Tag Archives: special needs

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Robot Turtles: A Fun Way to Target Social Communication & Coding Skills

The following post is shared by speech-language pathologist Eric Sailers of Expressive Solutions, a company that develops apps for learners with special needs.  In this post, originally posted here, he shares some phenomenal insight about the power of game play to target and support specific communications skills.

RT Banner 300x87 Robot Turtles: A Fun Way to Target Social Communication & Coding Skills

If you are looking for a fun way to target social communication skills, as well as beginning computer programming, Robot Turtles is a great new board game you can play with your students (with or without autism). Robot Turtles requires players to use simple commands to move their turtles to capture a jewel on the game board. When students give commands, they are replicating the process computer programmers use to give instructions for a computer to execute. Games, in general, provide opportunities for social communication; Robot Turtles in particular involves specific interactions between the game players that enable more opportunities for social communication. For students who show an interest in games and computers, playing Robot Turtles can be a highly engaging way to practice social communication.

During game play, it is easy to provide students with opportunities to practice five different social communication skills:

1) Perspective taking

As turtle masters, students take the perspective of their turtles on the game board in order to decide which way to move. If they were to take their own perspectives, players may not move in the intended direction; success in the game depends on the ability to make decisions based on a different perspective.

2) Turn taking

Students also actively take turns throughout the game. Not only do they have to wait for the other turtle masters to complete their turns, but students do not actually move their own game pieces. The adult overseeing the game, otherwise known as the turtle mover, is in charge of executing the moves on the game board based on student commands.

3) Eye contact and body language

Since turtle masters don’t move their own pieces, they must clearly communicate their commands to the turtle mover. This offers a good opportunity to practice politely giving directions, as well as utilizing eye contact and body language to effectively communicate and acknowledge the turtle mover.

4) Following directions

In return, the turtle mover may communicate directions for the turtle masters to follow. The turtle mover also ensure players are aware of and adhere to the rules of the game.

5) Making comments

Throughout game play, students can be encouraged to make positive comments directed specifically to other turtle masters. For example, a student could say, “Nice move. I like how you did that!” when another player makes a good move in the game. In Robot Turtles, the goal is not to have one winner; all students keep playing until they achieve the goal for that specific level. Establishing a positive atmosphere where everyone is encouraged to be successful creates a great opportunity for modeling and practicing comments.

Robot Turtles can be played with children as young as four, all the way up to middle or high school. The game has several levels so it is easy to adapt game play based on student age and experience with the game. The upper levels of the game require sophisticated logic and analytical skills to complete the challenges, while the simple levels introduce children to basic logic. Either way, social communication skills can be targeted in various ways throughout the game.

Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Zingo 7700 LoResSpill 300x300 Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Zingo!

What can you teach with 72 plastic tiles?

As I’ve shared in past posts, it turns out a creative brain can tweak these tiles to teach just about anything – from genetics to family member names!

This latest post, shared by Tammy G. of the Fumbling Thru Autism blog, shares some fantastic ideas (and a great how-to description for all you crafty folks!) for modifying the classic Zingo! game to expand game play and support learning!

Expanding ZingoPosted: March, 2, 2013

In my last post, I wrote about how to make easy turn-taking games easier. Now Beth and I play turn-taking games for hours every day.  It is so wonderful to work on interaction and language development and have fun at the same time.

When given a choice of games, Beth always chooses Zingo.  There is something uniquely fun about sliding that dispenser to eject the game pieces, matching the pictures, and then throwing up our hands and yelling (well, quietly yelling) “Zingo!” when we are done filling our cards.  During the game Beth readily talks.  I ask, “What did you get?” and she almost always answers.

 Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Farm & Vehicles Zingo!

Lately I don’t even need to ask, she is commenting on her pieces without prompting.  I also expand her language based on the game pieces. “What does the dog say?”, “Where does the bird fly?”, and “Where do you put a hat?” are just a few examples of ways we expand language during play.  After running out of ideas to expand Beth’s language using the Zingo game pieces, I realized it was time to expand Zingo itself.

Below are two ways I have expanded Zingo by making custom made Zingo game pieces.  I wanted to keep our original Zingo game intact so that we could still play the game, so I bought a second Zingo game (Zingo 1-2-3 numbers version, which we will use later when she is counting) to attach pictures to the game pieces.

