Helping Aspergers Students Cope with Recess

"My son’s teacher told me that he gets nervous and often goes into a meltdown at recess time. During recess, the students usually either go to the gym or outside for 'free-time' recreation. How can I help him deal with this transition and the unstructured nature of 'free-time', thus avoiding a meltdown?"

Recess is a time when students traditionally run-off their stress, but this transition can be very challenging for a student with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism. Students are given instructions, rules and a timetable to guide them through the rest of the day, but recess is rather unstructured, and it can be difficult for Aspergers students to know what to do during this time. Playgrounds are also often noisy and crowded places, with lots of children running around screaming and talking loudly. This can be daunting for a special needs youngster who is not aware of the "hidden" social rules of recess.

Here are some suggestions that may help your son overcome his difficulties with recess:

1. Some playgrounds have buddy benches for kids who are having difficulty making friends, or having a hard day. Decorations or signs should distinguish a buddy bench from other benches in the playground. Other kids are appointed as buddies and given a badge to wear to indicate who they are. Their job is to keep an eye out for anyone sitting on the buddy bench who feels sad or lonely and needs someone to cheer them up. A buddy can chat to them on the bench, or invite them to play a game. Having a number of kids share the buddy role will ensure that any youngster using the buddy bench socializes with different kids and does not become too reliant on one peer.

2. Some schools use break time to teach social skills to Aspergers kids, which can be done by using approaches such as circle of friends. The four main goals of this approach are to: (1) create a support network for the Aspergers youngster; (2) provide the youngster with encouragement and recognition for any achievements and progress; (3) work with the youngster to identify difficulties and devise practical ideas to help deal with these difficulties; and (4) help to put these ideas into practice. Your son might benefit from his school adopting such an approach.

3. Long periods of time in the playground may also challenge your son. Perhaps the school could agree that he only has to play on the playground for the first half of the period – and if he is successful during this time, he could be rewarded with quiet time in the library or time on the computer? This would need to be structured so your son knows what the activity is and where to go.

4. Setting up a number of different playground games that everyone moves around will bring some structure to recess, as well as reducing boredom from playing one game for the whole playground time. There are a number of websites suggesting playground games, many of which have video clips which you could watch with your son so she knows what to expect in different games. Your son could also have some tasks to do during recess (e.g., handing out basketballs, picking up trash on the playground, etc.), which would add further structure to his recess time. However, take care that this is not seen as a form of discipline and does not set him apart from his classmates too much.

5. Relaxation techniques could also help your son to recognize and reduce his anxiety before it becomes overwhelming. Techniques might include:
  • breathing deeply
  • counting to ten
  • jumping on a trampoline
  • kicking a ball
  • punching a punching bag
  • stretching
There are a number of books that help Aspergers kids learn how to identify stress and teach relaxation techniques.

6. Your son could indicate his nervousness to the teacher by using a help card or a visual stress scale (e.g., traffic light scale, thermometer, 1-5 scale, etc.). Stress scales can be used as a secret code between the student and his teacher, which might be useful if your son does not want to draw attention from his classmates. If your son indicates that he is at the high end of the stress scale, there should be a quiet place that he can go to calm down (e.g., in the library). He may also want to cut-out external noise by listening to music.

7. Your son might find school recess especially difficult because one-to-one "staff monitors" often take their own breaks at this time. However, if your son no longer needs support in certain lessons, but is experiencing high anxiety during break times, it’s possible that the hours could be restructured so that his monitor is with him during recess. Check with school officials to see what can be done.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns


•    Anonymous said... A school administrator with a child on the spectrum said to me "We are not required to teach socialization in school." This statement was a relief, because the school didn't balk at his IEP stating recess & lunch would be in a quiet environment with one or two peers of his choosing.
•    Anonymous said... I was going to say the exact same thing. Your son does not have to be forced to participate in recess. They can absolutely set up something else for him. Do not be afraid to be assertive with the school with your child's needs.
•    Anonymous said... My son was also allowed a quiet zone for recess and lunch.
•    Anonymous said... why are the school not providing him with a safe zone? my son was allowed in the library during break or on the sofa in the main reception area, where staff could supervise him while still having their own break
•    Anonymous said... Yes, quiet zone is a must, and he should also be allowed to go there during class if it gets too much for him. My girl wouldn't be able to attend school at all unless she had this safe zone to go to.

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Anonymous said...

My child would get really bad ideas that usualy ended in someone getting hurt because the kids didn't want to play what my then 6 year old wanted to play.or he'd get soaked in the faucet play.too much choices.finally he got a bi or behavior interventionist and now its good! I feel your pain.for a while I got calls every day.good luck.love the little ones!

Anonymous said...

Uh... Recess is breaktime for NTs and hell for us. Instead of recess, he should be allowed to go to the library or stay in and read. Whatever HIS version of break is. Recess is supposed to be about breaks...

Anonymous said...

my 8 year old cant cope with non structured time ie playtime (your recess) so the teachers invent jobs for hm to do as he loves being helpful and call him in after 5 mins or so playtime then let him back out if its dinner time and another teach will call him in after another few minutes etc

Anonymous said...

If you have a good teacher I would have a meeting with her to talk about it. I think when are kids are given time like this, they have troubles deciding what to do. I would have your teacher help give your son 2 options that he likes to choose from. That might help. And before school tell your son what his options at recess are so he knows what's coming.

Anonymous said...

the teachers at my sons school set up a minibeast hunt for him at breaktimes coz he cant deal with unstructured time

Anonymous said...

set him up with a buddy to hang out with. Even if it's a older grade level. He will look forward to it. :)

Anonymous said...

These are wonderful suggestions. Our school however, refuses any type of accomodation like this.

Anonymous said...

My son is 9 and we just received the diagnosis a couple of weeks ago. School has been so hard and we werent sure what was going on. The unstructured time stressed him. Meltdowns occured and I would be called up to the school to pick him up because of his behavior. We're trying to make sense of all of this. We had him in public school for K-2nd. For 3rd, we now have him in Catholic School. The smaller setting has helped. Now sometimes he goes out for recess if I walk over there to watch him, other times he hangs out in the office-reading, drawing or doing small projects to help out. It keeps him calm. I worry how it makes him feel to be seperated from the other kids during that time. I dont know. Figuring all this out and finding the best ways to handle these things...a work in progress.

Anonymous said...

same thing with my son he is in special school right now,age 12, but from 5K to forth grade we had issues, with bus and PE and playground...they would just take him to the special ed room to play during those times if he couldn't deal with it on that day...left it up to him..but in fourth they would let him go to PE with the first graders and be a" helper"...

Anonymous said...

My 9 year old daughter wears earphones during recess. The meltdowns are most likely from overstimulation and the noise. Since she has worn the earphones which the school supplied we have no more meltdowns. Good thing is too is my daughter could care less what others think of her, so she rocks those huge earphones like its nobodies business its great!!!
42 minutes ago · Like

Anonymous said...

My six year old struggles with lunch and recess. He either gets bullied by his "friends" or he ends up getting in trouble. The aides never seem to be around or notice. I had a meeting with the school and decised on the following plans. I used social stories a lot to teach him to find a grown up immediately when he feels he needs help in these situations. We have a Healthy Start Worker in our public schools. They are a great and underused resource. As soon as my son finds an aide they send him to her. She helps him understand the choices he has and brainstorms the correct solutions with him. He earns extra computer time when he chooses to find the aide instead of getting into trouble.

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