Case study in Spain: Geseme’s Set of General Sxercises that can be Used, by Professionals for Working with Autistic children- theme exploring feelings. Natural Environment Teaching (NET) / Naturalistic Intervention (NI)

GESEME ( is a Spanish organisation specialised since 1996 in medicine, health, safety prevention, psychotherapy, sports, training, providing resources and means for the development of healthy lifestyles, sporting and social activities, conducting Vocational Educational Trainings for people from different sectors of activity. 

GESEME was leading the 2-year European funded project ALERRT- Autism on the line ( ALERRT project promoted autism awareness among first responders and the development of mutual trust between autistic people and their families, and first responders.

During the project implementation, 2 European trainings with specialists took place, one in Palermo, Italy, and one in Larnaca & Nicosia, Cyprus. As one of the results of those trainings, the Spanish specialists that participated agreed upon a working set of general exercises that can be used by professionals when working with autistic children, on the theme of exploring feelings. The set is provided below:

Exercise 1 – Cool Down

Time needed – 10 minutes


  • Carpet squares or chairs for sitting on
  • Butcher paper on easel or whiteboard with markers for rules
  • Eraser for whiteboard (mitten eraser works well for children)
  • Poster board with schedule and Velcro arrow
  • Poster board for sticker chart

Everyone relaxes with a cool down. Say to the children:

The first thing we will do every week is cool down with a stretch and deep breathing. So, everyone stands up and reach to the sky like you are reaching to the sun. Now, try to catch some butterflies with one arm, then the other. Now, scoop down and pick up some flowers. Bring them up to your nose and sniff them with a deep long breath.

Great job!

Now that we’re cooled down, let’s sit back on our carpet squares (or chairs) and go over the group rules.

Tell the children the rules of the group and explain the schedule. The rules will involve the following:

  • sit (in your seats or carpet squares)
  • look (at the speaker)
  • listen (to the speaker)
  • calm voices/nice words
  • nice hands.

The schedule will always be:

  1. Cool Down
  2. Welcome
  3. Singing
  4. Story
  5. Activity/Game
  6. Snack/Stickers and Goodbyes

Tell the children:

Every time you follow the rules or use the tools we teach you in this group, you can earn a star (or token, point, etc.) and swap them for stickers at the end. If we earn enough stickers, we can have a big reward when the class is over in a few weeks. What would you like your group to work for if you get enough stickers?

Create a group end of program reward. The group members will suggest ideas that the entire group will work towards as reward for obtaining enough stickers at the program (e.g., if the group earns enough stickers, they can have a party).

Each child can earn a sticker for each rule followed, plus other stickers for effort/good behavior during the session. The stickers can be provided immediately after each behavior throughout the session, or you can distribute them at the end of the session, depending on the fit with the group members. It is also fine to provide differential reinforcement with stickers, such that a child earns a smaller sticker for doing a good job with the rule, but can earn a big sticker if they do a fantastic job. Since they are also working towards a group reward, each individual has a goal to do their best to “follow the rules and use their tools” during the individual session, but they are also working as a group for an overall goal. 

After describing how the stickers will be used, ask the children:

Are the stickers good for you, or for everyone?

The answer is “both” because they will each get stickers, but the entire group can earn the reward at the end of the program.

Exercise 2 – Welcome

Time needed – 10 minutes


  • Butcher paper/whiteboard with markers for noting each child’s information
  • Digital camera
  • Handheld mirror (optional)


Say to the children:

Now it is time for us all to find out about each other!

Introductions — ask each child to tell the group about the following things:

  • name
  • age
  • siblings
  • pets
  • favorite food
  • “Where would you like to go for fun with your family?”

Note: Not all of these topics need to be covered if time is running short.

Take a picture of each person with a happy face. These pictures will be used to make a collage of happy faces. The group will welcome each person with enthusiasm at the beginning of each session. This sets the tone of each session. Since some children may be sensitive to having their picture taken, children can also draw pictures of faces or practice looking in the mirror and making happy faces.

Exercise 3 – Singing

Time needed – 5 minutes


  • Song written on poster with visuals
  • Whiteboard or butcher paper to write reasons for understanding and managing our feelings
  • CD of the song If You’re Happy and You Know It to sing along with and
  • CD player (optional)


Ask the children:

Does everyone know why we are here? In this group, we are going to be explorers who explore different feelings. What is an explorer? An explorer is someone who searches out new things and tries to learn about them. So, we are going to be explorers of our feelings to learn how to manage them. Why do you think we would want to understand and learn how to manage our feelings? What would be good about staying calm?

Get some ideas from the children, but guide them towards the following four reasons:

  • to feel better
  • to think better
  • to stay out of trouble
  • to make and keep friends.

After this session, create a poster with these four reasons to post on the wall for all future sessions.

Tell the children:

Today we are going to explore the feeling of being happy. To get us in the mood, let’s sing the song “If you’re happy and you know it.”

Sing the song with the following words: If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (repeat). If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it… If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. (Then repeat with “stomp your feet” and “shout hooray.”)

Hold up the poster with visual aids so the children can follow along. Make a game out of it to see “Who can clap, stomp, or shout the loudest?” You can repeat the song several times, if time allows.

