Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Magical Toy

Every parent of a child with autism is looking for it.  In our case, so is every grandparent and babysitter too.  That toy that will help the child break through- that will be so fascinating to the child that it will trigger some appropriate play. 

Let me try to qualify this.  Remember when your children were babies? That first Christmas where all they were really interested in was the wrapping paper, ribbons, and boxes?  I would die for Nathan to get to that point again.  This year he grabbed tissue over and over again from the top of one of John's gifts and shredded it.  Then he found one ribbon and shook that for awhile.  Completely ignored all the gifts.  For the most part he focused on putting 2 snowflake ornaments together and watching them dangle. 
Exhibit A

This is a very common issue in kids with autism.  Lack of "appropriate" play.  Sounds like a load of crap right?  Kind of like "failure to progress" in a labor and delivery situation?  It's not though.  Put a toy in front of a neurotypical kid and they might need a little guidance to figure it out, but the point is that the would be interested in doing so.  Put the same toy in front of a child with autism and who knows what you're gonna get.  With Nathan he would likely ignore it- his main interests are leaves, string, balloons, pine needles, toilet paper, and paper towels.  If you try to engage him in the toy he will cry and try to get away.  The only person I have seen truly engage him in play appropriately has been the educator who just started coming out to our home in December.  The one who is an "aide" on Mon and Tuesday and a kindergarten "advocate" for the school board the rest of the week (she has her master's and does the aide gig because she loves it).  The first time she visited, my mom, the sitter, and I were all observing.  We all would like to drink her blood or at the very least get an in depth tutorial.  Ooops, was that inappropriate?

If you put that same toy in front of Jack, especially when he was little, he would find a way to spin it.  If that wasn't happening, then he would turn it over and examine how it was put together.  Find the screws, etc.  We used to joke that clearly he would be an engineer- still wonder about that.  We spent about 9 months in weekly "play therapy" with Jack.  I will never forget it as it was one of our first therapies after his diagnosis.  We did OT on Saturday morning, and then I would drive Jack 45 minutes to this attorney's office where the child therapist held her Saturday hours.  She lugged a million toys with her every week.  I would watch her try and try again to get Jack to engage in imaginative play.  He did not want to make characters interact with each other.  Eventually she did help him do this- even if it was a cake and a banana talking to each other.  Hey, we're not picky here.  I used to stress so much about this "deficit" that Jack had- God it sounds so stinking minor now.  If this was the biggest issue with Nate we would be coasting right now. 

So back to the toys.  I am constantly on a crusade to find that "magical toy" for Nate.  In order to get him to do a puzzle I basically have to sit him in my lap and cross my legs over his- ie, restrain him.  To get him to pay attention to any toys, they have to be in his room, the door has to be closed, and there must be no other entertainment option for him.  If he engages with something for two minutes, it's a victory.  This is of course besides his beloved string.  He could do that for hours.  I have found myself on my hands and knees dangling a piece of string next to his in a desperate attempt to get him to notice me/interact with me.  It does work sometimes. 

We seriously should own stock in Melissa and Doug, Plan Toys, etc.  I think we might be missing about 10 Melissa and Doug toys from their collection.  And our family has been so so considerate in continuing this trend- every gift Nate received this year was something that would aid in his development.  Awesome.  We haven't opened over half of them, but we'll get to them.  I don't want to bombard him, I want him to focus.  After his birthday, I hit amazon again, hoping to find something he would really like.  I thought I had done that for his birthday, but came up with a big zero.  Not a flicker of interest in anything.  So I found these:

Nate LOVES movement- thus the string, etc.  He loves water.  He is the only kid I have ever seen that loves to have water poured over his head to rinse his hair during a bath.  Jack screams like a banchee and shakes his head like a dog.  Nate stands up, squeals, and moves closer.  So even though these blocks were almost 40 bucks, there were only 6, and I couldn't know if we would be successful, I went for it.  It is the only toy he has truly paid attention to from Christmas so far.

He loves to shake them and watch the water move.  He loves to look through them and see everything around him change color.  And occasionally I can sneak in a brief period of building.  Which is the key- the developmental play has to be "worked in" to what they want to do right?  Luckily, my efforts are rewarded with amazing moments like this.....


  1. Hi,I'm glad I found your blog! I have a little girl with autism (2.5) and 3 other children as well. I know about the quest for the perfect toy all too well as my Sophie doesn't really play with any toys. Still, we hope and try that "maybe she'll like this". Recently she's been showing interest in play structures so I just ordered a cardboard playhouse for her today. Cautiously optimistic :)

  2. awwww... thank you! And good luck!!!!!

  3. I love the phrase "the magic toy"! I've been looking for that for Janey (8, with autism) for years now, without knowing the name. We've never come close to finding it. I used to have those same water blocks for my older boys, and they were great! But Janey stubbornly doesn't like any blocks, despite my strong belief in non-gendered toys! She is like Nate in that she loves water poured over her head. Water is really the only toy that always works for her. It's easier in the summer than the winter, though. I'm enjoying your blog!