10 Toys to Increase Self Sustained Play

Looking for gift ideas for your child that will increase their ability to play by themselves? While they may need time and help learning how to play with the items below, these have had a wide variety of success with children with ASD in the past. 

  1. Building blocks: Building blocks are a fun, easy to learn activity that your child can play for long periods of time. 
  2. Marble run: This activity requires a bit more skill than building blocks but has built in entertainment that your child can engage in for hours. 
  3. Books: This may be a harder skill to teach but most children enjoy looking at the colors and pictures in books. You may need to start with a book that has textures, sounds and music and then slowly fade to books that are more picture and word based. 
  4. Play kitchen: Play kitchens are great because they help the child engage in imaginary play with familiar items that they’ve seen before. Whether it’s placing items in baskets or grocery carts, cutting food or pretending to cook it, this toy is enjoyable for children and can foster play with siblings as well! 
  5. Train/car tracks: Trains and/or car tracks are similar to marbles where they have built in entertainment and multiple parts which can increase your child’s play skills by learning how to put the tracks together. 
  6. Coloring books/crayons: The nice thing about coloring is that it can be transported to several places and is travelable. Once your child gains interest in this toy, it can be used in a variety of settings and environments. 
  7. Dot paint: This is a step above coloring but is a mess free way for your child to explore painting and initiate arts and craft time. 
  8. Dry erase boards and markers: Again, dry erase boards and markers are a mess free way for your child to explore arts and crafts, but it also helps build fine motor and writing skills that they will use for years to come. 
  9. Puzzles: Puzzles are vital to a child learning how things go together and how to match items to a sample. Start with big inset puzzles and then slowly work towards your child using interlocking puzzles.
  10. Dress up toys: whether your child enjoys police men, marvel superheroes, or being a doctor, finding ways for your child to dress up and play will help increase their imaginary play and conversational skills. 

I hope these toys bring hours of fun to you and your child and that you begin to see self-sustained play skills, imaginary skills and beyond from them!

Allergy Friendly Holiday Ideas

There are so many holidays that center around food and it can be a tricky time for children and parents who have food related allergies or sensitivities. According to Guifeng Xu, MD;Linda G. Snetselaar, PhD; Jin Jing, MD, PhD, et al in their study on children with Autism that was published in 2018, found that children with Autism were more likely to have a range of allergies from food to topical and respiratory. 

If you find yourself in this demographic, here are some ways to prepare for allergy friendly meals and snacks. 

  • Communicate your child’s needs
    • It can be difficult to communicate with a large number of people what your children’s allergies entail but it can be helpful to create a list of things they can do to help. Whether that be purchasing snacks that can accommodate your child’s needs, sanitizing an area properly, and creating an environment for your child to be comfortable at a gathering. 
  • Bring preferred snacks and materials to sanitize
    • Prepare ahead of time with snacks and things to sanitize that will create a relaxing environment for all 
  • Help your child to learn and advocate for their needs
    • Find ways to have your child to identify what they can and can not eat or be near and be able to communicate that with others. This will help them to independently communicate their needs when you can not be with them.
  • Teach family members or friends to read labels 
    • Show your family members or friends how you live in an allergy friendly environment by modeling to them what you do or how you read labels for allergy information. This will help them to assist you and your child’s needs. 
  • Suggest activities that do not involve food
    • When your family or friends are brainstorming ways to connect and meet up for the holidays, suggest some activities that do not include food such as crafts, board games or movies that your child can participate in. 

Works Cited

Xu G, Snetselaar LG, Jing J, Liu B, Strathearn L, Bao W. Association of Food Allergy and Other Allergic Conditions With Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(2):e180279. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0279

Setting Yourself Up for Success During Outings

Outings with a child with Autism can be very stressful on the family or friends participating in the outing. It can be especially overwhelming for the parents of the child. Unlike other families who may be able to get in the car and go on an outing quickly, a child with Autism requires more preparation for an outing. So how do you set the situation up for success and help yourself feel calm throughout the outing? 