Clip Art on Zingo Game Pieces

I bought JPEG clip art files from an artist on Etsy.  Using Power Point, I sized the clip art appropriately and added text under each picture, then I printed out game boards and smaller images for the Zingo game pieces.  Next, I cut out and covered the game boards with clear Con-tact paper and cut out the smaller images and attached them to the Zingo game pieces (I used clear Con-tact paper to attach the paper to the game pieces, but Scotch tape should also work).

Here are two sets of games I made with links to the JPEG files and my Power Point Templates:

 Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Summer & Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story

 Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Easter

Below you can find Power Point Templates to create your own boards and Zingo game pieces:

Another method is to buy stickers and put them on the Zingo game pieces, which is a great option for adding your child’s favorite characters to the Zingo game.

 Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Here is a game set using Dora and Pooh stickers

If you want to reuse your tiles, be aware that some self-adhesive stickers adhere strongly, so it will be a lot of work to remove the stickers. Also, it was difficult to find stickers that were the right size to cover the whole original image on the Zingo game pieces. Therefore, for most stickers sets, I cut out each sticker to the appropriate size and stuck it on white paper, then attached the mounted sticker to a Zingo game piece with clear Con-tact paper (alternatively you could use Scotch tape).

Another option is to print the images on self-adhesive computer labels and attach them to the Zingo game pieces, but they might be difficult to remove at a later time.

Want to DIY?! Tammy has generously shared JPEG files for the 4 game boards and game pieces with instructions in this post, get crafting!

 

AsperKids-ThinkFun-image

Introducing… The Asperkids Collection!

I am THRILLED to share the new Asperkids Collection, an exciting partnership between ThinkFun and Asperkids!  Asperkids creator Jennifer O’Toole has curated a collection of games that support universal education skills for learners of all abilities, and below she shares a post on this initiative.  Learn more about Jennifer and her incredible work with AsperKids on her website, FacebookPinterest, and Twitter!

AsperKids ThinkFun image Introducing... The Asperkids Collection!

At Asperkids, we believe that learning is the business of everyone, every day – and that a, b, c’s and 1, 2, 3′s are just the tip of the iceberg. Real success in real life – friendships, romance, careers – requires persistence, patience, patience, and communication. And there’s no better way to practice all of those skills than PLAY. As Mister Roger’s said, “Play is serious work.” That’s why we are SO proud to introduce THE ASPERKIDS COLLECTION BY THINKFUN – our favorite games for sharpening skills OFFERED SO THAT SOME OF THE PROCEEDS BENEFIT OUR WORK on behalf of Asperkids everywhere.

By paying particularly close attention to the the distinct needs of different minds, we’ve assembled a collection of strategies, philosophies and insights which increase curiosity, wonder and engagement – improving the way ALL children (gifted, twice exceptional, sensory, ADD, typical, etc) LEARN HOW TO LEARN.

For example… you can teach a young Asperkid to practice overcoming mind blindness (the idea that our perspectives aren’t the automatically same) with S’match – a game aimed at children as young as four! Practice using the phrase, “Make me see what you’re seeing.” Help the child explain why they’ve made a “s’match” (or why they haven’t) using as many descriptors (colors, shapes, quantity) as possible….even an older Aspie may find that more challenging than you’d expect. Why? To us Aspies, our thoughts seem “transparent,” or obvious to everyone else. We have to LEARN THE SKILL of communicating what we presume, understand and believe in what feels (to us) like overly stated terms.

That may start by learning to clearly articulate, “I have a “s’match” because I uncovered two red cards, and the category I needed to match was color. If the category had been number or shape, I wouldn’t have made a s’match because these cards have different shapes (one has circles and the other has a triangle) and quantities (two versus one).” Take that to the level of a teen and it become explaining their thoughts about what happened at a party – or to an adult who can successfully communicate with his or her spouse.

“Make me see what you see.” That’s your line. Then repeat it back, “So, you see a…..” If what you’ve heard and what your kiddo meant don’t “S’match,” guide your Asperkid as she fills in any holes or miscommunications.

You see? In our collection, there’s logic building and visual spatial skills, collaboration and problem solving…not to mention LOTS OF FUN. So delight your Asperkid – and empower others everywhere by making your purchases through our site. We’ll all be so very glad you have.

(For more great ideas on how to use ThinkFun Games read my past blog, “Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck“.)

