Playing with Children on the Spectrum: Developing Faculties and Playtime

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children on the autism spectrum. Previously we wrote about the diagnosis stage here and helping parents here.

All parents know that play is fundamental in a child’s development, be they neuro-typical or facing specific challenges. But playtime is also a unique moment to interact with your child and create bonds. We spoke to Delia Yeo, a speech and language therapist, and Ladislas de Toldi, co-founder of Leka, to know more about how play can help children on the autism spectrum develop skills and bond.

Playing and Engaging with People

Games stimulate and motivate children, through fun and the desire to win. Yet both experts stress that children on the spectrum often have difficulty engaging with playmates, remembering  rules or using all the concepts necessary to win.

Therapists like Delia “look at several aspects of how the child plays to understand how he or she understands the world”. Like an alternative mapping, Delia is able to identify what types of play are easy, which ones are hard. She chooses specific types of games accordingly centred on internal feelings, external sensations, sitting, physical activity, etc.

In some cases, Delia has to teach a child to play before she can teach them skills through play. She starts with simpler games, ensuring she can interact and engage, before moving on to complex games. Most importantly, she has to look for what the child enjoys. “I choose the game depending on the child’s interest, [so] they [will] have a gleam in their eye and connect”.

Games and Technology

Traditional games like hide and seek, puzzles, swings or anything another child might play are used to help autistic children learn skills. Nowadays, thanks to technology, new games have emerged, some of which are more high-tech than anything a neuro-typical child will use.

Take Leka, for example, a small, round, ball shaped robot developed by a French start-up with specialists in several countries. The robot uses artificial intelligence and is designed to help children progress on their cognitive, motor, social and communications skills. Less intimidating than a human, the robot interacts directly with children, setting the rules and congratulating them when they succeed. They get a real sense of accomplishment when they are able to crack the game. Amongst other games, Leka plays hide and seek and Simon Says, and new games are added every week.

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Leka, the robot, happy face

“The most important thing”, says Ladislas “is figuring out what each child enjoys. It’s the only way to open the door. And if they only like Dreamworks animated movies, then so be it.” In fact, Leka are very humble in their approach. They advise parents and organisations consider all their options before investing in Leka, because at the end of the day, their objective is to make sure the robot is bringing out the best in children.

“There are so many incredible new ways of interacting with children on the spectrum now. I’m impressed by some apps on the iPad, that have non verbal children interacting with the world, and I’m stunned by how apps like Sidekicks are helping people with autism communicate with their families.” Children on the spectrum can greatly benefit from technological playthings, which unlock new opportunities to learn and communicate.

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A child plays with Leka the robot

Is All Play Work Disguised as Fun?

Delia recommends that “parents should always play without a teaching goal in mind”. The tendency to test their child might take all the fun out of playing. Just the act of spending quality time together and fostering engagement is valuable. As they play together, the child will learn some things naturally from them, in a softer, less goal oriented way.

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Family play time, in this case with Leka the robot

“My advice is to simply follow your child’s lead. Join and imitate her at first, and as your play grows, her ideas will grow too. You’ll be “teaching” by supporting her experience in play”. As you do so, Delia suggests introducing your ideas and small challenges into games. They will encourage your child to problem solve around them, or create unity in a scattered game.

Delia recalls an autistic teen who was brought up with very little play. “He was very compliant and would carry out tasks, but seemed robotic and detached.” Recently, as she has worked around discovering what he likes and doesn’t like, and developing his ideas through play, she has seen the teen grow in confidence and become a real playmate. “He used to interact because he was supposed to, not because he wanted to. Now he’s pulling his weight in our interaction!”

Happy playtime!

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. Please also suggest more to us, which we can add to the list.

  • For more about Leka you can also visit here. Leka is currently looking for financial partners. Contact Ladislas at ladislas@leka.io for any inquiries,
  • An example of a sidekick app,
  • A review of Ron Suskind’s book on using Disney sidekicks at home to communicate with their son Owen,
  • Link to the film about using Disney sidekicks. 
  • Autism Speaks has a very long list of apps here

Note: all photos in this article are curtesy of Leka

Assistive Tech Fair in Norway

This week, we were at an assistive tech fair in the far north of the world. So what is interesting over there (or here)?

Mobility and Sports

So the Scandinavians are big on getting out there and nothing can quite get in the way, definitely not a disability. The first section were different types of mobility equipment. There were a lot of unusual ones such as the ones in the picture below. They are much nearer to the ground, good for outdoors and skiing.

