With it estimated that one in 100 people are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Australia and the U.K. this is a very relevant topic on a parenting website.
Autism shows deficits in social and communication, this includes empathy and shared attention as well as restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behaviours. A common early sign of Autism is a child doesn’t start to speak at the usual age and parents feel that they cannot “reach’ there child.
In a recent support group discussion in Australia with parents who all have children with an Autism diagnosis, this was one of the topics, “what are the best resources for Autism?”
This topic started off lightly when one Mum mentioned that she thought getting an IPAD and a few apps was going to help her child with Autism.
Most in the group agreed that IPADs if used correctly can have benefits but this also came with a strong caution from these parents. IPADs may become a “fixation” for individuals with Autism and could have the effect of further isolating or separating them from others. One Mother even went as far to say that once the IPAD was removed from her son’s life his communication and comprehension skills improved. She said, “It was like he wasn’t living in our world but instead the IPAD world.”
So what resources for kids with Autism did these parents recommend? With the IPAD now being used as the go-to for children with Autism as entertainment both in public places and in the home, what are the alternatives?
Below are the top suggestions from these parents who have children with Autism.
- Lego – Everyone in the group unanimously agreed on the benefits of having a box of logo in the house or in the car for when visits are made outside of the home. Lego also has a lot of other benefits and almost needs its own blog, here a few :
- Fine Motor: Lego requires different amounts of pressure to assemble and becomes a wonderful exercise for little fingers which supports children in being able to control the pressure they apply while writing. Children with ASD often have decreased fine motor skills and in-hand manipulation skills.
- Creativity and Cognitive Skills: Using various shapes, colours and sizes of Lego to construct helps with not only cognitive skills but also creativity and imagination, children have no limitations to what they can make.
- Problem Solving and Mathematical Thinking: Following instructions to assemble Lego also has a lot of benefits for children’s problem solving, focus and attention to detail.
- Reinforcement: Lego is also a great natural reinforcement and is a fun activity that just about any adult or child can enjoy alongside a child with Autism.
- Timers – Sand, Visual or Digital. Parents said they use Timers to help reduce the stress of transitions or also as a behavioural tool. Tips include:
- Using a timer for when you are out and about or waiting. ie “5 more minutes until we leave”.
- Transitions from time to leave the house or time to go to bed ie “5 more minutes until bedtime”
- Other transitions such as brushing teeth and time out. ie “keep brushing, 2 more minutes”
- Visuals designed for children with Autism – It was clear from these parents that board maker or symbols were confusing when used, instead use real photographs. Visuals are a great way to “tap” into a child with Autism’s world, encouraging both communication and joint attention skills. All parent reported that verbal communication increased when visuals were introduced and used correctly. Visuals reduce the amount of instructions, allowing the child to gain a better understanding of what is been said. Visuals can be used for:
- Teaching: Through visuals parents are able to ascertain what a child does or doesn’t know despite having poor communication or speech.
- Speech: Gives an alternative communication method through the visuals
- Schedules: Breaking down a complex task into smaller simple steps with visuals. These simplified steps make learning easier. ie learning the steps to brush teeth or get dressed.
- Hand Puppets – This is another great way to “reach” into your child’s world by practicing imaginary and symbolic play. Hand puppets not only make children smile but also help bring children with Autism, who think concretely into the world of abstract concepts and ideas. Suggested tip:
- A hand puppet for both the child and parent is more effective.
One of the most debated resources within this group was Fidget Spinners with manufacturers pushing them as therapeutic, claiming they can be used to relieve symptoms of attention disorders, autism, and anxiety. Majority of the parents in this group felt fidget spinners were marketed well and were more of a distraction then a tool to be used for concentration. However being that fidgets are not only portable but also very cheap to purchase most parents in the group use a fidget spinner as a distraction and a very effective calming tool, especially when out and about.
I have definitely learnt a lot and hope these suggestions help other parents with alternatives and choices when choosing resources for children with Autism.