Here’s a little known and useless fact about me. I can draw very realistic vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, trimmers and leaf blowers with my eyes closed. I can also draw very realistic versions of Spiderman, Scooby Doo, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Coraline and Sponge Bob complete with krabby patty spatula in under two minutes. These are just the characters and objects I can name off the top of my head.
Prior to becoming an SLP who treats Autism I had no previous art training. I wasn’t even interested in drawing as a kid. I played sports all through school and my art education ended around 6th grade.
Why am I bring this up on an Autism blog? It’s certainly not because I’m looking for a job as a cartoonist or thinking of changing professions. I’m bringing it up because the kids I treat are the reason I developed this somewhat unusual skill. Over the years I’ve had kids interested in lawn equipment, comic book characters, Disney characters, Sponge Bob and the list goes on and on.
I try to think about each client and plan my session around things that will be both fun and interesting to them as individuals. Occasionally, my attempt to follow this fun and interesting lesson plan totally bombs. It makes me wince to type that sentence, but it’s the truth. My first supervisor said something years ago that’s always stuck with me. “If you have a pencil and a piece of paper you can do speech therapy”. I’m not sure if she intended that I learn to draw lawn equipment or cartoon characters; but I can assure you that if you can produce a fair to moderate Spiderman for a Peter Parker fan sometimes you can save your lesson.
Here’s an example of how it works. Say you bring a board game to work on turn taking and the kid refuses. Draw Spiderman and tape him to your kid’s game piece. Now Spiderman has to play the game and sometimes that is a game changer (pardon the pun). If this doesn’t work you can draw an approximation of your kiddo and Spiderman playing the board game together and talk about them taking turns. Often, my patients are apprehensive the first session, but more comfortable after they’ve seen themselves doing something new or difficult on paper first. Putting your kid in the story with something they like can often yield some very interesting insights into the way they think and make what would be difficult work much easier.
I have very often been able to address several areas of communication by simply offering to draw a picture for a patient and asking them what kinds of things they want in the picture.
There are no rules for these picture stories except for the rules you decide to impose. A past patient had a very long running series of stories in which Spiderman and Coraline routinely went to the movies, the park and enjoyed eating cookies, chicken nuggets and drinking juice. In a later story, my patient’s entire family joined Spiderman and Coraline at the movies and they all ate M&M’s. Cookie Monster also made several cameos throughout this series.
These stories were fun for all human parties involved and I was surprised at how much of the things we talked about in the stories generalized to everyday life skills. I have many more examples, but you’d be reading for quite a while if I listed them all.
So if you’re stumped for new practice ideas give it a try. Most characters aren’t that hard to draw if you pull up a picture on your phone or have a reference at which to look. Just a word of advice, in my experience drawing a less than perfect version is better than printing out a perfect version.
There’s something about you being able to produce something the kid loves with your hands that makes it special. Remember, most kids don’t draw all that well and it’s kind of amazing to them when you demonstrate the ability to draw something that would be difficult for them to replicate. Many of my kids have patiently waited for me to pull up a picture on my iphone just so they could see me draw it on paper.
It’s also a great way to teach about making mistakes. If you mess up you can say “Whoops! I messed that up. It’s okay, I can fix it.” (make sure you have an eraser) It’s a good way for them to learn that some mistakes are fixable and that there is a waiting process to fixing those mistakes. The best thing about this tip is that if you try it and it bombs; You’re only out a sheet of paper 🙂