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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » The tricks are on me! » » Tips on performing for autistic children? (1 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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JasonbytheOcean
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Hi all,

I've been volunteering at a hospital somewhat regularly for a while, and the therapists and I are trying to determine what might be the best way to reach out to capture the attention of an autistic child who will be at the hospital for a while?

I am not as experienced with the nature of the condition, though I know there are many different levels. He seems to function at a high level, but his attention is almost entirely focused on movies and video games. The therapists are having some difficulty drawing him away from the TV and I'm hoping I can help.

I've worked with patients with other mental illnesses before, but this is new to me and I would greatly benefit from any advice or experiences that you might share. Do you have particular tricks (either to perform or teach), story-telling techniques, or other methods of interaction/communication you might be able to suggest?

With thanks,

Jason
BryanKelly
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I think something with constant sincery input would work best. Something like d-lights, where the action never stops, or misers dream for that matter. Im good with rocky the racoon, so personally I'd try him (not exactly magic but I still like him).

Even jugleing might work pretty good. My wife is a preschool teacher, So when I experement with the little ones I've found out that a child will apreciate and be intertained my jugling a lot sooner than they understand magic.
Justin Style
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Hello –

I have worked with several autistic people. When I work in that environment I try to be who I am. I find that it’s not the person’s affliction that I am trying to entertain it’s the person. I take the same approach with whomever I am fortunate to perform for. Go in there size up the situation and act accordingly. Sometimes you have to think on your feet and change the game plan at the last moment. You can’t let anything throw you off. Treat people with respect and they will respond no matter what the situation is. Every body wants a little respect. Don’t worry about the tricks, concentrate on the magic, the rest will take care of itself.

Justin
magicleo
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Jason-
I myself have a high-functioning autistic friend and have performed countless effect for him. To tell you the truth, from my experience (although it may not be as much as stjustlye), it really doesn't matter what trick you do. The secret, as with all things, is the patter. You need to keep his attnetion span. And from there, you've got him, and he'll love you.
Hope this helps,
Greg
Mike Gorman
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Cary, North Carolina
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Thanks for thinking in advance of how you might entertain the child with autism. You might check with their parents to see if they like anything special.. could be coins, coloring, etc that you could use to plan your tricks.

Autism is basically a communication disorder and short, very visable tricks tend to work better. Coin sleights, cards that change, appearing cane, vanishing cane, sponge balls... Keep the trick short to capture their attention span. Visual learners (thus the love for TV) can and do appreciate magic.

Don't shy away from it... they will love your tricks if you perform in a calm, respectful way. Beware... many do not like scary or clown makeup, but that's not too different from other kids.

Good luck and have fun with it,
Mike Gorman
thecardtrick
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This has been said already. The key thing is to keep the presentations calm and easy to understand.

Don't rush into the tricks. Take some time to talk with them and connect with them first. Obviously you always want to do this, but especially so here. How are you doing today, do you want to see something cool and fun, have you ever seen a magic trick before, what was that like?

I was performing for a mentally handicapped young adult. I did two-card monte. He was so excited that he was about to see a card trick ("Oh boy oh boy oh boy") that I thought he might pee in his pants. I showed the two cards, switched them around, asked which one was on top. Then I snapped my fingers and said, "They've changed."

He shrieked and asked "How did you do that?" The thing is, he hadn't even turned the cards over yet.
Cinnamon
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Autistic children have trouble on putting their attention on check. You have to establish, first, a connection. Usually, they ignore everyone, except when they see something very attractive on the person/ what he is doing. For example, flashy things (shiny coins, flash paper, d'lites?) would grab their attention: why? because of the light. About 34% of autistics (survey is from america) are attractive to sparkly objects.

They are impaired in social interactions. That means, even some people who are close to them maybe viewed as total strangers. Their relationships with others are qualitative: who they see everyday are the ones who would be trusted. It would be hard for a magician who just showed up to grab his attention.

