Friday, February 11, 2011

Social Group Stories: A "Wallace & Gromit" Skit Making Experience

I have only recently embarked on my adventures in holding social skills groups.  I mainly use the Social Thinking material developed by Michelle Garcia Winner (MGW... because I am too lazy to type it over and over).  She suggests "Wallace & Gromit" programs to help teach a number of the key ideas for thinking with our eyes, what's my plan/intentions, perspective/point of view.  She also suggests video taping and group projects to emphasize learning to work together.  So about three months into my work with one particular group of boys, I decided "why not combine all of that into one scenario".  The result was an interesting experience for all of us. 

This group of teenage boys ranges from 12-15 years old.  They have various diagnoses including Aspergers, FAS, ADHD, and non-specific developmental disorders.  Some are too talkative while others need lots of prodding to speak up.  All of them enjoy video games and movies.  We have had a number of discussions about Star Wars and Narnia.  The basic scenario of most kids like this is that look essentially neurotypical (average) but they do not view or process the social world the way most do.  For neurotypical people social skills develop naturally.  We don't have to think very hard about how to interact, it just happens, it is intuitive for us.  There are varying degrees of social development among neurotypicals with some of us more socially savvy than others, however we all function relatively well.  For kids with SPD, Social Pragmatic Disorders,(ASD, ADHD, LD, FAS, NVLD....), their lack of social understanding creates a significant problem for them.  They don't look disabled, SPD, so no one is patient or understanding with their mis-steps (not saying they should not be expected to follow rules, just that they need more clarification of the rules and more teaching & guidance).  So these are the kids who get into trouble all of the time in school for talking out, for getting into conflicts with others because they misunderstand the situations, other kids ostracize them because they seem "weird"... this happens everywhere including school, youth groups, scouts, small groups,etc.  These kids are generally cognitively typical: smart kids.  They know they are being ignored or singled out.  They get frustrated, angry, depressed, give up....  These kids are perfect candidates for Social Thinking programming.  Many social groups only script behaviors and role play.  This curriculum delves into why the child misses the cues and helps teach them the basics that most of us develop as toddlers:  using our eyes to read a situation, understanding the perspective of other people, and thinking about the environment and the communication partner.

So, one day we watched "Wallace & Gromit and the Wrong Trousers" as suggested in Social Thinking by MGW.  They really enjoyed discovering these characters.  Next we completed some worksheets I made up that were mini character studies of the three main characters: 
1.  Physicial:  How he looks:
       - bold, big ears, neatly dressed with a tie,
2.  Emotional/Mental: How does the character often "feel"/ his emotional or mental state of being:
       - intelligent/inventor, creative, jolly, trusting/naive, socially unaware/not really thoughtful of Gromit
         with the birthday present:  Social Perspective Impaired to some degree.
3.  Behavioral:  Mannerisms, facial expressions, etc.:
       - Often seemed surprised, depends a lot on Gromit for help
4.  Communication:  How does he communicate? List some phrases or gestures he often uses:
       -  Obviously speaks with a British accent, Lots of surprised phrases:  "O, My!",  "GROMIT!"
1. Physicial: How he looks:
     -Yellow Dog, big floppy ears, big head, wears a collar, big eyes
2. Emotional/Mental: How does the character often "feel"/ his emotional or mental state of being:
      - smart, observant, helpful, trustworthy, protective:  Great Social Perspective Taker
3. Behavioral: Mannerisms, facial expressions, etc:
      -Does human jobs (makes breafast), walks on two legs often, takes control of situations,
        keeps Wallace out of trouble
4. Communication: How does he communicate? List some phrases or gestures he often uses:
     -Does not talk, uses gestures, lots of facial expression involving eyes and eyebrows.

The boys expressed a good understanding of the character qualities and discussed how those qualities affected their perspectives of Penguin.