Outdoor wheelchairs

A picture with three outdoor purposed wheelchairs. Behind the wheelchairs, there are banners and a screen illustrating the use of the wheelchairs

This can be used on the beach. When not in use, it can float on water. This video shows how a man transferred from it quickly onto a canoe on a beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iShrnJOTDTg

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An outdoor 3-wheelchair with 2 big balloon rear wheels and a smaller front wheel. The seat is nearer to the ground than a regular wheelchair.

The outdoor wheelchair on the right is interesting as it is highly modifiable for different outdoor needs. A detachable shaft with a waist sling can be used so a parent can pull a child while hiking. Or parts of the frame can be removed and skis can be added to the base.

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A picture with two outdoor wheelchairs. The one on the left has skis on. The one on the right is much bigger and has two fat bike wheels and a slightly smaller front wheel. The back of the larger wheelchair has two handlebars and what seem like brakes similar to bicycles.

Luis Gran is the first wheelchair user that crossed Besseggen. We have been there and we know that it is not an easy route, some parts of this ridge are pretty steep.

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A picture in the mountains. In the foreground, three persons are helping a person sitting on a outdoor wheelchair along the ridge. One person is in front with waist slings attached to the wheelchair. Two other persons are behind pushing or lifting.

Photo credits: Taken from Aktiv Hjelpemidler AS website

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Picture of a child sized doll standing in an exercise machine with full body support. There are gliders at the base of the foot, braces at the knee level and supports around the hips, waist, chest and head. There is a handlebar above the waist level with a tabletop mounted on it.

A children’s tricycle with a larger seat and supports around. There is a back bar (for mounting different supports), a push handlebar and a basket at the back of the tricycle.

 

The left picture is a children’s bike that has extra support on the back and neck. The picture beside it is an exercise machine with full body support.
The bottom left picture shows a stroller with additional back and neck support. The bottom right picture is a light weight frame that allows kids with severe physical disability to stand and walk. We asked if it can potentially be uncomfortable or not good physically for the person to be on this for long hours. The sales person said that it should not but not enough research has been done in this area but there are some undergoing right now.

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A stroller with supports on the seat and a inclined footpad.

A picture of a child sized doll standing support by a frame with 4 wheels. There are braces and supports around the child, a handlebar attached to the supports at the back of the child and what looks like brakes on the wheels.

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The device on the left is a frame used to support a child during swimming.

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A tripod frame with a seat in the middle and 3 black buoy like objects around it.

The is an ergonomic wheelchair.

A children’s wheel chair with rounded cushions on the back and seat and foot pads on both sides of the seat.

This amazing bike allows parents to bring their kids out and get a work out too. It is roomy and provides ample support for the child’s head and neck.

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A tricycle with a big rounded cart at the front which can sit 2 children. One side of the cart has a child seat with supports.

Occupational/ Speech Therapy and Communication

These pads are a training system that responds to the touch of hands and feet. The light responds to the force or weight, allowing therapists to design a custom program to train the child’s motor skills and body awareness.

A lady standing on two different coloured pads that have lights in the front of the pads. Beside and in front of the pads, there are other similar pads of different colours placed near to them.

I like this wallet which has felt pages and symbol cards with velcro can be attached to it. Easy to bring around.

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There is a poster of symbols at the background of the picture. The foreground shows a ring note book with a symbol showing a person pointing to himself and words that says ‘meg selv’. Beside the notebook is a fabric wallet with fabric pages. On each page are cardboards of signs.

This is a beautiful series of books that talk about feelings and include symbols.

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6 colourful ring bounded books placed in a row overlapping. The first book is titled ‘forelskelse’ with a cartoon of a man with two hearts for eyes and smiling showing teeth

A ring bound book that is opened. The left page shows a heart with a man and a woman looking at each other with a heart between them. The right page shows a broken heart with a girl in tears. Below both pages there is a sentence and above the sentences there are symbols.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caregivers’ Aids    /  Household Aids
Support arms. The white ones are feeding robots while the black one, though is powered, requires one to use one’s own hand and it provides the additional push.

The bed on the left is a shower trolley, the middle equipment is a multipurpose hygiene chair and the one on the right is also a hygiene chair.

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The sales person is demonstrating how this equipment helps a person get up from a chair and be transferred somewhere else.