  1. Remember practice makes perfect
    1. As a parent it can be hard to get through an outing that feels like torture for the child and parent alike. Going in with the mindset that the more you practice, the better it will get is important. In ABA we practice skills often so that the child can practice harder things for them and begin to create routines that will set them up for success in the future. This concept of continuing to practice hard things WILL make them easier later. 
  2. Prepare ahead of time 
    1. Preparing ahead of time with items your child likes to help make the outing more motivating for them along with social stories or talking about the outing to prepare them will make the trip more successful in the long run. 
  3. Bring help 
    1. At first, you may need to bring supportive friends or family members along to help you with the trip or outing. The future goal may be for you to be able to do the outing alone with your child, so slowly fading out the help as you make trips and your child begins to engage in less behavior will create an atmosphere of independence. 
  4. Take practice trips 
    1. If this is a large outing for the child you can break it up into smaller steps. For instance if you are wanting to take your child to the grocery store, start small by working on getting in the car and driving to the store/parking lot. Then work on walking to the door, then walking inside, etc. By breaking up the outing and allowing your child to work on smaller steps, this could create more independence for the full outing in the future. 

Steps to Increase Independent Sustained Play with Your Children

One main area of skills that children with Autism typically struggle with are play skills. This can include deficits in looking at others, playing with toys by their function, imaginary play and playing independently for lengths of time. For many parents, it can be difficult to find ways to run errands or do chores in the home partly because their children are unable to play independently. How can you increase independent play with your child?

Here are some ways below:

  • Pick toys that you desire your child to play with or that they have some interest in
    1. Maybe your child likes how wheels turn on a toy car, this can be a great place to start by showing them how to play with the car while they can still get the enjoyment of the wheels turning
  • Pick a goal of how long you want your child to engage with the toy appropriately
    1. Typically it is appropriate to start your goal as something reachable to the child. If the child plays with toys for 5 seconds, start your goal at 7 seconds so that they can obtain it and receive reinforcement readily, then increase the goal as they meet the original one often. Continue to help them play until they reach approximately 15 to 20 minutes of play with one item.
  • Show your child how to play with the targeted toys
    1. You can model how to play with toys yourself, find a video of someone playing with the toys that your child can imitate or have siblings model how to play
  • Once your child is playing with toys according to their function, take data on how long they will play with the toy without interaction with an adult 
    1. The data can be simple. Write down the name of the toy and the amount of time they are playing with it daily. When they leave the area or begin playing with the toy incorrectly, continue to redirect them back to playing appropriately with the toy for a designated period of time that you have as a goal.
  • Once your child has met the goal of playing with toys for 15 to 20 minutes, work on them being able to switch from playing with one toy to another independently. This will increase the amount of independent play they have. 
    1. You can show them how to transition from one activity to another by modeling it yourself, video modeling or a sibling modeling it similar to how you showed them how to play originally with the toy. 

Soon you will be able to get chores done or run errands while your child plays independently. This will increase their ability in the future to engage in tasks independently as well and will increase their ability to play with others. 

3 Reasons Sign Language Could Benefit Your Child

Currently there are several different resources available for a child who is non-vocal, meaning a child who does not currently use vocals to communicate. These include several modern AAC devices, Ipad applications, Picture exchange communication systems, and sign language. 

While sign language is not nearly as modern or technologically advanced, it has several benefits to a child with Autism. Here are ways sign language could benefit your child: 

  1. Sign language is easy to pair with vocals
    1. Sign language can be used simultaneously with vocals so that your child can learn the sign while hearing the word. This may promote your child to imitate sounds or vocal skills as well 
  2. Sign language is consistent 
    1. Since sign language uses body parts to communicate, it is easy to use in any location for your child and does not require you to remember extra items. 
  3. Sign language promotes other learning skills 
    1. Children learn sign language through imitation but can also label and speak conversationally with signs so it can be used similarly to vocal language
  4. Sign language is universally known
    1. While sign language is not known by everyone, it is a universal language and has a built in community that uses it and can communicate with others. Thus, your child will be able to communicate with others consistently in the future. 

Information on sign language & classes:

Learning ASL – American Society for Deaf Children

ASL Kids – Sign language Resources for Children (asl-kids.com)

Three Ways to Teach Facial Expressions in a Masked World

When Covid came onto the world scene, it was inevitable that it would play a role in our lives. However, two years later it is still present in our communities and has impacted our lives for a longer duration than most expect. This has severely influenced those with disabilities, particularly socially. One significant area that it can impact those with social impairments is in understanding facial expressions and gestures. 