Roll & Play (bottom right) is featured in the new Toys R Us Guide

Toys R Us Differently-Abled Kids Guide features Roll & Play

Toys R Us has just published the newest Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids!  For over 20 years, this guide has served as a fantastic resources for parents, teachers, and therapists who work with children with a range of different learning needs.

 

TRUp49 screenshot 1024x800 Toys R Us Differently Abled Kids Guide features Roll & Play

Roll & Play (bottom right) is featured in the new Toys R Us Guide

The toys featured in the guide are assessed by the National Lekotek Center.  Experts screen hundreds of toys to make their selection, looking for specific skill-building traits to assign to each toy that appears in the guide.  The skills include auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, self-esteem, social skills, tactile, thinking, and visual.

We are honored to have our newest toddler game Roll & Play featured in this new Guide!  The experts at Lekotek celebrate this new game for supporting 5 important learning skills, including Thinking, Visual, Social Skills, Language, and Gross Motor.

Browse the complete guide here:

Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

Several weeks ago, I featured a fabulous post by Jennifer Cook O’Toole, author of Asperkids: An Insiders’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome,  in which she shared her use of our Rush Hour Jr. game with her own family!  It’s always gratifying when readers particularly connect with certain articles , so I was thrilled to see this post tweeted by Rebecca Mitchell, a psychotherapist in the UK who was so inspired by Jennifer’s post she purchased the game for her own son and shared her experience on her Loving Martians blog! Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

Posted on  by Rebecca Mitchell

Yesterday, the doorbell rang and Mr Postman delivered ‘Rush Hour - Traffic Jam Game’, Junior Edition by Thinkfun TM.  I had read a recommendation by Jennifer O’Toole ofAsperkids and decided to try it.  L has become incredibly wary of games and generally now refuses to play them.  I think that he sometimes struggles to comprehend the rules but the bigger issue is the stress caused by adversarial games where social niceties such as turn-taking are essential; patience and a non-agressive response to being beaten are required; and competitive big sister M cannot be persuaded not to gloat when winning and wail when losing.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve encouraged L to play a game for quite some time.  Recently, however, when M and I set up a Lego game, I noticed that despite claiming not to want to play it when invited, L sidled furtively up to see what we were doing and then joined in (albeit in a slightly scary fashion which involved him building all the Lego hens, throwing the die wildly at the wall when it was his (my) turn, and cheating slightly and us not daring to challenge him for fear of precipitating meltdown).

Anyway – I threw caution to the wind and decided to order Rush Hour.  When it first arrived, L was angrily suspicious and wanted nothing to do with the package.  After I unpacked it and he saw all the little cars he did this…

 Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure.

Yep – he lined them up.  After lining them up, he became very territorial about the cars for a day and wouldn’t let anyone touch them.  He loves the cars, especially the Police cars.  The next day, when asked if he wanted to play, he refused.

I decided to see if M wanted a game as she had been the model of self-restraint for the last day but clearly wanted a go.  The initial possessiveness had diminished a little and L ’allowed’  M to play.  We set up the game on my bed and instantly, L appeared and virtually within seconds was smitten.  After ten minutes more, M and I no longer got a look-in.  If you’ve never heard of Rush Hour – it is genius in its simplicity; fiendish in its difficulty; and totally, totally addictive and the best thing (for L) is that you can play it on your own.  The junior addition has a grid and then 40 cards that each have a pattern of trucks laid out which you have to copy onto the grid.  Each card gets progressively more difficult.  The idea is that you push the vehicles backwards and forwards (you can’t lift them) until the ice-cream van is free to move along, unhindered, to the exit. In simple terms, the ice-cream van is blocked in by a traffic jam and the player has to move the traffic to free the van.

AwQrMSeCMAADRxk Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

The game has so many elements that L loves.  I’ve already mentioned the little cars and in particular the police cars.  Then there is the Lego-like element.  L is very good at Lego.  On his birthday I was amazed to watch him building his Lego Batman Cave by just glancing at the page and seeming to have an almost photographic memory of the layout of the bricks.  M and I, faced with the same page, would have been using our finger to count how many spaces to leave before adding a piece.  So, he LOVED following the cards to build up the traffic jam.   Very quickly it became clear that L was really very good at this game.  He was somehow able to see the bigger picture whilst M and I were bogged down with trying to move one vehicle.  After taking it in turns well at first, L became increasingly frustrated with our ineptitude and was obviously itching to step in and rescue us as we made our jams worse.  The excitement levels mounted as L saw the way out time and time again.