This is a simple share on the different solutions out there and is not an endorsement by Irisada on any of the products.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PUZZLES FOR YOUR HOME THERAPY NEEDS (PART 1)

Abstract: This article is generally talking about the types of puzzles and how to use them for therapy (both speech and occupational) at home for kids with special needs. However, we firmly believe some of the techniques are also beneficial for teaching kids without special needs too. Note: tips here are based on compilation of the cited reference sources and also on our own personal experience of conducting therapy for our own children but they are not a replacement for medical or clinical advice. We combined both speech and occupational therapy tips as we believe both are essential for all types of children with or without special needs so  it would be good to have the other area of concepts at the back of our minds when we are conducting one type of therapy.

Random puzzles

Puzzles

Puzzles and boardgames are frequently used by speech and occupational therapists to teach language and skills to kids with ASD or other developmental delays. As caregivers, we understand that it is not always efficient or economical to bring your child to the therapists since it involves adapting of schedule, travelling time, preparation of meals for the child before, during and after therapy (gotta keep the kiddo in absolute good mood to benefit from the session isn’t it?),  what about time away from your other kids (if you have them) and sometimes, the child is simply not in the mood.

So home therapy is highly encouraged as a supplement to your usual therapy sessions as it reinforces concepts. For those who are somehow unable to access therapy (though we highly recommend getting professional help) it will be an alternative and with enough practice, parents can actually acquire the competence.

Moreover, it is a fun way to bond with the child. See it as a chance to play with your child, albeit withjust a bit more structure.

WHY ARE THEY GOOD?

These articles from Child Development Institute  by Pam Myers and learning4kids have highlighted the different skills and concepts that children can pick up. Here we summarise the important points from the article and provide more information.

  • Hand-eye coordination: When moving, flipping and turning pieces, they can learn about the connection between hands and eyes. This enables the brain to envision how the puzzle needs to look or which piece is required. It facilitates the brain, eyes and hands to work together.
  • Fine motor skills: Small, specialized movements to hold and manipulate pieces. Acquiring motor skills through using pincer movement.
  • Gross motor skills: Stacking and moving larger pieces
  • Problem-solving: Discerning if the pieces either fit or not. Children figure out by looking at the different pieces and can test them out. They learn to solve problems logically.
  • Matching: For some puzzles, kids will have to identify which two puzzles look the same and match them
  • Shape recognition: Learning to recognize and sort shapes is part of an important development in children. Puzzle pieces need to be identified and sorted.
  • Memory: Child needs to remember which exact piece, which piece has a particular size, shape, colour, pattern, that didn’t fit now and places it aside, then picking it back up later when needed again.
  • Setting small goals: Child usually willover time develop a strategy of how to work on the puzzle more efficiently. He or she will then need to set small goals like finding all the corners before achieving the larger goal of completing the puzzle.
  • Socializing and teamwork: Working on puzzles with an adult or friend will help a child learn social skills.
  • Self esteem: When kids complete a puzzle, they feel a sense of achievement and pride. This builds up their confidence and self-esteem
  • Language and speech: As you talk about the different pieces to the child, they learn about the different names of the shapes, colours, images they see. They also pick up different prepositions, verbs, sentence formations, etc

 

WHAT PUZZLES TO CHOOSE?

So here are some of the variations to puzzles. We don’t want to clear out the entire toy store so let’s figure together what some of our preferences are. Well, as expected, mixing things up a little is the best.

  1. Material: wooden, foam, plastic, cardboard, magnetic
  2. Type (According to this article on HubPages by Rose Mary an OT): connecting, non connecting, interconnecting, others
  3. Complexity: number of pieces,
  4. Theme: animals, automotives, food, alphabets and numbers, colours, shapes, cartoons, etc

Wooden ones are typically more expensive, especially if you buy high quality ones. For toy lovers, I would invest in better quality ones as they last longer and have better finishes. Simply for the purpose of therapy, buying cheaper imitations work just as well, but do take note to sand off badly finished pieces as we do not want our kids to get scratched or splinters in their fingers (we have enough to deal with).

Foam ones, like plastic, are easy to bring around. Some kids might like their squishy texture, others not. Plastic ones are the most value for money. Magnetic ones are the most fuss-free as they do not fall all over the place and are easy to store (second favourite after wooden ones).

Cardboards are typically jigsaw puzzles which are just so fulfilling when we manage to complete them. And oh so good for developing patience and focus in our little ones. They can also be matching flashcards.

Mazes (which might or might not require a separate writeup, let’s see) are another type of puzzle that are super fun and great for training fine motor skills and problem solving.

For those who find regular jigsaw puzzles dull, they can add a punch by buying those with 3D effect.

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Thank you.

 

Team Irisada.