With Covid still on the scene and masks being worn in public, how do you teach those with social impairments facial expressions and gestures? Here are some ideas below. 

  1. Use visuals
    1. Pictures of people your child knows engaging in a variety of facial expressions to identify, find and match facial expressions will help them to gain the skill of being able to express and identify facial expressions. 
  2. Find videos and practice engaging in the facial expressions 
    1. Finding videos of others engaging in facial expressions and having you child practice them will help them to understand the movements to make the facial expressions. Use their favorite tv shows or movies if possible and pause them when facial expressions are made to make it more motivating. 
  3. Teach them how to ask 
    1. Teach your child how to ask someone how they’re feeling. This will be a huge life skill for them and help them in the future to be able to communicate with others when they are unsure how they’re feeling. 

Once your child has mastered these skills, they will be able to understand facial expressions in a variety of ways and environments even if Covid seems to stick around longer. Once they’ve mastered the art of expressions, you could move on to work on greeting others or certain gestures (peace sign, hand shake, thumbs up) along with their meanings as well.

Self-Help Skills: 3 Ways to Initiate Your Chores

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “I wish I had more help with ____ (fill in the blank)?” You’re in luck! If you have children in your home they can help you with basic simple chores. Even very young neurodiverse children are able to help with small skills around the house. You may be wondering though, how can my two year old with Autism do a chore? 

  • Start with something small or break up a task:
    • You may want your child to work on dressing themselves. Start with a smaller part of the task such as putting on their shoes by themselves first. Slowly you can add more skills such as putting on socks, pants, and a shirt to learn the entire skill of dressing. 
  • Start with something that they are already interested in or show the skill for:
    • Does your child love water? Starting with them learning how to wash their hands or rinsing dishes may be a good place to start since they are already motivated by water. 
  • Use visual schedules:
    • You may use visual schedules to help your child to have help continuing the skill or reminding them of the next step.

Soon you’ll be getting the help you need and your child will be learning skills that they will use lifelong!

 

Fall Sensory Activities

It may be warm and sunny still where you are dwelling but September typically means that children are back in school and Fall is nearly upon us! 

Sensory activities include fine and gross motor skills and have been known to help regulate the sensory system that can sometimes play a role in how children with Autism are moving their bodies or seeking specific gross/fine motor input. For children with Autism, sensory activities are a very integral part of the day to be able to help their bodies neutralize, interact with others, increase functional play and appropriate play. It is also beneficial for children to increase their exposure to different textures and interaction with others as well. Here are 6 different things you can do to incorporate the season of fall into your sensory activities at home.

  1. Paint with nature items 
    • Go on a walk to aid in gross motor movement (a sensory activity in itself!) and have children pick up pinecones, acorns, leaves, stones and grass while walking. Use these nature items as sponges to paint pictures with. 
  2. Carve pumpkins
    • Pumpkins themselves are a great sensory activity because they incorporate so many different textures. Instead of carving the typical way, allow your child to make a face with the pumpkin and place golf tees in it. This will engage fine motor skill movement. Then let your child remove the pumpkin insides for texture engagement. Finally, roast the seeds and enjoy a oral sensory experience! 
  3. Use cake mix as kinetic sand 
    • Buy cake mix or a pumpkin bread mix and place it in a bin. Add candy corn, candy pumpkins or any small items such as sprinkles, mini cookies, etc. into the bin. Have your child use tweezers (large plastic ones can be found in the craft section of most stores) to engage in fine motor movement while also allowing for an oral sensory opportunity as well. 
  4. Play in the leaves
    • Needing to get some yard work done and willing to allow your child to help? Raking leaves and jumping in them is a perfect sensory experience that incorporates gross motor movement along with texture exploration! 
  5. Make Dirt Cups or Jello 
    • If you have a child with pica or specific oral sensory needs, food is a great way to go. Dirt cups including Jello or pudding with crunchy toppings and gummies allows for a child to experience several different textures. It can also be a great way for your child to engage in self-help skills by baking with you and engaging in fine motor activities such as measuring and pouring.
  6. It’s slime time! 

