an autism journey

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Toys for Teaching Independent Play

It can be hard for kids with autism to learn how to play appropriately and independently with toys.  My son does best with toys that have a set beginning and end. Things like puzzles are great, but it has been a struggle to find other toys beyond that. Below is my top ten list for what has worked for us.

To teach independent skills, I use ABA techniques (thanks to his therapist for teaching me) and begin by breaking it down into small steps that he can have success with. For instance with puzzles, I might have him start by just putting 2 or 3 pieces together or by completing all but the last 2 or 3 pieces for him. Each time he does so, he is rewarded with a small treat (motivation is always key to learning).  After he masters that step (it might take a number of days to do so), I then continue to add a piece until he can independently do the entire puzzle himself. Be patient. It is very important to teach this skill in small enough steps to guarantee success so as not to frustrate the child. Each of the following toys can be taught using this method (use a hand over hand approach helping the child early on if necessary).

1) Melissa and Doug Pretend Pizza Party: This wooden set is sturdy enough to stand up to even the roughest of play. I started by just having my son put on the pizza toppings to an already put together pizza. After he mastered that, we moved on to putting the pizza pieces together just a couple at a time, and eventually he learned to put together the entire set himself. This is now one of his favorite toys. We just recently purchased the very similar Triple Layer Birthday Cake Set.

2) Mister Potato Head: This classic toy works perfectly for teaching independent play. If need be, start with just one piece at a time until that is mastered and work up. This toy also works well for teaching body parts as well as requesting for pieces (verbally, with a device, or with PECS).

3) Fantacolor Junior: This design board comes with 16 pictures (8 double sided boards). The picture is laid under the plastic to which large chunky plastic pegs are placed into holes matching up colors. A very simple, but fun toy to help with colors and creativity, as well as fine motor skills while teaching independent play.

4)Get a Grip on Patterns (Shaked Ed. Games) My personal favorite for independent play. This plastic grip board comes with 12 different designs that can be overlayed onto the board. Small clothespin type pegs are then placed onto the pattern. Great for working on fine motor skills (required to pinch and attach the pegs), colors, and patterns.

5) Lace up Cards: There are many types to choose from. I personally like the Melissa and Doug brand. They are cute, colorful, and very sturdy (essential for us).  Again, this can be catered to your child’s ability. You can begin by having the card all laced up except for the last  few holes if necessary and build from there.

6) Sort n Shape games: I like the one from Orda Industries, but there are many you can choose from. Pick one that comes with picture cards to show the pattern to imitate. The child then simply follows the pattern to place the correct shapes, colors, ect.

7) Perfection: This classic game works well as a more advance shape sorter toy. We use the game without turning on the timer. (This game will require supervision for those children who might put the small pieces into their mouths).

8) Lego Building sets: We like the Duplo sets since the pieces are bigger to handle and less likely to be placed in the mouth. We start out with just a couple of pieces and work our way up to a specific design (be sure to provide a visual picture of the desired design). We work on the same exact pattern/design until it is mastered, rather than just randomly building blocks.

9) Melissa and Doug Farm Blocks Play Set:  We like this particular set, but again, there are many others to choose from. I like this farm set, because it requires the building of the set along with the play of the animals. For us, we just work on building one particular piece at a time, wait until that is mastered, move on to another part of the farm, and finally teach the placement of the animals into the play set. I  placed small Velcro dots onto each piece so that they would stay together and not be knocked down with a minor bump. Trust me, this cuts way down on the frustration level.

10) Guidecraft Sort and Match Construction Trucks (or Flower Garden): Sturdy magnetic pieces attach to the color and shape guided pictures to form a truck (or flower). This toy is great for working on many skills at the same time.

Let your child’s interests guide you in what toys to teach with. Be sure to reward your child for each successful step along the way.


