This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.
Christmas is next week and I still haven’t bought a single gift. I should probably get started on that because my son, Norrin, has a really long list. Anyway if you’re a last minute shopper like me and you have a kid (or kids) with autism on your list, you may be wondering what you should get.
It’s cost effective. Most board games range from $10 – 25. You don’t need the internet or have to keep purchasing games to play. A board game is a one-time price.
Great for social skills. Playing a board game requires turn taking and conversation.
Here are 10 board games we play with Norrin that he loves:
Don’t Break the Ice. Always on the top of our list for gift suggestions. We’ve had this game for years and Norrin still loves it! It’s great for work on those motor planning skills.
Zingo! [by Thinkfun] I love playing Zingo with Norrin. We have Zingo! and Zingo! Sightwords. But there’s also Zingo! Spanish, Time-timing, Spanish and 1-2-3. What I love most about Zingo! and Thinkfun games are that they incorporate learning into the fun. It’s a game with a real purpose.
Candy Land. I loved playing Candy Land as a kid and I love playing it with Norrin. This game is great to teach kids about following directions.
Whac-a-Mole. We play this when we go to the arcades and it’s fun playing at home too.
Hed Bandz. We have the Disney version of this game and Norrin gets a kick out of it. I like that we can work on our WH questions.
Scrabble Jr. I have regular Scrabble nights with my friends and Norrin enjoys watching us play. We decided to buying his own board and while some of the rules of Scrabble are still a little complicated, I like that we can work on spelling.
Connect 4. Norrin loves playing Connect 4 but what he loves more is watching all the pieces fall.
Mouse Trap. We recently received this as a gift from one of Norrin’s therapists. Norrin was beyond excited about it and I’m looking forward to him teaching me how to play.
Hungry, Hungry Hippo. Another game I loved as a kid that I get to play again. Sometimes I even let Norrin win.
Social Skills by Didax – This is the only game we we do not own but it’s on our wish list! I feel like this game is made specifically for kids with autism. “Each game has players discuss the solutions to socially challenging situations. Together the group decides upon the best action encouraging all players to communicate, listen and participate in the game.”
Now that you have the game suggestions, here are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing:
Is it appropriate? Don’t think about the age on the box – think about the functioning level of the child.
Are the pieces too small? Could it be a choking hazard?
What can the child get out of it? I am all about toys with purpose. Whenever I buy toy, I think about the child and what they can learn/gain by playing with it.
What are your favorite board games to play with kids?
New research has revealed important information about how kids and autism read other people’s social cues—and how people with autism see themselves.
Children and adults with autism see faces differently than their peers do, reveals a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Scientists at the University of Montreal asked a group of 71 children and adults—including 33 with autism and 38 without—to view both photographs and computer-generated images of emotionally neutral faces, and to indicate which ones appeared most “kind.” The group with autism had mixed reactions to the photos, compared to the other group. Yet both groups performed similarly when they glanced at the synthetic image.
In a nutshell, the study indicates that people with autism gather information about faces differently than others do—it’s not a matter of making a judgment. This finding could help improve socializing and communication with people who have autism. As lead author Baudouin Forgeot d’Arc said, “Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaulute the social environment will allow us to better interact with them.”
Another study, published in the journal PLoS One, found that when young adults with autism think about hugging or adoring someone or hating them, they think of it like somebody watching a play or reading a dictionary definition. It’s actual proof that people with autism have an altered perception of self, Carnegie Mellon University lead researcher Marcel Just, PhD, told Time magazine. His team did MRI scans on 17 young adults with autism and 17 people without it to see which areas of the brain lit up when they thought about a range of social interactions. The difference between the two groups was so significant that researchers could pinpoint whether a brain was autistic or neurotypical with 97 percent accuracy. The findings could lead to a new way of diagnosing and understanding autism, along with other psychiatric disorders.
Yet more pieces of the autism puzzle falls into place.
Allow children who are overwhelmed by sights and sounds of shopping to stay home. Allow kids to have a pajama and movie night while you’re shopping.
If a child must attend the shopping trip, schedule downtime or breaks for children to de-sensitize. This can be located in the car with some crunchy snacks, a weighted blanket, and some calming music.
Encourage children to make a list of preferred toys well in advance. Give family lists of toys to choose from. I even purchase the toys my children will enjoy and provide them to my local family members ahead of time. We sometimes have a “trunk sale” and everyone chooses which give they will buy and wrap for my boys.
Go at a time of day when children are well-rested and not hungry. Do not rush and arrive early.
Write a letter or speak to the photographer ahead of time. Most studios will schedule extra time for children who have special needs. Request a photographer who is patient. If possible, schedule a photographer to visit your family outside of the studio. We have found that this may be a more affordable option than a studio because of low-overhead costs.
Be flexible. Consider that “fancy” clothes are often scratchy, have tags, and may contain textures that aren’t familiar to children. Permit the child to wear comfortable versions of colors that you’d like the family portrait to have.
Visits with Santa
If children do agree to see Santa, create a social story with pictures of Santa, including his beard, velvet/soft red suit, and the setting in which Santa will be located. Go to the location prior to the visit and watch other children. Practice, practice, practice!
Create a “safe-zone” to which the child can go whenever they feel overwhelmed. Set a password or sign that your child can use to excuse himself. Place a bean bag, calming music, a heavy blanket, and favorite hand fidget toy in the area. Practice ahead of time.
Create a letter to family members prior to family gatherings to explain your child’s wonderful progress toward goals and suggestions for conversation topics. For example: “Joshua’s had a wonderful year in therapy. He’s learned how to tie his shoes, take one turn during conversations, and how to write in cursive. Joshua likes Angry Birds. Here’s a link to the Angry Birds’ website if you’d like more information. Please know that even though he’s not looking directly into your eyes, he IS listening to you and loves you!”
At mealtime, make sure to serve a preferred food so that children who have feeding difficulties can successfully participate.
Give kids a job to do so that they will have a sense of belonging and success. Even something such as helping to create place markers for seating or setting the table can give kids a feeling of accomplishment.
Remember that heavy work is generally calming. Include activities such as moving chairs, picking up and placing dirty clothes into a basket and carrying it to the laundry room, or vacuuming are great ways to encourage children to help to prepare for the party.
Plan an “out” or an escape plan. Even a short visit that is successful can create memories that last a lifetime!
The Holidays are meant to be fun. Enjoy them with your family!
Wings for Autism, an airport “rehearsal” that helps kids with autism feel calmer about flying, held a program at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina this weekend. Run by The Arc of the United States, and using a Delta plane, it allowed kids with autism to experience what it’s like to go through the hustle and bustle of an airport and security, and to sit on a plane with their families. Here’s a video of the program in action at another airport:
If you have a child with autism (or sensory issues, as I do), you know how stressful plane travel can be. Max went through a phase in which he repeatedly kicked the back of the seat in front of him; it helped calm him down, though it did anything but for the nearby passengers. We had to cushion his knees with our winter jackets and, once, switch seats so that I was the one in front of him. Thankfully, he grew out of it.
What’s doubly awesome about Wings for Autism is that it gives airport, airline and security staffers the chance to observe and interact with kids with autism, and better understand them. Unfortunately, you’re on your own for dealing with the glares you occasionally get from fellow passengers. Once, we sat near a woman who remarked to her kids about the “annoying noises” Max was making (basically, his form of speech). I leaned over and said, “That’s his way of talking.” And she still gave me a look. Nice!
There are five more Wings for Autism program dates coming up, in Boston, Washington and Anchorage (here’s the schedule, with a link to registration information).