This activity can be used in autism social skills to teach about personal space and non verbal cues. It helps children to develop a "theory of mind" by encouraging them to put themselves in another person's place. Some autism spectrum researchers identify a lack of theory of mind as the main difference between neuro typical children and children on the autism spectrum making it a key intervention point.

  • Facilitator leads a discussion about why personal space is important and how it relates to making and keeping friends. 
  • Children pair up.
  • One child walks toward the other, listening for verbal cues that they are getting too close. Partners switch roles
  • This time one child walks toward the other, watching only for non-verbal cues as to whether they are getting too close such as facial expressions and body language. Partners switch roles.

Leaving time to process this excercise is key to its effectiveness. I like to have the kids do exaggerated "too close" facial expressions. It lightens the mood and cues them into the signals they will need to look for.

Key concepts include:

  • boundaries are different for each person.
  • when you invade someones personal space it makes them feel weird, uncomfortable, unsafe.
  • try to think like the other person. 
  • Look for body language and facial expressions to clue you in to when you are getting too close.