MEANINGFUL GUIDELINE 5: A TASK THAT WOULD LIKELY BE PERFORMED BY ADULTS IN A COMMUNITY SETTING

The final guideline for meaningful tasks in center-based programs pertains to tasks intended to support the participation of adults with autism in typical community experiences. Adhering to the guideline is critical for promoting normal and inclusive lifestyles. As with all the preceding guidelines, this one requires that both the center-based activity in which an individual is involved and the materials used within the activity be meaningful.

To illustrate how the guideline can be applied, consider the task that occurs in some center-based programs of teaching participants to identify community helpers, such as police officers, firefighters, and postmen and women. Often the instructional task for identifying community helpers involves pointing to pictures of respective professionals. With this task, neither the activity nor the materials would be considered meaningful with the guideline. Regarding the activity, adults typically would not engage in the specific behavior of pointing to pictures of community helpers. The materials used (i.e., pictures) also are not something adults would typically encounter in most community settings.

In contrast, actually meeting police officers, firefighters, etc., would meet the guideline (such as when inviting various community helpers to visit and interact with center participants or when center participants go on outings to police stations or fire departments). Interacting with community helpers would represent something that would not be unusual for adults to do in local communities and would also offer opportunities for center participants to identify representatives of the community helper professions. Additional examples of nonmeaningful versus meaningful tasks in the community participation area are provided in the following box.

Examples of Nonmeaningful Versus Meaningful Community Participation Tasks in Center-Based Programs

Nonmeaningful: pointing to pictures of different geometric shapes when named (e.g., triangle, square, circle)

Meaningful: locating actual community items of different shapes when needed (e.g., men and women restroom signs, room exit signs)

Nonmeaningful: matching toy coins to their monetary value on a written worksheet

Meaningful: putting coins of different values in a vending machine to purchase a drink or food item

Nonmeaningful: identifying times of the day or night when an instructor moves the hands on a toy cardboard clock

Meaningful: identifying the time when an instructor points to a wall clock and asks “What time is it?”

Nonmeaningful: identifying food groups by pointing to pictures of food items in magazines

Meaningful: identifying actual food items when preparing a snack

As the examples in the box illustrate, often the difference between a nonmeaningful and meaningful community participation task in a center-based context is due to the materials involved in the task. Strict adherence to the guideline requires that the materials be the same as those encountered in typical community settings. Such a requirement is due to the difficulties many adults in center-based programs experience with generalizing skills acquired with one set of materials to other materials as emphasized earlier in this chapter. With community participation tasks, however, sometimes it can be difficult or impossible to provide actual community materials within instructional tasks in center-based settings (e.g., it would be quite difficult to have actual pedestrian information signs such as street crossing signs present in a center).

When it is not realistic to have actual community materials to use within community participation tasks in a center-based setting, then the materials used should be as similar to the real materials as possible. For example, with the case of pedestrian information signs, large pictures or photographs of the actual signs could be used in the center- based task. Generally, the more similar the materials used in an instructional situation are to the actual materials used in a community setting, the more likely it is that adults with autism will generalize newly learned skills with the simulated materials to the actual materials. However, it always important that prior to completing various instructional tasks, the participants be provided with learning and practice opportunities with the actual materials in the community settings in which the items are routinely present to ensure such generalization does take place.

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