Here's the good part though: once you grab his attention, everything you do, even if you haven't done anything yet, would be 'magical'. It would bring out shocked reactions from those kids. Even if you aren't really doing anything, just making something transfer from a hand to another sloppily, it would still make him awed.

The real dilemma on performing on an autistic kid is to catch his attention. Once you make him concentrate, and listen to you for even a couple of minutes, the magic begins. ^_^

Oh oh, and since the kid you're going to perform on is addicted to TV, why not know what his favo show is, then do your best to mimic a character? Maybe, just maybe, it would get his attention.

I hope this helps! Good luck!
zippy
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Cyssa,
You have some very good hints on how to interact with an autistic person. These ideas can work. I have an neice whom is autistic and if you have a bond with her she will be more willing to pay attention. You are right as they are socially into themselves and it is tough at times to get in.
Zippy
Steven Steele
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My grandson is autistic and so I've learned a fair bit about the condition. Visual stimulation is one of their strengths, in that they love it. Long stories and card counting isn't going to do it. Think Fountain of Silks. Color changing silk. Productions, vanishes, etc. They love visual stimulation.

Every year, in San Diego, there is a group of surfers that take autistic children surfing. They (the founder of the group, a professional surfer who has an autistic child) have found that the surfing experience is really enjoyed by the children and has a really calming effect on them.

The web has quite a bit of info on it, but the long and the short is stimulate them visually and they'll love it.

Steven
manal
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I have an Autistic son age 3 soon to be 4. Stevens advice is good.I would add I think you should perform whatever is age appropriate. What age is the child? That should be your first criteria.
Cyssa,
Don't assume a poor performance ie: "sloppy tranfers " is enough to "awe" an Autistic child. Although Autisim is a neurological disorder, most with this disorder are WELL above average intelligence. Do a sloppy transfer for my son and he will point out exactly in which hand you are really holding the object.

Jason, Don't be loud, overbearing or invade the childs personal space.You know , like ,"HEY BUDDY, HOW YA DOIN PAL? "punch on the arm"( then again no child likes this ).My son is tactile as well as visual and likes sponge balls ( yes , even at his young age he "gets " sponge balls)..
Jason, as a nurse and a father of an Autistic child I really appreciate your effort to research this and your willingness to volunteer.
Thanks, Jim
Life is too important to take seriously.

james@jamesmanalli.com

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Father Photius
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Autism is actually a broad number of syndromes and/or symptomologies. To say no two autistic children are alike would be pretty accurate. I have a Ph.D. in psychology, and while autism has never been my domain of speciality, and to be honest I haven't practiced clinically in a number of years, I was party to some study done with autistic children at a medical school I once worked at. Patter will be your biggest problem, many if not most autistic children have trouble dealing with and processing audible information. Keep it visual. Of the posts I read above, I'd say pay particularly close attention to what the parents of autistic children above advised. That is pretty accurate information, and considering they are into magic, well obviously they have experience with how their children respond to magic. Getting advice on any special needs type child before doing a show for them is a great idea.
"Now here's the man with the 25 cent hands, that two bit magician..."
manal
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Good input photius. You are absolutely right in that no two Autistic children are exactly alike, and most "appear" to have difficulty processing audio info. My son gives this impression. He appears to be ignoring someone when they speak to him,(particularly persons he does not have an established relationship with , or routine interaction with) often seemingly absorbed in a task and even often turning his back to them, when in reality he is listening to and processing/comprehending every word. It is the direct eye contact and audio stimulation combined which I believe he finds difficult ( unless it is an activity or time of his chosing).Sensory overload is a problem as they are often having difficulty focusing on single sources of sensory input at one time. My son used to multi task as many as 6 or more activities at a time, which among other things is a source of frustration for him. The child refered to in the origional post is probably much older so this my not be an issue.

The Nov.27 , 2006 issue of Newsweek Magazine has an excellent article on Autisim.It is actually the cover story.

