Accepting the concept of losing

Some students with autism find it difficult to regulate emotions when they are not the winners in a game or when they do not achieve the highest mark in the class. This can then lead to emotional outbursts.

Reasons why losing may be difficult for students with autism

Difficulties with ‘Theory of mind’: ‘Theory of mind’ refers to the student’s ability to understand that others have thoughts, intentions and feelings that are different to theirs. Some students with autism may have difficulty understanding that others can be good at activities too and that it is good when others have a chance to win.

  • Rigid thinking: A student with autism may think that it is essential to always win or to always be top of the class and that anything else means failure. The student may not understand that not everyone can win all the time.
  • Lack of experience: Some students may not have experienced losing as the supporting adult may have protected them and allowed them to always win at games, therefore they have not developed the skill of coping with losing.

Teaching how to cope with losing

  • Social Stories™ : A Social Story™ can illustrate that it is not essential to always win and that it can be good when someone else has a turn to win. See section on Social Stories ™.
  • Teaching the skill: The concept of losing can initially be taught by an adult in a one to one supportive setting, and then generalise the skill to real settings with peers. Some strategies to use include:
    • Start with an activity that is not important to the student so losing is easier.
    • Allow the student to win the first 2-3 times while the teacher models what to say and do as the ‘loser’. After winning, ensure the student experiences losing and then use a visual prompt as a reminder of what to say and do.
    • Reinforce for staying calm/accepting not being the winner. Link to “losing the game but winning the friendship game”

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