Name: Debby Elley
Title: Co-editor AuKids magazine
Age of children: Twins aged 13
For Autism Awareness Day we’ve teamed up with Debby from AuKids, a parenting magazine for those raising and educating children with autism, to provide personal product recommendations and tips about buying presents for autistic children.
Social communication difficulties mean that pretend play often carries little interest for them early on. Motor planning can also be affected and so toys that require building may prove frustrating. Our first piece of advice when buying for an autistic child: never guess. If you want to be known for thoughtful presents, prepare by asking mum or dad the type of thing their youngster likes. Some autistic children don’t like surprises or change very much, even when it comes to birthdays. It’s a nice idea to give them some suggestions – with images – and let them choose between them.
In children with autism, the sensory exploration stage is very important and often very engaging, too. Sensory toys can be fantastic for these children, but do check with their carers whether they have any sensitivities or aversions.
The Sand Moulds Lowercase Alphabet is a good bet, helping fine
motor skills as they pack the sand into a letter shape. It’s also an opportunity for parent and child to use simple language together whilst they have shared attention. This is the best way for autistic children to pick up new vocabulary.
We love toys that combine sensory fun with learning as they can be appreciated on different levels. Sensory rooms for children with autism can be very expensive – but there are some lovely toys that can make a bedroom a wonderful place to be at night. The Primary Science™ Shining Stars Projector gives super images and is a captivating little gadget.
Often parents of children with special needs know that they enjoy sensory play, but the reality of cleaning up after every play session can be a little draining! We love the Playfoam Combo 8 Pack – Playfoam is non toxic and it doesn’t stick to carpet – result! They don’t need to build anything marvellous, just the process of squishing and squashing is extremely good for motor skills. We suggest you also buy a cheap shower curtain from the supermarket for about £1 – this provides great floor or table cover and is invaluable for a quick clear-up operation.
Understanding the concept of time is particularly difficult for autistic children. It is an abstract concept – that is, the passing of time is a notion that you keep in your head. Autistic children rely on solid visual information. For those children who are in a mainstream school and ready to develop their understanding of time, we like About Time – Telling the Time & Understanding Elapsed Time.
What’s particularly good about this kit is that it includes visual representations of quarter of an hour and half an hour, helping children to understand their relationship to an hour. Some older school children with autism would benefit from this, too.
For Spin Doctors…
If the autistic child in your life enjoys watching things that spin around, then the Gears! Gears! Gears!® sets are a great bet. Not only can you support them to build, using fine motor skills, but at the end they have a fantastic, motivating visual activity. These gears sets can be appreciated on many levels. Parents can build for younger children and then start encouraging them to join in gradually. There are many sets to choose from – we loved the Gizmos Building Set and the Space Explorers Building Set but if that’s a little outside your price range, the Build & Spin Flower Garden Building Set is also bound to be a hit.
The Design & Drill® BrightWorks™ set stands out for us as toy that is perfect for children with special needs. The colourful plastic bolts and drill are solid and durable and even those with shaky hands can enjoy great success making patterns on the light-up drill board. As with any child who has a tendency to mouth toys, an adult needs to closely monitor play to ensure that they don’t try and eat the bolts or drill too much – which puts a strain on the motor. But with a little prompting, this is a very useful toy to develop fine motor skills. Because it lights up, it’s great sensory play, and very motivating.
Froggy Feeding Fun™ is another good game to develop fine motor; squeeze the frog’s mouth to catch a treat. Great for counting skills and colour recognition, it also gives an easy reward – so encouraging!
Developing attention, listening and copying skills will be much easier with the Magic Moves® Electronic Wand. This fun little gadget gives you ideas to copy – stomp like a dinosaur, swoop like an eagle, hop like a kangaroo! We suggest you join in too, and see what happens.
Even if they’re not ready to copy movement, it also has 26 random tunes and twinkling lights. Fun on lots of levels.
Vehicles tend to be popular with autistic kids, as they have a definite purpose and the repetitive movement of them can be quite comforting. Thomas the Tank Engine is particularly popular. Find out which track the child owns and buy an interesting new piece for it.
Many autistic kids love their iPads or computers. Colourful keyboards or a keyboard mouse might be a nice bet (you can even get large letter keyboards if their hand-eye co-ordination isn’t up to much). Cordless headphones that use Bluetooth can save endless headaches, as getting a fiddly jack into an iPad wearing a protective case can be a struggle.
Most kids have collections of some sort, particularly as many computer games now have associated interactive figures. When an autistic child builds a collection, this isn’t just an ordinary haphazard semi-completed collection, oh no. You may hear the term ‘special interest’ in relation to autism. All this means is, when autistic kids like something, they like it A LOT. Their collection will be cherished; their collection will be complete; and having to complete it is the nightmare of most parents of autistic kids. So seek out the figures that they don’t already own. If you want to spend money on something that doesn’t gather dust, this is it.
Say it with Slogans
Parents spend so much extra on special needs children that they often don’t have as much disposable income as they’d like to spend on clothing. Positive messages are great signals for the public and families alike. Just check out any sensory sensitivities before you buy. You can get specialist autism T-shirts with positive slogans on them, dreamt up by AuKids magazine, from www.aukids.co.uk or www.finsdesignandprint.co.uk
For more advice on autism, sign up for AuKids magazine for £16 a year at www.aukids.co.uk