As the summer draws to a close and the school year quickly approaches most parents are racing to buy all the requested goodies on your teachers “must have” list. As I do this for my own children I am reminded about the differences between shopping for a neurotypical child and a child with autism spectrum disorders. As a professional this is always the time that I stock up on my own work supplies that I may need through the year. You really can’t beat the prices every week. I don’t remember the last time I found something for a penny unless I am thinking about this same time last year.
The great thing is that there are so many things that I am coming across that are reminding me about all those great but seemingly obvious tools that help children with special needs learn a little easier. I thought I would list for you some of my favorites and I would love to hear about yours as well. Before I start my list however please remember that I am not an occupational, physical, or speech therapist. I have worked with many and some of my tips may come from those experiences but please consult your team before making any drastic changes to a program. Also, I do not endorse any one specific product. I am just providing examples based on my past experiences.
There are so many areas that a child could be affected in this area. A weak or incorrect grasp is one of the most common. There are so many ways that you can help your child.
-Wiki Sticks: yep I said wiki sticks. These little guys are great for so many different reasons. Two of my favorite are staying in boundaries and grasp. So, if your child is learning to color in the lines you can place a wiki stick right on the edge of the boundary so your child is reminded to slow down and stay in the lines. If you are writing on paper then use these little guys for your line boundaries. I used to think they stopped there until a wonderful Occupational Therapist taught me different. Wiki sticks are actually great pencil grips. They provide a textured reminder of where to place your fingers and how to grasp the pencil. The good news is that they are far less expensive than those fancy ones so you won’t cry if it gets lost. Not to mention that you can adjust them to your child’s little fingers.
-Crayola My First Markers/Crayons: These are really great for kiddos that really are not ready for a tripod grasp yet. I know that we all want to get to a tripod as soon as possible but lets be honest, some kids just are not ready for it yet. In stead of stressing them out with something they cannot do or will not feel competent at lets first work on some of the basic holding skills so they feel like superstars. I watched one child’s ability blossom as soon as he realized he could be successful here with these items. If you can’t think of what I’m talking about I am talking about those cute little crayons and markers in your stores art aisle that are made for little hands to hold with the palm of their hand. They are very fat so that they fit right into the palm.
-Crayola My First Triangular Crayon: So, for you and I the thought of a triangular writing tool may not be so appealing. The thing is that most of us are already stuck in a way of holding a utensil so that is why it is so weird. For kids that have moved past a palmer grasp, won’t tolerate the wiki stick or custom grasp, this is your best bet. The triangular shape forces a tripod grasp without adding any tools to it. The bummer here is they come in crayons and not much else. I was so excited to find them and at a regular store like Target or Walmart.
-Crayola Twistables Crayons/Pencils: I was so excited when I saw these in pencils. One of the biggest benefits here is that they are very difficult to break and if your kiddo bites their crayons or pencils then you no longer will have a mouth full of crayon or wood. It helps keep your kiddo safe while putting a behavior naturally on extinction. You no longer have to pay close attention to the biting behaviors since they are no longer fulfilling. Just be careful that they do not switch to other items. If your kiddo is a biter and is showing success with these writing utensils remember to let them know what a nice job they are doing. I believe this product allow us to be proactive about these behaviors and sets them up for success. Thank you Crayola for this one!
-Large 3 ring binder: All the Occupational Therapist out there are nodding their heads. This is a really easy support system to a new writer. We don’t remember the work we put in years ago to learn how to write and you probably did not have trouble like low tone in your muscles or difficulty with attention. The larger the better here (3 inches is nice). You can use this trick at school and at home for home work. You might even be amazed at the decrease in struggle and time to complete writing activities. The basics as it was explained to me here is that you use the slope of the binder to put your pencil and paper worksheets and activities on with the slant coming toward you. Allow your little one to rest their wrist/hand on the binder. This is going to give a lot of support to the wrist area while your little one is learning how to hold and grasp the pencil. There are so many different muscles in your hand that are contributing to writing skills. This little trick just helps free up some reserves so that you can get some strength in one area before adding the difficulty of holding your wrist as well.
This is one of those areas where you really need a lot of unique items to help depending on your kiddos skills. There are a few things that are common for a lot of kids however and that is the thought that they are more visual learners and that abstract concepts can be very difficult. In some ways math can be very concrete, static, and easy to understand. In others it can dynamic and confusing to understand how we get to the answers. The good news unlike some other subjects is that typically you have a right or wrong answer.
-Stickers: Lots of them, the little ones, with fun pictures. I like to use stickers to teach math concepts. Why? well they are colorful and you can change them up every time to keep your little ones interest in a subject that lets face it can be a bit dry. The thing that is nice about the stickers is that you can stick them onto a piece of paper and they won’t move or roll away like a dry bean. You can also draw boxes or cross out stickers to signify adding, groups, or subtraction.
-Calculator: I think we all have this one but I like it. I am a firm believer in developing a level of confidence in a child to help them grow. If they feel good about what they are doing then they will keep working on it. If your child is learning addition and the rest of the class is doing addition and subtraction; instead of getting a completely different worksheet for your child have them work on the problems in addition and use the calculator for subtraction. Then they are not all that different than the rest of the kiddos.
-Tangrams: We are familiar with these for kiddos that are matching shapes and making pictures but they are also wonderful for teaching fractions. The truth is this is something that can and most likely will stick with your little one for awhile. You can start using them with shape identification and matching shapes and move them all the way to fraction concepts. I love Tangrams!!!
There are so many things running through my mind and I’m sure I could add a lot of scattered items here but I think we have a lot to start with. A few other necessities are below.
-Self Opening Scissors: Cutting has always been a tricky one. Parents have forever been afraid of the hair and toy cutting that comes along with having scissors. I remember my oldest son cutting the ears off of all his stuffed animals one day. There was stuffing everywhere! The cool thing about scissors that open for themselves is that it takes some of the guess work out of learning to cut. Your worries are then narrowed down to holding the paper, staying on the line, and squeezing. As for the other worries… good luck.
-Textured Ball: I can’t think of a kid that hasn’t enjoyed playing ball in one way or the other. The thing that is so frustrating however is the catching part. For kids that have difficulty with motor planning this can seem like the end of the world. A textured ball does a couple of things. It gives you feedback to let you know when the ball is in your hands and it is easier to grasp than a slippery ball. It is even good when you want to show off your own catching skills.
-Blank Note Cards: These are great for those concepts that you are going to have to practice repeatedly and that don’t change. You can write on them or even print up pictures to stick to them. You can even have your child help design them if you want to make it more interactive. It all depends on their specific needs.
-Wipe Off Board: This is one of my favorites. There is not much that you can’t do with a wipe off board. Practice writing, practice drawing, practice identifying, reading, following rules, making social stories (in a pinch), and the list goes on. The only way I can live without a wipe off board these days is because of my iPad with the Wipe Off Board app of course.
-For those of you who are techies like me and have an iPad. Don’t forget your stylus.
I hope that these bring some new ideas your way and help you figure out a few things that might be helpful for your little ones. I would love to hear your feedback or ideas as well so please comment. Happy Back to School!