Eventually, L became rather hyper, flushed with success as he was, and jumped madly around the bed shouting, ‘I’m an Aspergerkid and we are superheroes’ (something he’s brilliantly picked up from the Asperkids sites).  I was touched.  His self-esteem which has been struggling recently, was soaring through the roof.  He was also identifying himself proudly with Asperger Syndrome and seeing that he could do some things well and that maybe autism could give him some kind of advantage.  Even M became drawn into the general atmosphere of excited abandon and was generous in her praise of her little brother, forgetting her usual desire to be best at everything.  She so clearly loves him and was delighting in his success.  We were all swept up in a tide of goodwill.

The downside of all this was that it was getting late, the routine was shot to pieces, there was no way that L was going to go to bed without doing another ten cards and the turn-taking had totally broken down as L found it so hard to spectate from the sidelines.  I suggested that he take five cards into his bedroom.  He took them in and told us that we weren’t allowed to disturb him or say anything but that he would shout ‘banana’ every time he completed a card.  Five bananas later and L got into bed,  tired but satisfied.  The game was a resounding success.  Unfortunately, L now rather sees it as his game.  So M had to wait until he was busy pursuing his MI9 special interest on the computer this morning to sneak the game into the kitchen and have a go, and when L realised what she was doing she had to agree not to go any further than the cards that he had completed.

So we settled down this morning, still giddy with success, to a celebratory breakfast of pancakes (I had batter left over from the weekend), except that I didn’t have enough batter left for L’s second one and he wasn’t having any of it when I said that the spoke effect looked like a cool spaceship.  ‘I’m not having that’, he cried in disgust.  I offered to make him a pitta bread with honey instead (one of his favourites).  He looked even more disgusted when I passed him the pitta bread.  ‘Mummy, you KNOW I don’t like ROUND pitta bread’, he yelled.  I had tried an organic brand of mini wholemeal pitta breads and it was indeed smaller and rounder and browner than his usual white, oval shaped pittas.  Life’s never easy in our neurodiverse household but it’s never boring and at least we now have a game we all love.

 

Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

The following post is by Ellen Metrick of the National Lekotek Center, the country’s central source on toys and play for children with special needs.

bluebanner Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

Games have a way to bring families together. There are games that cater to big groups, small gatherings, different ages and yes, different abilities. Children who have disabilities may face many obstacles, but with a little help, games can encourage interaction, development and fun for all involved. And, individual games are helpful for children who may become over-stimulated and need a quiet time activity. Here are a couple tips when choosing the right game for your child/family.

1.      Levels of difficulty Choose games that have different levels of difficulty. This helps children who learn at different rates and can speak to different skills levels. Qwirkle is a domino-like game that can be played simply by matching colors or shapes, but can also incorporate strategic thinking for more advanced players.

SMatc 7911 lores Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs2.      Large pieces Choose games that have large components or play pieces like the spinner of S’Match. They are easier to grasp with a whole hand and eliminate the frustration of required refined manipulation.

3.      Play duration Look for games where duration can be altered. Children who have attention difficulties often face the frustration of not being able to complete a game. By altering the game, children can enjoy the game but for the time they are able to commit. Zingo to Go accomplishes this with snap-together pieces. Snap together enough to challenge without overwhelming.Choco 1530 lores Quick Tips: Successful Game Play for Children with Special Needs

4.      Segmented compartments Games that have individual compartments for the play pieces work well for children who may have involuntary movements. The compartments keep the game pieces in the desired spaces. Chocolate Fix is an example of this.

5.      Attached pieces Pick games that have attached pieces, like Amaze. Children who have physical limitations can easily retrieve the attached stylus if it is inadvertently dropped.

Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Children with Special Needs

Zingo TRU 300x256 Top 10 Tips for Buying Toys for Children with Special Needs

For many, this Thanksgiving week kicks off the holiday shopping season.  As you prepare your shopping list, it can be particularly challenging to select developmentally-appropriate toys and games for children with special needs.  Not to worry – the folks at the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making play accessible for children with disabilities, are here to help!