Then I suggested we create our own video based on the characters.  Here are the steps we followed
(mostly by trial and error) along with the lessons we learned along the way:

1.  Brainstorm ideas:  We decided on "Wallace and Gromit discover a Caveman".   This got the creative juices flowing and showed me some of the creativity or lack thereof (those who simply stated things from other cartoons, etc.) among the group.  We then narrowed down the ideas to 3, then 2, then 1.  This process required that all 3 agree rather than "majority rule".  This meant they had to learn to negotiate and compromise to arrive at mutual agreement.

2.  Brainstorm what might happen if a caveman came to life.   Once again, creativity.  But also perspective taking:  How would a caveman feel?  What do we know about cavemen?  Would this world be the same as the one he came from?  How would he react?  What might he think about....?
Added a character study of a caveman: 
A.Physicial: How he looks:
     - Caveman-like:  hairy, dirty, barefoot, animal hide clothes, carried a club.
B. Emotional/Mental: How does the character often "feel"/ his emotional or mental state of being:   
     - Not so smart, confused, easily distracted, clumsy, aggressive, destructive, hungry.
C. Behavioral: Mannerisms, facial expressions, etc:
     -  walks awkwardly, bumps into things, ape-like: swings arms and hunched over walking
D. Communication: How does he communicate? List some phrases or gestures he often uses:
     - grunt, jabber, pointing, banging with club.

3.  Choose 4 ideas and discuss the general plot for the story.  Compromise & negotiate as a group to have mutual agreement. 

4.  Break the plot into four segments and assign each boy a scene: Some degree of negotiation when two boys wanted the same scenes.
     a.  W & G are digging a garden.  They dig too deep and discover a frozen caveman.  They drag him inside to their kitchen where Gromit accidentally knocks over salt onto the caveman as they are leaving to run an errand. 
     b. The warm kitchen and salt thaw out the caveman who awakens and explores this modern era home.  W & G return to find an anxious caveman who crashes things with his club. 
     c. The caveman runs away into the town and gets into trouble at a bakery when he sees a cake through the window and cannot figure out why he cannot touch it... until he finally crashes the window.
     d. He then steals a limousine and tries to drive it but accidentally backs into a zoo crashing through the wall and allowing animals to escape the zoo.
     e.  Captions and epilogue were written by me (Wallace, an inventor, invented a device to make the caveman smart and educated. The cavemen became a curator in the local natural history museum. However, his penchant for clubbing things when he became excited still surfaced at times, but now he just uses a rolled up newspaper).

5.  The boys then were in charge of writing out their scenes.  Since some of the boys have significant difficulties in written language, this step was not detailed.  They were simply to elaborate on the general idea of the scene taking into consideration what we knew about the characters.  This activity addressed language skills, written expression skills, perspective taking (view points, some dialogue, and actions of the characters based on our character analysis).

6.  We gathered some minimal props:  Tie for Wallace, Cap with Dog Ears for Gromit, a Dreadlocks wig for Caveman along with a rolled up foam sheet for the club.  Just fun; okay, maybe also some observation of physical characteristics).

7.  Each boy had the opportunity to "direct" the other boys in the scene he had written.  Each boy had a turn to play each character rotating from scene to scene.  This was probably one of the best perspective taking experiences. Since each boy got to be the "director" and the "actor" in various scenes, he learned the importance of giving adequate amounts of information, cooperation, and following directions.  Since they played each character, each boy had a chance to take on three different personas and three different perspectives.

8.  I filmed, edited, captioned, and copied to DVD's.  This was no award winning production so lots of editing (not great editing at that, since this therapist is technologically challenged), some well placed captioning to fill in for insufficient dialog, and epilogue to wrap up the story

9.  We had a group viewing and invited the parents and siblings in to watch.  Each boy took home a copy of the DVD.

The entire process took about 4 sessions with the boys working on their written scripts at home.  As is to be expected, scripts were forgotten, lost, etc.  But the boys had at least spent time thinking about them so I had them dictate their ideas to me and quickly wrote them down.  The scripts were simple; perhaps a paragraph long.  Much of the dialogue development happened during direction and filming.  All in all it was both fun and productive.  In a few months we will do another one.  It should be interesting to see how their cooperative and perspective skills change a few months into Social Group training.

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