Teachers and parents can follow these instructions on how to make a game to help your students or children learn what exactly is meant by “personal space”. First play the ARM’S LENGTH GAME to prepare for THE PERSONAL SPACE GAME. These games are meant to be played with other classmates, or the whole family at home.
SKILL TO LEARN: Allowing socially comfortable space between you and another person.
NEW UNDERSTANDING: I know what “personal space” means. To respect someone’s personal space means to stand approximately an “arms’ length” away from him or her. Giving people personal space is respectful.
EXAMPLE SITUATION: The child may have been reminded to “respect other people’s personal space” but he or she still stands too close, causing discomfort for other people during interaction. He or she may not understand the mostly-abstract concept of personal space.
This strategy helps make learning about personal space fun instead of exasperating or frustrating. By being specific and concrete, you are providing literal meaning to the idea of “respecting people’s personal space.” So when you say, “Remember personal space,” it will have clear meaning and the child will better understand the behavioral expectations. The directions below are meant for a classroom teacher, although they can easily be tailored for home use.
MAKE A GAME OF IT: You will modify THE ARM’S LENGTH GAME to make it into THE PERSONAL SPACE GAME. First write a Social Story about personal space, and explain that personal space, including the information that it can be determined by using an arm’s length as a general and approximate measure. You will summarize by literally and concretely defining “personal space” as an average “arm’s length”.
The PERSONAL SPACE GAME is almost identical to the previous game (THE ARM’S LENGTH GAME), except that the cards will contain only names of people. And once the child is standing the proper distance from the person whose name was written on the card – giving personal space – he should DO something. For example, he should give a “high five” or shake hands, or offer another type of greeting that is culturally practiced.
Eventually, you can accompany the game with more information about personal space and/or greetings. For example, make a list of which phrases are said to peers (“S’up?”), and which phrases are respectful for adults (“Hi, how are you?”).
NOTE: For older children or teens, if there is interest, perhaps you can learn about the cultural differences in personal space from one culture or country, to another; and learn greetings in different languages. It even may include the difference in the meaning of personal space – what distance – in various cultures. This also will help make this less personally focused on the person on the spectrum – and more on how everyone needs to learn this information.
If at home, follow the same procedure in playing the game as described above, including all the participating adults and children in the home to find the average arm’s length at home.
Depending on the child and his responses, you may have to provide additional information to clarify a certain aspect. Assess as time goes on. For example, you may need to teach about “approximately” when measuring arm’s length. By his responses to these activities, you will know what to change, add, adapt.
These games help make learning about personal space fun instead of exasperating or frustrating. By being specific and concrete, you are providing literal meaning to the idea of “respecting people’s personal space.” So when you say, “Remember personal space,” it will have clear meaning and the child will better understand the behavioral expectations. For a while, you might have to add “…like in the game!” until this behavior is generalized to other situations when not playing the game.
And always remember to write Social Stories™. Social Stories™ describe life. Teachers and parents are encouraged to be trained in writing Social Stories by Catherine Faherty, or another member of Carol Gray’s Team Social Stories.