Quest for a Tough Fidget

I have been searching high and low for the perfect fidget for my son. He has a need to always have something in his hand to flick, squish, and fidget with. He takes them everywhere. For some reason, it just makes him feel better to have something to do with his hands. It comforts and relaxes him. The problem? He is tough on them… really tough. Needless to say, we go through a lot! Not only is it difficult to find one that lasts, it is difficult to find one that I feel safe enough to let him run around with. Oh there are plenty of tough fidgets out there (that he won’t touch), but he prefers the ones that feel soft and squishy. We have been through a slew of the puffer type balls. They are about as tough as a balloon, so neither safe for a boy who mouths things, nor practical since they cost anywhere from $1-$5 each and last about 5 minutes (if lucky). We have tried the rubbery turtles with the hard shells… the shells get pulled off and within days, the heads are bitten off and tears follow when mommy can’t fix it. We tried the little animals filled with tiny pellets… I will be cleaning up those tiny pellets forever in my car. Slinkies get tangled, silly putty ends up in the ears, playdoh gets eaten, water wigglers leak and gel balls ooze out slime after a finger punctures it….. So, we are so happy to have finally found a really tough fidget that he actually likes. It is called Bug Out Bob and it is the ugliest thing ever, but it is tough and still squishy. It has been sat on, pulled on, squeezed and bitten (although I don’t recommend it as a chewy toy by any means and strongly discourage him to use it as such… but we all know what happens when mom isn’t looking). We found it at Discount School Supply   (it is called Martian Popping Thing in the catalog and online, but the box says Bug Out Bob) for $7.99 and it is worth every penny. 

 WARNING: The box does have a warning label for a choking hazard and says not for children under 3 years old.

My Top Ten iPad apps for Kids With Autism

When my son got his iPad, I had no idea how overwhelming it would be to try to pick appropriate apps for him to get started with. There were so many out there to choose from. Through the advice of other autism moms, therapists, and a whole lot of trial and error, I have developed my own top ten list. Keep in mind, that no two kids with autism are alike…. What interests my son, may not interest yours or your child may have completely different needs, but hopefully, this will at least spark some ideas to help you get you started.

#10 Injini Lite (free)

This app is a smaller version of the actual full app. It only allows you to play a small portion of what is offered. However, it is a really neat app. You can feed animals, sheer sheep, solve puzzles, play a game called squares (which reminds me a little of the old electronic “Simon” game), tracing, pop correctly colored balloons, etc. This is the most I have seen offered in a free app. What it really does though is make you want the full version (which my son uses in therapy) but at the sticker shock of $29.99, we are making do with the free version at home for now. My son plays this app weekly, but would probably play it daily if we had the full version. The levels they offer in the lite version have simply become too easy for him. I will certainly consider purchasing the full app in the future.

#9 Sesame Street The Monster at the End of This Book $3.99

Really nice book that allows you to play along in the story. Grover tries his best to keep the reader from continuing on in the story, but the player can overcome the obstacles much to his dismay. Just a fun book, but it does usually require some assistance from a grown up to help my son complete some of the tasks. (It is cute enough that the grown up doesn’t mind.)

#8 Monkey Preschool When I Grow Up $0.99

This cute app allows you to select a monkey to dress in appropriate attire thus selecting a career for it (or sometimes multiple careers). Once the monkey is dressed, it tells you what it wants to be when it grows up and does a little dance and you can start all over again. This app gets selected often, but doesn’t keep his attention for long.

#7  I See Ewe $0.99

This app allows you to choose from the options menu if you want to work on identifying objects, colors, animals, shapes or you can choose a  variety. It also allows you to choose how many cards you want on the board at a time (difficulty level).  For example, with colors, using the 4 card choice, 4 cards come up and it will tell you… “find the brown triangle.” This very simple game is really good for working on receptive language skills since you are listening to verbal request (you can work without the verbal prompt and choose just a written prompt if desired). You can also choose a memory/concentration game. This app is played off and on throughout the week, but it only keeps his attention for a couple minutes at a time. He usually plays this and moves onto another app. My only complaint with this app is that the settings option button is right with the game play buttons. My son is notorious for going in and changing not only the settings for the difficulty and skill being worked on, but he also thinks it is funny to change the language setting.

