Mouth and Face Games
Mouth-and-face games, which really are a larger-than-life version of the baby face-to-face-games of ‘pure interaction’, are probably the most important ‘games’ to help an autistic child towards speech and being interested in human interaction. They play on every child’s instinctive fascination with mouths, eyes and the emotional expressiveness of faces. Mouths and eyes can open and shut, but mouths have an inside with a tongue that moves and is soft and teeth that are hard and solid. Mouths can also make noises and sounds. Eyes can shine and make you feel wonderful, or go dark and make you feel frightened.
Remember the early baby-games that practice pure communication and dialogue-skills? We do not need words to have a conversation! If we copy his sounds or movements, he is likely to respond with delight and echo them. At that moment we are having a dialogue, a babbling conversation or a movement dialogue!
Try to get as many circles of communication playing mouth and face games together, making little sequences that you add new elements to, and keep inventing new noises you could make.
- Pay attention to your tone of voice: you can make it go UP and DOWN, go SLOW and FAST, suddenly slow down or speed up, …
- Use your own body-language and tone of voice like a cat to ‘CREEP up on him and suddenly POUNCE’ and surprise him, in a fun way, when he wasn’t expecting it.
- Make such funny noises with your mouth or tongue that he HAS to look.
- Do it behind him, so he has to turn around.
- Wiggle your tongue, e.g. up and down, side to side, inside your mouth, … Invent 5 other ways.
- Blow raspberries, plop your lips, …
- Blow out your cheeks … blow out ONE cheek only and let him pop it … then the other
- Bare your teeth … or clatter your teeth 3x, then stop and wait for him to copy …
- Pretend to want to bite her fingers … or nose … or ear … or toes …
To make these communication games successful, the adult needs to create a sense of anticipation and suspense, often achieved by doing nothing: just waiting, our attention expectantly focussed on the child, like stretching and stretching an imaginary elastic (usually about 10 times longer than you thought you could), increases suspense naturally. An expectant atmosphere in which nothing is happening can be made to produce a grating sense that “something must be up!”, which means that he will have to look at our face to find out: and with that we have eye-contact, interest and engagement!