Does your son or daughter with ASD have difficulty remembering special events? Is it hard to have a conversation with him or her about shared experiences? Reminiscing about favourite times together helps build family bonds. Being able to reflect back on past experiences can help the individual with ASD make decisions about what to do in new situations. As well, building autobiographical memories is thought to contribute to the development of a sense of self. Difficulties communicating or weaknesses in the development of episodic memories may be contributing to your child’s challenges in remembering and reflecting on past experiences.
Summer is a time when many of us do special things with our children and is a great time to try the following:
- Take your camera or cell phone (with a camera) everywhere! When your child shows an interest in something, take a picture or video of him looking at or interacting with the item. Make a comment at the time that describes what you are seeing (e.g. “I think you’re really interested in that bug.” Or “You looked like you were having lots of fun on that swing!”)
- Collect remnants from the activities you do together. An ice cream wrapper, a ticket stub, or a leaf are examples of remnants that may help trigger memories for your child.
- Review the photos, movies or remnants together. You can build a scrapbook, create a slide show in Powerpoint or create a book on an IPad. It doesn’t have to be expensive or beautiful, but rather something you can enjoy doing together. Let your child help decide which photos or remnants to use. Label the photos or remnants with short sentences that describe the feelings of the participants (e.g.. “Mom was so proud when I went tubing with her. I had a blast!)”
- When you’re having a hard time finding meaningful or engaging activities for your child, have him look at the book or choose new items to include in the book. (By “book” we mean either a physical book or an electronic “book” on the computer.) This can be a great rainy day activity.
- Keep the books accessible and try to build in regular times to review the book together. One family we know read the book together as part of their bedtime story routine. They created a variety of books over the years and one of their son’s favourites includes pictures of him as a toddler playing with his siblings.
- A caution: try not to make the process of building a book together a “test”. Don’t ask your child a lot of questions about the pictures or remnants or demand that he point to items or people in the pictures (e.g., Who is that? Show me Uncle Bob. Where’s Sammy?) . Instead, model the language and comments that you hope he will internalize (e.g.. “I remember that day. We had such fun at the park until it started to rain. But then we got ice cream!”). Let your child set the pace and include quiet intervals so he has the opportunity to communicate too.
To help get you started, you might want to check out any of the myriad of sites on the internet on scrapbooking. We typed “family scrapbook ideas” into our search engine and found lots of helpful information. If you have an IPad or an IPod Touch, you might be interested in one of their photo album apps. And, if you’re more comfortable in a Windows environment, Office Powerpoint is a very easy tool to use to build a book of memories.