#6 FreeFall Spelling $1.99

In this app, letters fall down from the top of the page and you must drag them into their proper spot to make a word before they reach the bottom of the page. If you place them incorrectly or not fast enough, they simply scroll back down the page again until you get it right. It also periodically gives you a keyboard and a word to type. This app can be challenging at first for a child to figure out and you must be able to move fairly quickly with it. Still, a nice app and worth the $1.99. This one gets played weekly at my house.

#5 Super Why $3.99

Based on the PBS show, this game has 4 activities to choose from. Princess Presto leads you in “Wands Up Writing.” Using beginning phonic skills, a letter is selected matching the sound and then you trace it. The only complaint I have with this game, is it doesn’t not require a flow in writing the letter.  For instance, you can start at one point for the letter o, stop and put your finger on the other side to trace part and then stop and finish at another spot. I don’t think it really does much to teach proper writing techniques. Alpha Pig leads you in a game of “Lickety Letter Hunt.” This game teaches letter recognition as you form a word. If you guess wrong, that letter will disappear leaving you more likely to select the correct answer. Wonder Red leads “Rhyming Time.” Rhyming is a hard concept for my son, but the fact that the wrong answer disappears when you make a mistake helps. Super Why’s “Story Saver”  works on reading skills as you finish the story. When a wrong word is selected, the scenario is acted out using the word which allows for a little silliness to make the idea of a mistake a little less frustrating. The wrong word then disappears as in the other games. This app is played weekly.

#4 Monkey Math School Sunshine  $0.99

This math game works on beginning math concepts such as recognizing numbers, number order, least amount, patterns, and simple subtraction. There are also games for tracing shapes and connect the dots. You continue on until the correct answer is provided. When a task is completed, you can add items to your aquarium as a reward. This app is played almost daily.

#3 Handy Manny Workshop $0.99

This app has 4 games to choose from. In “Find It” the player searches the scene for all the characters from the show. A help button highlights where the characters are to give assistance. In “Match It” you can play a concentration type game matching up the characters on the picture cards. Again, assistance is provided if needed to avoid frustration (that is important for us since a frustrating task is an avoided task at our house). “Puzzle It” has 3 levels to select from and gives several puzzle choices in each level. This is great for kids who have fine motor issues that make working a traditional puzzle challenging. Simply use your finger to drag the piece into place (a help button is provided here as well). Each time a task is completed in the above games, a very short clip plays from the tv show as a reward. My son’s favorite part of this app (although he likes them all) is “Color It.” There are several scenes to choose from to virtually color on. A very light touch is all that is needed to apply color onto the page, making it simple to use. This app is used almost daily.

#2 Monkey Preschool Lunchbox (from the same makers of Monkey Math School Sunshine and Monkey Preschool When I Grow Up) $0.99

This cute app never gets old with my son. It works on a variety of concepts like colors, shapes, counting, letters, etc. It also has simple 4 piece puzzles to solve. There is a little monkey who jumps up and down when you get a correct answer. (The tropical tune playing as background music never leaves your head though) The app randomly selects which game to work on, which works well for us, since it doesn’t allow my son to simply play one part of the game over and over. This app is used daily and keeps his atteniton for quite awhile.

#1 iWrite Words $2.99

 My son’s all time favorite app (and mine too). Perfect for working on fine motor skills and teaching kids to write in a non threatening way. My son is fascinated by letters and numbers, but because of his problems with fine motor skills, writing is a very difficult task and can be very frustrating for him. At the time he first got his iPad, he could not even hold a pencil correctly. This app allowed him to use his finger to trace the letters and eventually he worked his way up to tracing them with a stylus (we purchased ours at WalMart for $12).  A cute little bug type creature acts as a prompt guiding you through the correct letter formation. You can choose from uppercase or lowercase letters, numbers, or whole words. This app came with the recommendation of his Occupational Therapist who uses this app with him often in therapy. This one gets used more than any of the others.

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