one autistic boy chose to break the clay up into tiny pieces, he usually will walk around the room half way through club, usually looking for things he can eat or will walk out the door. in this session he sat the whole time

In afterschool club today I decided to try out some clay play. It’s sensual to touch, uses the fine motor skills and there were different colours so the children could identify colours for different purposes. I didn’t want to ask the group to do anything with it, I just handed it to them and along with some tools, let them at it in any way they want. Not every child would be interested so there was an additional element to the group – Teletubbies. One of our children likes to watch this and asks for it every club. She also has number cards that keep her hands busy and she enjoys counting and sorting through them.

The clay was nice because it was non-drying so the longer the children handled it, it became more easier to use. The colours with some children were reluctant to mixing them, keeping them separate at all times. Other children enjoyed mixing them and crumbling them up into tiny pieces. The group were relaxed and we didn’t have any outbursts verbally or physically, which we don’t stop usually but it was nice having a chilled out two hours. We always ask the kids what they want to do or give them a couple of options and then we vote, for example on one week we may choose between Sensory Room or cooking, if weather is dry we’ll choose between bikes or an activity on the field. Because of their special needs, most of them can be intolerant to outdoor weather, temperature change, un usual textures and are anxious with germs. So we may only be outdoors the length of time they are comfortable with as a group.
As a Playworker I find this challenging because I always think on one side – ‘what is best for them is to be outdoors in fresh air and with mud on their skin’, but then on the other hand after working at a Special School for nearly 4 years, I know realistically that you cannot expect some children to do what they ‘should’ be doing as children. Some of the kids I work with are at their most happiest in front of a computer with headphones on. This is not desirable for a Playworker working in a Special Needs play setting, but we work with the spirit of the child and not towards the desired play that Playworkers are trained to accept as ‘desirable’. Obviously we don’t expect any behaviour from a child full-stop, but come on, we do WANT the kids of today to be connecting with nature, experimenting and feeling good. So when you are faced with a computer obsessed 8-year-old, they are doing what makes them happy, we cannot crush their desires but how do we still adhere to our duty of providing the best play experiences for children in our settings? Is this then free play if we encourage that boy off the computer?
Any how, these kids at afterschool club were individual in their clay play and I wanted to embrace that and not dictate what to do. This happens too often in our educational system with children not being taught through a child’s eyes, but rather that of the adult.

this boy with autism, i observed for the whole session, he experimented with different shapes and colours. he identified the colours in objects of the same colour around him and was very pleased with the shapes he created