The Power Card Strategy is an effective way to teach behavior management and social skills to young children with Asperger's (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). It is effective because it takes into account the unique characteristics of these "special needs" youth. Kids on the autism spectrum tend to have highly developed special interests, so this strategy capitalizes on those interests as a motivational force toward positive behavioral changes.
The Power Card Strategy involves visual aids that incorporates the youngster's special interest to teach appropriate social skills, including behavioral expectations, routines, the meaning of language, and the “hidden curriculum” (refers to the set of routines, social rules, tasks, or actions that kids readily understand and use; often considered to be a matter of common sense, the hidden curriculum is almost never directly taught, yet it is a salient part of everyday life). In addition, the strategy can be used to aide in generalization, to clarify choices, to teach another’s perspective, and to teach cause-and-effect between a specific behavior and its consequence.
The strategy consists of two basic parts:
- a brief scenario or character sketch describing how a hero solves a problem, and
- the "power card" which recaps how the youngster can use the same strategy to solve a similar problem.
In part one, a brief script of the special interest and the situation being addressed for the AS or HFA child is created. The script is written at the child’s comprehension level and includes relevant pictures or graphics. Initially, the script is read on a scheduled basis as the child learns to use the power card. In part two, the actual power card is created. It is the size of a trading card and includes a small picture of the special interest and the solution to the problem situation broken into three to five steps. The card is created from the script and is carried by the child.
Below is an example of the use of the Power Card Strategy written for Michael, a 5-year-old boy with Asperger's who tends to act-out aggressively when he loses a game. This behavior was demonstrated in a variety of situations both at home and school. The following scenario was created featuring Teen Titans Go (Michael’s special interest) with the three steps to success on the reverse side of the picture:
The Teen Titans love to play games. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t. When they win, it makes them feel very happy. They smile, give each other a high five, and say "Hooray!" But, sometimes they lose games. When they lose, they may not feel very happy. But, they take a deep breath and say "good job" to their friends. The Teen Titans want everyone to have fun while playing games, whether they win or lose. The most important thing is to have fun. They want you to remember these three things when playing games the Teen Titan way:
- Games should be fun for all kids.
- If you win a game, you can smile, give a high five, or say, "Hooray!"
- If you lose a game, you can take a deep breath and say "good job" to your friends.
Below is another example of the Power Card Strategy borrowed from Elisa Gagnon of the Autism Society. It was written for a fourth-grade girl with Asperger’s who was struggling to pay attention in class. The power card in this scenario utilized a small picture of Hannah Montana with the three steps to success on the reverse side of the picture:
Hannah Montana loves being in concert and also loves being on the set of her TV show. She still, however, has to go to school. Sometimes it is hard for her to pay attention to her teachers when she is in class. As Miley Cyrus she is sometimes tempted to daydream about her other life as Hannah Montana. She has learned, however, that listening to her teachers and doing her school work is as important as singing, dancing and acting. She has learned that she needs to pay attention in class and do her work, so that she has time to do what she loves to do. Just like Hannah Montana, it is important to pay attention in class. This would make Hannah Montana proud. Hannah would like all girls who love her to remember these three things.
- Listen to your teacher when she is talking. Be ready to answer any questions that she might ask.
- Do your school assignments and stay on task until the assignment is completed.
- Always ask for help when needed.
In summary, when parents or teachers utilize the Power Card Strategy, they will need to (a) identify the unique or special interest of the AS or HFA child, (b) write a scenario describing how a hero solves the problem in question, and (c) create a power card to generalize the expected skill.
The strategy is a strength-based intervention to promote social skills by capitalizing on the child’s special interests. Although preliminary studies have shown that the strategy is a promising approach to teaching social skills, additional research is needed.