During winter breaks, to keep kids occupied I encourage my clients and my own children to limit screen time and be creative. Children of all ages learn skills—and about their environment—through play activities. Here are some that fill both fun and functional requirements for your child!
1. Dig out the pool noodles.
Lay out the pool noodles as an obstacle course; children can step around and over them. Kids can also play limbo with the noodles or crawl under them in the quadriped (crawling) position. Also, cut in half, pool noodles can be used as balance beams for young kids; work in bare feet to make the task easier.
2. Play Lego copycat.
Use Legos or building blocks to make a creation, then ask your child to duplicate it. This activity can be switched around so that children create models for parents to follow.
3. Play the touch-’n'-guess game.
Grab any two items in your home that are the same—say, a couple of crayons, a pair of toy figurines, salt and pepper shakers—and add one of each to a paper bag. Place the second set in a line in front of your child. Ask her to feel the items in the bag and, without looking, find the matches. This skill, called stereognosis, is valuable. It is the ability to perceive and identify objects by using only the sense of touch—the same one we use when we reach into our purse feel for our lipstick or wallet.
4. Rope ‘em into housework!
Heavy work can be calming. Include children in chores and activities such as moving chairs, picking up and placing dirty clothes into a basket, vacuuming, or sweeping.
5. String up the holiday cards.
Punch holes into holiday cards with a one-hole puncher. Gather up ribbon, string or twine and lace the holes, helping your child do the threading as necessary—a great fine-motor-skill exercise.
6. Make geoboards.
Use Styrofoam as a base and attach golf tees, sticks, small pencils, or hairpins. Encourage kids to push the items into the board or pound them with a toy hammer. Help them add colorful rubber bands to create shapes such as stars and polygons.
7. Create a sensory hideout
You can drape sheets over a couple of chairs, build a hideout from a bunch of boxes, or use a small tent if you have one. Add pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals to give kids that cozy feeling. Also great: Lycra fabric in which kids can roll up and wrap themselves—that gives awesome proprioceptive input. My kids love having a flashlight in their cozy space.
With a little creativity, many activities can be fun and therapeutic. Play with your child and the memories you make together will last a lifetime!
And the best Video of the Year Award goes to…”Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” as sung by my son and his music therapist, Amanda. You read it here first!
Watching Max sing with her is always a treat. This past year the two of them rocked “Let It Go” and “For The First Time in Forever.” But when she got him to do a Beatles song, well, I melted. It is such a thrill to hear Max belting out a song I grew up with and loved.
As a special needs parent, you often have to give up on dreams that your child will savor the same childhood pleasures that you did. I’m talking about things big (like swimming) and small (holding and licking a lollipop). Early on, this can really bum you out. Eventually, though, you come to understand—and accept—that your child will enjoy stuff in his own way. Or he’ll do different things and have fun, too. Max may not be able to swim, but he’ll walk around the pool in knee-deep water, crouched over and pretending to swim, and that makes him happy. Max may not be able to hold and lick a lollipop because he doesn’t yet have that coordination, but this kid has gotten darn good at clutching a cupcake (chocolate, please).
And so what if Max can’t say all the words in the song? He’s carrying the tune admirably, and he’s a charming performer. So, without further ado, Best Video of the Year. Sorry that Beyoncé was not available to present it.
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?
OK, so technically, this isn’t my child in Target’s Sunday newspaper circular. I happen to have a boy, Max. Who is 12-years-old and who has cerebral palsy, not Down syndrome. The child in the ad is 2-year-old Izzy Bradley of Stillwater, Minnesota.
But you know what? When I see Target including a child with special needs in their ads, I do see my son there—along with other kids who have special needs.
I look at this ad and I see that little girl representing all our children, because it’s still relatively rare for a child with disabilities to appear in ads.
I look at this ad and I see a child looking every bit as cute as any other child. Cute in her own way, just like any child is.
I look at this ad and I see a child looking like she is having a good time—you know, as children like to do. Which is something that people sometimes don’t realize about kids with special needs: They may have more visible challenges than other kids (or, as the case may be, invisible ones), but at heart they are still children with all that kid wonder and sense of fun. Sometimes, people see only the disability. As Izzy’s mom Heather said, “I really appreciate Target’s policy of including [kids with Down syndrome] in their ads. I think it really normalizes Down syndrome and helps people to see we’re really just like any other family.”
I look at this ad and see a child with special needs being included in an organic, natural way, the kind of inclusion parents of kids with special needs yearn for in other parts of life.
I look at this ad and I see true diversity. These days, companies are very conscientious about making sure races of all kinds are represented in ads, but full-fledged diversity means including people of all abilities as well.
I look at this ad and I want to see more, more, more of them.
This post is from Beverly Worth Palomba, author of Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook. A veteran teacher who has worked in Special Education for the last 11 years, Beverly runs a life skills class for students with special needs at a local high-school—a program that inspired her book. She also holds cooking workshops at community centers. She’s doing important (and delicious!) work. As she says, “There is so much happening when your child is cooking or helping in the kitchen. They are not only making something yummy but they are learning to work as a team. It gives you and your child an avenue to ask questions or talk about what you are making together. Cooking is a natural and easy way to help build social skills, develop language, foster teamwork and build confidence and self-esteem.”
Check out her top tips for successful cooking with a child who has special needs.
1) Tour the kitchen
Show your child where the utensils, pots and pans, mixing spoons, mixing bowls, measuring spoons, cutting board, paper towels, toaster, microwave and blender are—and don’t forget the refrigerator. There are a lot of different compartments that can be confusing.
2) Prep your child for success
Go over the differences between liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups. Use a cutting board with a rubber backing if possible, since it provides more stability for chopping; you could also place a rubber mat beneath one to help stabilize it. Use plastic knives only.
3) Make things easy to reach and move
• To make lifting and pouring from large containers easier, store ingredients in smaller, lighter containers. For example, you can keep vegetable oil in an empty spice jar or pour milk into a quart container. • Store dry ingredients like, sugar, flour, salt and pepper in wide, covered containers so they’re easier to scoop and level. • Store spices in a clear, shoe-box size container. This will make it easier to put on the counter to see which spices are needed. Start with the most common ones like salt and pepper, then add to the box as you go along. • Arrange the cooking supplies with your child. Make sure bowls aren’t in a pile, making it difficult to get to the right size. It is so important for kids to feel that they are part of the set up.
4) Choose a simple recipe
Finding a recipe to begin with that has a few ingredients (no more than four), step-by-step directions, a colorful picture and is on one page is important. You want your child to be excited about the recipe they are cooking and even more so, you want your child to have a fun and successful experience. You don’t want them to be turned off by their first recipe because it was too long and confusing. I recommend starting with a trail mix or smoothie.
5) Read together
Read the recipe with your child. You may have already done this when you were looking for one, but it will help them to focus on their task. Reading before starting will also allow you to go over any questions your child may have.
6) Break it down
Set out all the ingredients and equipment on the counter. If while cooking your child is having difficulty focusing on the ingredients or directions, cover the recipe with a piece of paper, leaving only the part they are working on showing. Then, move the paper as you go.
7) Sprinkle on lavish amounts of praise
Laugh and offer up lots of compliments. Give your family a head’s up on what’s coming so they are ready with the “Wow, that’s great” comments. Of course, there will be spills. Remember to giggle…and have your child join in on the clean up!