future meetups with our students.
During the Theory of Mind sessions, students reported that they found the Sheriff of Nottingham, the Farm Animals game and Cash and Guns to be good games to develop perspective-taking. The students were entertained as they tried to anticipate what their peers would do in a given situation and each took turns taking on leadership roles. For example, in the Sheriff of Nottingham, students had to take turns being the “sheriff” and inspecting each other’s bags for appropriate goods. It was wonderful to see students who had no modules randomly join our sessions because they enjoyed the social stimulation and preferred to spend time with each other rather than spending time alone.