January 23, 2012

The Friendship Track Visual Tool

One of my 5th grade students with Asperger's started the school year with the goal of making friends. I was pleased to see that he had been able to maintain the one friendship he made last year across the summer. This was a huge leap for him. At one of our first Social Thinking groups of the year, he set the goal of trying to expand his network of friends. The glitch for him is that he struggles to see the connection between moments when he shows "unexpected" social behaviors and the reactions of other students. As fabulous as Michelle Garcia Winner & Stephanie Madrigal's Superflex (c) curriculum is, he had outgrown it. I had to figure out a new way to help him see the connection. And so, the Friendship Track was born...

I found a simple Google image of a train track with switches that split off to multiple tracks. I added a yellow arrow (his favorite color) for the straight track. He and I defined the types of behaviors that other kids would feel were friendly and respectful.

Next, we defined behaviors that would cause other kids to not want to hang out with him (picking his nose, being bossy, turning his body away from the group when others were speaking to him, etc.)  and labeled it the orange track.

Finally, we defined behaviors that caused other kids to completely avoid him or be fearful of him (physical or verbal aggression, physically out of control behaviors, etc.). These were labeled the red track, which split off dramatically and headed off the cliff.

Through our conversation, I explained that when he used expected behaviors he was traveling down that straight path that created friendly thoughts and feelings in others. The yellow track was the shortest and fastest path to travel to the goal he had set of making friends. However, sometimes he engaged in behaviors that either annoyed his classmates -- like making noises in class or bossing them around.  Those behaviors would switch him onto the orange track. It was still possible to make his way back onto the yellow friendship track, but it would take some effort and a little time to change those feelings and thoughts in others. Finally, we focused on the effect of "big" behaviors like being verbally or physically aggressive or refusing to follow directions. When he engaged in those behaviors he sent himself onto the red track. It was still possible to eventually work his way back to the yellow track, but the visual of heading off the cliff made it very clear that it would take considerable time and effort to change the thoughts and feelings of others when he engaged in behaviors that alienated or scared his classmates.

I laminated a visual to remind the student of what kind of behaviors are seen on the different tracks and attached it to his binder. This semester I had him begin to rate himself after each class period regarding what track he traveled in his interactions with peers and teachers. He logs the information in his data collection system daily which goes home to his parents. This has helped him become more accountable for improving his relationships with others.
I've been pleased to see that this visual has been a powerful tool to help this student make the connection between his behavior and the effect it has on his social success. I also created mini train tracks as visuals for my Teaching Assistant and I to keep on our lanyards. We are able to quickly and subtly cue the student when he begins to engage in unexpected behavior. The visual helps him remember to "stay on track".
                           I hope you find this to be helpful  ~ Kelley

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