I hope this helps create fun family memories with your child and benefits them in several ways: from sensory to social engagement. 

Preparing for New Outings

For some of you, outings may have always been challenging but adding a pandemic to the mix may have made family outings more difficult for you and your child. Children with Autism can struggle with being in new and unfamiliar places which can make anything from errands to the post office to eating at a restaurant extremely overwhelming. However, outings are a pivotal experience for children with Autism so that they can generalize skills and get used to different environments and social engagements. Afterall, at some point they will be adults and we want them to be as successful as possible. 

 

Here are some tips to help prepare you and your family for upcoming outings to make them more enjoyable for all. 

  1. Make a social story
    • Social stories are great for children of all ages because they can describe an event and provide context. Including pictures and giving detail to the outing can make the child more comfortable with the outing before you go. 
  2. Prepare your car with items that may make the outing more successful
    • Some children may need items to get them through a car ride or store experience. Bringing along a familiar toy can help with waiting in lines, at restaurants or in the car. 
  3. Prepare yourself with any items your child may need to communicate with. Your child may need to bring their PECS book, AAC device or any items that help them to communicate properly in their daily life. 
  4. Practice loading the car and driving to the location in advance. Sometimes it may take several practice attempts and slowly integrate your child into the experience. For instance, your child may feel too overwhelmed with starting out the first time going to a restaurant by diving into all of the steps it takes before you sit down to eat. It may be helpful to break up the trip and practice a week or two in advance so that your child becomes more familiar with the drive, walking to and from the restaurant, meeting the staff, sitting at a table, and picking a food to eat. 
  5. If possible, take supportive family members or friends with you.
    •  This can ease your stress level, have someone to help you prepare ahead of time and help you if things become overwhelming or difficult during the outing. Having a person to communicate your child’s needs to others while you are helping your child can be super beneficial during an outing if necessary. 
  6. Notify the employees at the outing ahead of time of your child’s needs.
    •  A lot of places can accommodate noise, lights, and the amount of people in attendance if your child needs those types of accommodations. They can also be prepared for any preparations you may have in advance and make sure your child feels comfortable with them as well. 

In the end, practice makes perfect. The more outings you are able to take your child on, the better that you both will feel and the more comfortable you will be in the long run. 

How to find Autism support groups in your area

For children and parents alike, receiving an Autism diagnosis can come with a lot of questions and emotions. Beyond that, families may feel isolated from neurotypical friends because of the unique challenges they face as a family with a person with Autism. While there are many resources out there for support groups, it can be overwhelming or time consuming to find something in your area. Here’s a quick guide to help you in your search to find other families facing similar needs because of Autism. 

Globally:

  1. Look on Facebook:
    1. Facebook is full of specific groups tailored to the needs of several populations. Doing a quick search for: children with autism groups or parents of children with Autism can bring you to an online group on Facebook. Even adding in your location could help you find a group closer to you with local resources. 
  2. Center for parent information and resources: 
    1. This organization offers training and resources to families to give them confidence and direct support they are looking for, particularly with behaviors. The training includes other families and may give you a connecting point on finding the support you’re looking for as well. 

Locally:

  1. Check your local YMCA or Boys and Girls Club:
    1. Depending on the local area, the YMCA and Boys and Girls club will sometimes offer opportunities for children with Autism as well as support groups for family members. If they do not provide support in your area, they may be able to direct you to resources nearby. 
  2. Contact your local government: 
    1. Not only will the local government be able to provide information on what you and your child may need to sign up for moving forward with governmental aid and support, they can give you information on several organizations as well as Autism friendly activities in the area. For instance, many movie theaters, bowling alleys, and kid activity centers will provide hours and experiences for those with Autism.
  3. Contact your local school: 
    1. The school that your child attends or could attend in your local area can often give you information on the surrounding community and link you to parents who may be offering support groups nearby.
  4. Contact a local church:
    1. Typically there are churches nearby that offer respite evenings for care takers of children with special needs or special Sunday school events. Contact a local church who can direct you to their services or the services of a church nearby.