Paleontology, video games, snakes, U.S. Presidents, natural disasters, game shows, license plates, calendars, movie action characters, sports teams, washers and dryers, and vacuum cleaners all have something in common – they are among the list of strong special interests, or intense preoccupations with a topic, common to students with autism spectrum disorder. If you are the parent of or work with a student with a strong special interest, then you are well aware that others may not find an individual’s strong interest quite as fascinating as the individual provides those around him with relentless “lectures” on his interest, asks repetitive questions about it, or appears unmotivated to learn anything outside of his limited field of interest.
The good news is that we can use a student’s strong special interest in or fascination with a character such as an action figure, sports star, cartoon character, or literary character to teach skills related to flexibility, leveled emotionality, impulse control, problem solving, and other challenges related to EF deficits. The Power Card strategy, a social narrative tool developed by Elisa Gagnon, is an example of using a student’s strong interest to motivate him to complete a task, participate in an activity, cope with an unforeseen event, make transitions, regulate emotions, solve a problem, and monitor impulses.
You can implement this strategy by using a student’s highly focused interest, hero, or role model to develop a scenario that describes the character’s problem-solving process for the identified behavior of concern. Make a Power Card that summarizes how the student can use the same strategy to solve a similar problem. The card may be the size of an index card, business card, or bookmark and include an illustration of the student’s special interest. Consider age-appropriate as well as developmentally appropriate language and visual supports. Teach the use of the strategy by working one-on-one with the student, reading the scenario and the Power Card to or with the student and modeling the related behaviors for him. Adults who support the students, as well as peers, can be involved in implementing the strategy.
Incorporating a student’s strong interest into a Power Card or other visual support tool is a terrific way to help a student gain social and behavioral understanding and to motivate the student to use appropriate social and behavioral skills. For examples and more information on using this strategy, see The Power Card Strategy 2.0 by Elisa Gagnon or Part 2 in FLIPP the Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skills. If you have had success with using this strategy, we’d love to hear about it!