Teaching Social thinking through Bluey episodes

Teaching Social Thinking through Bluey episodes is a fun way to develop social skills. Social thinking is a key therapy area for many autistic children. Autism is defined as people with both social communication and interaction impairment (criterion A) and restricted repetitive behaviours (criterion B). So building skills in social communication and interaction is important.

Bluey is a cute and popular kids television show that features cartoon dog families that live in Brisbane, Australia. Many of their episodes showcase different aspects of parenting, and sometimes these episodes have reasonable advice for structuring social play for autistic children.

Consider the Shops episode. In this episode Bluey and her friends are playing shops together. They spend time setting up the shop and deciding which roles they will play, while navigating some conflict as they change their minds around what they are doing. Eventually, one of the friends gets sick of the slow start and negotiations and stomps off. Finally they manage to come together, play a round of shops before all deciding to play Bus Drivers instead.

If we put a lens of social thinking over this, we can see 4 important stages of play and how to successfully set up play.

Play involves:

  1. Planning and deciding roles
  2. Building/set up of the play environment
  3. Play
  4. Review and Pack up

Most of the episode shows stage 1 and 2 (or as the friends try to perform stage 1!) with the actual play taking a super short time at the very end of the episode.

In reflecting on their challenges setting up play, we can make reference to several Social Thinking key concepts. Teaching Social Thinking through Bluey might include highlighting the following 5 concepts.

1. Group Plan

The first step in a play is to come up with a Group Plan. A group plan is an agreement between the people involved on what they want to do. Including all voices in the brainstorm of what to do is important. If only one person has a say, then it won’t be fair or inclusive. What’s also important in a group plan is making sure each person has a role to play and that this is agreed on.

This group plan is important in the Bluey Shops episode as the friends decide who will be the customer, the shop keeper and the assistant. Then they have to decide what the shop will sell, find items for the shop and what the story will be. Not deciding this in advance led to some conflict in Bluey as they changed the story, swapped roles and disagreed with what imaginary items were required. However, Bluey does demonstrate an ability to consider others’ thoughts and feelings and including others in play in saying: “Can you come back and play shops?”

2. Flexible and stuck thinking

It takes flexible thinking to be a good problem solver. When you have stuck thinking, you can’t come up with new solutions to problems. You are obsessed with what you want. But, with flexible thinking you can have creative solutions that help everyone be happy in the group. This is important in coming up with a group plan. If you only want your ideas, you can’t include other peoples’ ideas or compromise.

In the Bluey episode, Bluey has lots of fixed ideas that slow down the set up of play. However Bluey is also able to consider others’ ideas and suggestions and include them in play.

3. Expected and Unexpected

So, you broke the group plan. Maybe you changed the rules and this was unexpected. The other person may get upset. When we do things that are unexpected, this can make others uncomfortable.

This happens a lot in the Bluey episode. Bluey displays unexpected behaviour in continually re-creating the story, adding in new details, and changing the original group plan. This unexpected behaviour contues until Mackenzie gets sick of it and walks off to sulk. Mackenzie feels frustration because “We’ll never, ever get to start. You just want to keep making up more and more things.” This demonstrates again the importance of coming up with a group plan in advance and sticking to it.

4. Thoughts and Feelings

It’s time to bring out the whole body listening again. We need to express our thoughts and feelings with words. In the Bluey episode there are examples of feelings through facial expressions, and some verbal sharing. When Mackenzie storms off in frustration, the friends all look disappointed. And Mackenzie shared throughts and feelings saying “Grr! I knew it! We’re never going to start a shop. I’m leaving!”

5. Sharing an imagination

Finally, sharing an imagination is the ultimate in navigating social play. When you can use your imagination and combine it with someone else to create a shared imagination, it’s the pinnacle of play. However, imagination isn’t concrete – it’s invisible in your head. So sharing an imagination requires lots of social thinking skills to make it work.

In the Bluey episode, the friends have to share their imagination around what the shop looks like, what an assistant does, and how a shop operates. They are able to talk out loud to share their imagination with others.

So teaching Social Thinking through Bluey episodes is totally possible and fun!

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