Jim
Life is too important to take seriously.

james@jamesmanalli.com

www.jamesmanalli.com
Cinnamon
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@Manal: thank you for the correction. Anyway, I've been in rehab for months, been dealing with children, and adults with autism. As long as you make things dramatic, it works for them. I wasn't assuming, only speaking of what was taught at school and what I've learned from the therapeutic community. Anyway, thank you for your points.
manal
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Cyssa, I apoligize if I sounded critical, it wasn't my intention. The information you provided was actually very accurate and informative,

Jim
Life is too important to take seriously.

james@jamesmanalli.com

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jbyrd718
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Hi everybody, I'm pretty new here as far as posting goes, but this thread caught my attention because my son and nephew have both been diagnosed and since then, treating autism has been our main focus.
Everything I've read so far is very good advice and I am having trouble coming up with anything to add, so I'll just say this: talk with the therapists and if possible, the parents as well. Any extra bit of info on how they may react could totally change your performance plan. Manal seems to have covered everything else.

Good luck Jason and keep us posted!

Justin
Adventure, excitement? A jedi craves not these things.

The Rev. Justin
Cinnamon
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Oh one more thing. Some autistic children have this 'touch anxiety' thing, where in they think that when you touch them, you're trying to hurt them. Soo... just a caution.. don't grab their hands or something. Some of em.. I repeat, some... may have the TA thing.
Tony Chris
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I am a full time children's magician and the father of two children with autism. As stated in some of the posts here, there is definitely many different degress of this spectrum disorder ranging from mild, high functioning to severely autistice non-verbal.

My two kids love magic and when I consider putting in a new effect into my working repetoire, I always try it on them first.

The logic being, is if they can follow it, laugh in al the right places and be astonished at the end, it will be worthy of earning a place in my show.

Now as for performing for kids with autism when you don't know them or if this is a first time thing for you, I would recommend the following.

Definitley try to establish yourself as a friend first. Even if you are only there for a short time and will never see them again, make them comfortable by being who you really are as opposed to a magical entertainer. They need to know that you are a real life person first and a magician next. This will set the tone for the rest of your show.

Simple warm ups and hand shakes can go a very long way when dealing with someone with a social interactive disorder.

Do keep the magic patter simple and to the point. This means no long overdrawn stories or such.

Make it visual as this is the best way to present your magic to anyone with any kind of developmental delay.

Smile lots. Believe me, this makes a huge difference!!! They will warm up to you so fast.

Talk to them exactly the same way as you yould any other child. They are autistic but unless they are severly autistic and non verbal, they deserve to be spoken to with the same manner as any other child.

Remember too that many autistic children are inherently quite shy sometimes so it is vital that you be there friend first and magician later.
As magicians we create what onlookers call magic. If they truly believe in what we have created for them to witness then magic is real!!!



- TONY CHRIS, A.K.A. Zany Zack



http://www.tonychris.com
manal
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Very good info Zany Zack.
My son is now 5 and making slow but steady progress.
I know you your days must be fullfilling as well as full Tony

Jim
Life is too important to take seriously.

james@jamesmanalli.com

www.jamesmanalli.com
Tony Chris
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Hey Jim,

It is good to here that your son is progressing well. Keep up the everlasting work and therapies.

Great information on your posts as well for anyone who will be in the position of entertaining autistic children with magic.

Jim, you obviously know the ins and outs of being a daddy living with the world of autism first hand.

As you know, some days are amazing and others days you just want to hide from the world.

Tony
As magicians we create what onlookers call magic. If they truly believe in what we have created for them to witness then magic is real!!!



- TONY CHRIS, A.K.A. Zany Zack



http://www.tonychris.com
gbradburn
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All of this advice has been excellent. I don't have a lot of experience with autism but my wife worked as a habistational assistent with an autistic boy through a state program a few years ago. This particular boy would not show much emotion or give much in the way of a response if I were to do a trick for him. I think anyone thinking of performing for autistic kids should be prepared for the possibility that they simply might not respond to what you're doing.

Just my $.02.

Greg.
There are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary, and those who don't.
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