Use these 10 criteria and guiding questions to help you navigate the toy aisles!

1. MULTI-SENSORY APPEAL
Does the toy respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child?  Are there contrasting colors?  Does it have a scent?  Is there texture?

2. METHOD OF ACTIVATION
Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration?  What is the force required to activate?  What are the number and complexity of steps required to activate?

3. PLACES THE TOY WILL BE USED
Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home?  Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such as side-lying or on a wheelchair tray?

4. OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS
Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way?  Is it adaptable to the child’s individual style, ability and pace?

5. CURRENT POPULARITY
Is it a toy that will help the child with special needs feel like “any other kid?”  Does it tie in with other activities, like books and art sets, that promote other forms of play?

6. SELF-EXPRESSION
Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness and making choices?  Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?

7. ADJUSTABILITY
Does it have adjustable height, sound volume, speed and level of difficulty?

8. CHILD’S INDIVIDUAL ABILITIES
Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages?  Does it reflect the child’s interests and age?

9. SAFETY AND DURABILITY
Does the toy fit with the child’s size and strength?  Does it have moisture resistance?  Are the toy and its parts sized appropriately?  Can it be washed and cleaned?

10. POTENTIAL FOR INTERACTION
Will the child be an active participant during use?  Will the toy encourage social engagement with others?

Looking for more recommendations?  The National Lekotek Center evaluated hundreds of toys to select those featured in this year’s Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids!

World Autism Awareness Day

To bring global attention to autism,  a disorder that affect tens of millions, the United Nations has declared April 2 World Autism Awareness Day to encourage early diagnosis and intervention.

In the spirit of raising awareness (and a nod to my undying allegiance to Red Sox Nation!), I’m sharing a recent article in which Curt Schilling, former pitching ace, and his wife open up about their son’s diagnosis with Asperger’s, a syndrome at the milder end of the autism spectrum.

Schilling 300x225 World Autism Awareness Day

The Schilling share their story in "The Best Kind of Different: Our Family's Journey with Asperger's Syndrome"

Curt & Shonda Schilling Open Up About Son’s Asperger’s Diagnosis

Curt Schilling spent 20 years on the mound facing some of Major League Baseball’s toughest hitters. During those two decades, his teams won three World Series, including one in 2004, when he famously wore a bloody sock to help bring the Boston Red Sox their first championship title in 86 years.

But nothing in all those years could help prepare Curt and his wife, Shonda, for the challenges they would face raising their four children. Shonda details their struggles in a new book, “The Best Kind of Different: Our Family’s Journey with Asperger’s Syndrome,” which focuses on the diagnosis of their son Grant and how it changed them as a family.

“You go through different stages,” Shonda Schilling told FoxNews.com. “You mourn the child that you thought you would have. You’re sad because you’re afraid of the future and you feel guilty. You feel guilty because you’ve just spent the first seven years of his life yelling at him when he had no idea why you were yelling at him.”  Continued…

Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Here’s a photo of a real-life Rush Hour traffic jam sent to me by Laura Efinger, a pediatric occupational therapist (and big Rush Hour fan!) in Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I have attached a picture of some Cairo traffic, which may explain why we love Rush Hour in Egypt! icon smile Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!  Some is parking and some traffic, but it probably is the worst in the world, and no one follows the lines in the road and rules!”

cairo traffic jam Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A Real Life Traffic Jam in Cairo, Egypt

All that’s missing is the Red Car!

Picture 24 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A much more enjoyable "Traffic Jam" challenge!

For several years, Laura has used many ThinkFun games, including Rush Hour (which she reports is the hands-down favorite!) in her occupational therapy sessions with children in  Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I love them [ThinkFun games] as they develop the children’s visual motor/perceptual skills, fine motor, memory and planning skills.”

At a 2008 Occupational Therapy Conference, Laura presented a therapy-based workshop called “Recipes for Fun” in which participants were shown ways to use games like Rush Hour as tools to help children develop academic and sensory motor skills.  Looks like fun was had by all!

Cairo RH 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH2 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH1 225x300 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH3 300x280 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Laura is preparing for this year’s Conference which will take place at the end of the month. Here she plans to host a workshop focusing on the benefits of using card games to help children with skills such as attention, sequencing, memory, fine motor, etc.   Stay tuned for an update!

For more on Laura and her work, please visit her Occupational Therapy in Egypt blog!