Friday, April 20, 2012

Fun Fine Motor Toys - Bed Bugs Game

Fine motor skills are so important.  We need to develop fine motor skills so we can hold a pencil correctly, use a spoon or fork, get dressed - you name it.  To develop fine motor skills you have to exercise the small muscles in the fingers, hands and wrists.  For the child with poor fine motor skills this often isn't very fun and can be very frustrating for them and for you.

As usual, if you can turn therapy into play often its more successful.  One way to develop fine motor skills is to play with fine motor toys or something like play-doh or Theraputty. But what about the child who is tactile defensive?  Play-doh and theraputty isn't fun at all!  So finding toys that exercise those fine motor muscles can be really helpful.

My Favorite Fine Motor Toy: The Bed Bugs Game
One game that has been working well for this is the Bed Bugs Game.  Here are the reasons why it works so well as a fine motor toy:
  1. You have to grab the bugs with tweezers.  Tweezers are great because they help develop the muscles necessary for holding a pencil correctly.
  2. You can adapt the game by taking turns.  Remember we are talking about working out muscles.  Even though fine motor muscles are small remember they get tired.  By taking turns with an activity you give muscles a chance for rest.
  3. It's cute and fun.  I like that the bedbugs are bright primary colors and don't look ugly.  Its also funny to watch them hop on the bed.  
  4. You can easily vary the time of the game by the amount of bed bugs you place on the bed.  This is helpful in classroom or therapy sessions.
  5. It's a fun game designed for all kids that is not language intensive.  This makes it great for inclusive situations.
I'm always on the look out for a new, fun fine motor toy or game.  Do you have a good one to recommend?  If so please share it!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to use Picture Communication Cards for Autism

Picture communication cards can help people who can’t communicate with speech. This low tech form of augmentative communication is fairly inexpensive and it’s easy to tailor cards to meet the specific needs of a person.

If you are beginning to use pictures for augmentative communication, it’s best to start with expressive communication. Begin by identifying common requests the communicator will want or need to use. Next, create a simple picture card to symbolize the request. You can purchase picture cards sets that are already laminated or picture software Boardmaker is the most expensive but cheaper software priced well under $100 with thousands of photos is now available too. You can also take photographs of objects yourself or download free pictures off the internet.

Some common expressive symbols include:
  • Say hello or good-bye
  • Make a request for an object such as a toy, food, or an activity
  • Start, continue or stop an activity
  • Ask for help
  • Express feelings such as happy, sad, sick or tired.
  • Indicate a preference or choice
Picture communication is easiest to teach if you start with simple requests like yes, no, and I want. The goal is for the communicator to make a simple request by pointing at the communication card. When starting the program make sure the picture cards are easily accessible, immediately acknowledge the request and positively reinforce the new behavior. Also remember to keep in mind the hand preference of the communicator when you offer the picture cards.

When teaching someone to use picture cards remember:
  • Start slow.
  • Use simple picture cards that depict high use words like drink, food, help or toilet.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be patient!
As a communicator progresses using simple communication cards you should see frustration go down, and independence increase. After learning to make simple requests, greetings, and answering simple questions, its time to move on to sentences. To teach sentences again it’s best to start with simple requests. You can create a word card that says 'I want’ or ‘I need’ and then use it with a picture card of a specific high use item the communicator is requesting.

Once you have a set of picture communication cards that it looks like the communicator will use often you may want to laminate them. Often people will laminate their cards and then use velcro coins to attach cards to fabric communication books, choice boards or schedules. For in-depth information on using picture communication a very helpful and easy to follow book is A Pictures Worth.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When God Interrupts Your Schedule

Recently I was in New York City, trolling a huge toy fair trying to find suitable toys for kids on the spectrum. This is my favorite part of working at National Autism Resources. I love to find new things, fun things, helpful things, things I wish I would've had. The good news is I found about five new things, which is a lot for me!

On the last day of the show I realized I hadn't seen a large part of the show. I woke up early, downed some coffee and headed to the show. I moved quickly from booth to booth and as I made progress I decided to to skip lunch and see if I could finish seeing everything. By two o'clock I was done, I grabbed my coat, and started for the taxi.

I decided to go to the airport early and eat at one of the restaurants there. Before I got to the taxi stand I noticed a line for the shuttle, it was due to leave for the airport. So I bought a ticket and waited for the shuttle. The shuttle was fifteen minutes late, then thirty, then forty and soon it was over an hour late. People started getting angry.