Having a CD of the song and words written on a poster board is helpful for the children to follow along with.

Exercise 4 – Story/Discussion

Time needed – 15 minutes


  • Book
  • List of discussion questions with visuals
  • Butcher paper/whiteboard and markers
  • Handheld mirror

Read a story about happy feelings (e.g., Mr. Happy by Roger Hargreaves or If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera). Explain to the children:

Our feelings change all the time. One feeling that most people like is feeling happy. So, let’s explore the feeling of happiness.

Present each of the following questions on a card with a visual aid clue to the answer. Using butcher paper or on a whiteboard, write each child’s name at the top of the column and their answers for all to see. You can also draw a figure when appropriate or illustrate their responses (like jumping up for energy).

  • When do you feel very happy?
  • How do we know when we are happy?
  • How does your face look? (look in handheld mirror)
  • What thoughts do you have? / Do you feel friendly?
  • How are your energy levels? / Do you feel you have the energy to do things you want?
  • How do you move your body? / Do you feel light or heavy?
  • How does your voice change?

The main point to get across to the children is that their thoughts are friendly and their body feels energetic and light when they are happy. Also, point out how their faces change when they are happy (e.g., smiling).

Exercise 5 – Ruler Game about Happy Feelings with Musical Chairs

Time needed – 15 minutes


  • Poster board with a ruler drawn on it and Velcro
  • Carpet squares/chairs
  • CD player
  • Fun music CD
  • Happy words on index cards (shaped like leaves) with Velcro backing
  • Happy situations on cards with Velcro backing


For this exercise, draw a ruler or thermometer on a large poster board. Place two Velcro strips up it, about 3–6 cm apart. On one side of the Velcro, place ten tick marks, with the following labels stuck to each anchor:

  • 1—a little happy
  • 3—a little more happy
  • 5—medium happy
  • 7—very happy
  • 10—very, very happy

Note: Use Velcro to label the anchors because you will use this same ruler again next week with angry/ anxious feelings instead. Also draw dark circles to represent each anchor visually (e.g., five circles for medium happy, 7 circles for very happy, etc.).

Say to the children:

Here is a ruler that goes from one to ten. It shows how our feelings might go from feeling just a little bit happy (one) all the way up to feeling very, very happy (ten), and our feelings can also go anywhere in between. This is called having different levels of happiness. We are going to play a game to teach us about how we might feel different levels of happy.

Play musical chairs, with just enough chairs for all the children minus one. Play music and the child left standing after it stops gets to place a happy card on the ruler. The cards will be words reflecting varying degrees of happy (with a picture that visually depicts the word), and the children must place it where they think that level of happy would be on the ruler. Keep playing until all the children have had a turn. Help them note how the numbers go up as they feel happier.

Happy words list:

  • Happy
  • Proud
  • Thrilled
  • Excited
  • Pleased
  • Satisfied
  • Ecstatic

Note: Some children will not know the meaning or nuances of all these words. If they do not seem to understand, you can teach them the definitions and show them where the words would go on the ruler.

In the next part of the activity the children should take turns to place situations along the ruler to reflect a degree of happiness (but without playing the musical chairs game). Before starting, ask the children what kinds of things make them really happy and place these things high on the ruler. Then ask them what kinds of things do not make them happy, and place them low on the ruler.

Then say: Now, we are going to take turns trying to find things that fall in between these very low and very high levels of happy feelings. When it is your turn, you will get to pick a card and tell us where on the ruler would that situation be for you.

Example situations:

  • Someone gives you a new tricycle or bicycle.
  • You are eating cereal you like.
  • You found your sneakers.
  • Your brother turns on your favorite TV show.
  • You are eating your favorite breakfast.
  • Your teacher told you that you did good work.
  • You just won your favorite game.
  • Your mother says she loves you.

Note: The games presented are meant as suggestions and can be modified or substituted with other games as needed, as long as they are developmentally appropriate. For example, musical chairs may not be appropriate if there are fewer than three children in the group. You may include the teachers in the game to increase the players, or another game may be substituted. 

For example, you can play freeze dance: play music and then stop it; when the music stops, the children must freeze; the first person to move can place the card on the ruler.

Exercise 6 – Snack/Stickers and Goodbyes

Time needed – 5 minutes


  • Snacks from home
  • Stickers and chart


It’s time for a snack. While children are snacking, briefly review the main lesson of the session. Then, count out their stickers with them. 

Explain that:

If we get all our stickers for the session, we get another sticker as a bonus.

Before leaving, make sure that the children say goodbye to each other.


  • Parents help children find different pictures of happy faces cut from magazines or coloring books. Collect enough so that you have examples of: 1—a little happy; 3—a little happier; 5—medium happy; 7—very happy; 10—very, very happy. Attach a label and/or number of the degree of happiness on each. These will be reviewed during the next session.
  • Find a book from the local library that deals with feeling happy and read it with your child. Remind them of what it feels like to be happy—high energy, light, friendly, smiling, good thoughts.
  • Find a folder or binder to collect your handouts and homework each week. Please bring this folder with you to session each week to review and add new information.