What do Spaghetti and Marshmallows Have to do with Autism?

We woke up with the lark to prepare for today’s sibling and parents support groups. I translated some materials for today’s and the upcoming sessions, while the other members had fun doing some shopping and prepping the supplies we used today. We also did a scavenger hunt at our apartment where we collected some random objects and laughed at ourselves as we were competing who can put their hands on the objects first.

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(The fruits of our household scavenger hunt)
At 1:30, we headed to the center, half an hour earlier than our appointment, to organize the rooms, put chairs in pairs, and set up some of the materials that had to be arranged in advance. Then, parents and siblings started showing up (a bit late) to the support groups sessions. We started the sibling session with a warm up activity, where children were asked to say their names and one fun thing they did with their sibling with autism last week. One of the participants said with enthusiasm, “everything we did together was fun.” After we got everyone in the mood, we split the children into groups of two, where we asked them to pick small shell noodles with one hand in glove and the other hand behind their back. When siblings were asked to reflect on the activity, most of them agreed that it was hard, and frustrating at some instances. In order to further demonstrate how hard it is for children with autism to communicate their wants and needs, we asked the children to build the tallest tower possible from marshmallows and spaghetti with only one team member, we called the “leader”, speaking and giving directions to the other members. Kids really had an awesome time figuring out how to build the marshmallow-spaghetti tower and gorging themselves on the rest of the marshmallows afterwards. Masoud commented, “it was really hard communicating with my team without using any word. I wanted to tell them things I couldn’t communicate using signs.” Lina, 8 years old, added, “this activity was so much fun, but it was difficult for my team to listen to me when I tried to communicate using signs.” We wrapped up our activities for today with building-car-with-random-objects challenge. In this activity, speaking was prohibited for all members. One of the teams succeeded in building a car that runs by itself, while the other didn’t due to miscommunication. We ended the session with stressing on the importance of understanding that their siblings with autism find it difficult to communicate things typical children find simple and easy as well as asked them to bring a list 3 non-verbal ways their siblings with autism use to communicate.



The same activities were simultaneously taking place in the other room with the parents. The surprising thing is that the marshmallow activity was the favorite for the parents as well. We were also amazed by some of the questions and remarks some parents had. For example,  listening to Lama telling us, “After Functions of Behaviors training yesterday, I learnt to give Reema chips only after she finished her meal, so we shifted from two-hour meal flight into finishing a meal within five minutes,” filled us with joy. Others asked very meaningful questions like “Are TV and technology useful tools for teaching children with autism?”, “Does a child’s limited diet affect his development?”, and more.


Today was a very intense day at the center and it was followed by some preparation for tomorrow’s community lecture and make-up training for teachers and parents who missed either of  the previous ones. Our schedule for the next two weeks is going to be super crammed. Stay tuned to hear about some interesting stories from our trainings and sessions!

-Hana

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