Over an hour later, we find out the shuttle has broken down and another one is on the way. Now I've gone from getting to the airport early, to arriving on time. I took a deep breath and felt peaceful. After all, what's the worse that could happen? I miss my flight, and have to reschedule another one. When the shuttle shows up its ninety minutes late and many in our group are loud and angry. A man standing next to me turned and said, "you don't seem to be too upset."

I replied, "I'm not. Getting upset won't get me to the airport earlier, so I'm not worried."

He introduced himself and asked for my card. When he saw what I did he became very excited and asked if he could show me his online platform, that he thought autistic kids would love. I said sure and at 4:00pm our shuttle showed up and we moved into NYC rush hour traffic.

The man introduced himself as Gaston and proceeded to tell me all about his online platform, how it started, why it started and what made it special. At one point he lamented that he couldn't show me any video, so I took out my I phone and he showed me every video he had. After awhile it became apparent that Gaston had run out of things to say.

At 4:30 we started to talk about personal things. I shared with him about my life, my children and the peace I have that comes from God. He shared how he constantly felt angry/guilty/angry with God. How he was going to have a child and decided that she would grow up without knowing God. So for the next half hour I talked to him about God's goodness, kindness, patience and love. By the time we got to the airport, my plane was do to leave in 45 minutes. I quickly grabbed my suitcase, Gaston wished me well as I ran into the terminal.

I didn't have my ticket printed and there was a huge line. Fortunately, I pulled up my receipt on my phone and showed it to a JetBlue attendant. He walked over and printed my ticket and walked me over to security. (It pays to travel like crazy!) I thought, my goodness I may make my flight, and then we turned the corner and saw the security line, the attendant said, "I'm sorry but I can't help you with this!"

I stood in line and silently thanked God for getting me this far and for the chance to talk to Gaston even if I miss my flight. As soon as I finished the prayer a new section of security opened and my line broke in half! Wow, I thought, "I just might make it" and then the line broke again. I walked straight and turned to a line with only three people in it! I prayed, "thank you Lord, I think I will make it." When it was my turn I was really happy, and then I heard the a man say, "you've been randomly selected for a security check."

Oh no, really, I'm this close.. I was bummed as I stepped out of line. An officer walked me to a side machine, wiped my hands with a piece of paper, tested it under a laser and pronounced "You're fine to go."

I grabbed my stuff and started running to my terminal. I heard them starting to board my flight. By this time I was so hungry I quickly prayed, "please help me Lord" and ran through an airport shop grabbed a salad, payed cash and kept running. By the time I got to my terminal I was the last in line to board my section of the flight.

I sat down winded, but so thankful. My plan was to leave early and have a nice dinner at the airport, but God wanted me to talk to Gaston. Had the shuttle not been late we never would have met. Had the shuttle not been stuck in rush hour traffic we never would have had the time to talk about spiritual things. God let me spend absolutely as much time as possible talking to Gaston about His goodness.

I wish I could say I'm always patient, always peaceful, but my friends that's not the case. Even as I sit here I wonder how many times I've lost out on being used by God because I was unwilling to let my plans be interrupted.

Proverbs 16:9 says: In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Creating a Calm Space for the Child with Autism

Children with autism often find it difficult to cope with common sensory experiences. Their sensory threshold can be lower than the general population and daily experiences can be very tiring for them. When overwhelmed an autistic child may try to counteract over stimulation with self stimulation like rocking, hand flapping or stereotypical behaviors.

When an autistic child is overwhelmed its best to give them lots of space and quiet. They may need quiet time several times in one day. This can be a challenge in a small house, or a classroom. To make a calming area you can use:
  • A corner, blocked off with curtains or furniture
  • A large cardboard box, like one for large appliances.
  • A portable play tent.
  • A table covered with a large sheet or blanket.
Place some comfortable, calming items in your quiet area. Some ideas can include soft blankets, pillows, vibrating items, soothing visual items such as liquid timers, sand panels, or rhythmic moving motion lamps.

Limit visual stimulation such as bright lights or posters. If possible try to make your calming area darker and quieter than the rest of the room.

Allow the child with autism to go into the calming area whenever they are finding it difficult to cope. You could also allow them to do some activities in his quiet space like reading, writing or working in a workbook. Make sure other children do not disturb the child when he or she is there.

Keep in mind that this support may be harder to provide as the child grows older. As the child grows try to replace this space with more socially acceptable accommodations such as a chair in the corner of the room, rocking chair, weighted vest or small, calming vibrating item or visual timer.