Friday, December 31, 2010

My Sibling Dolls

Siblings of children with autism often feel left out or short on attention.  It is hard for them to understand the differences in their brother or sister and it is quite a struggle to explain things in an appropriate way.  I am always drawn to products that are developed by parents and other family members of individuals with autism.  These dolls caught my attention and now that I know more about them, I am set on sharing them with others.

Unique stories included with each doll

These beautiful dolls take on the perspective of the sibling.  They are all high quality dolls with beautiful clothes.  Each doll has a story about the sibling and how their life is different from other children because they do have a brother or sister with special needs.  I love the real life examples in some of the stories and how child friendly they are.

The dolls to choose from are boys and girls and also include many different ethnic backgrounds; allowing you to chose one that your child will most identify with.


                  Autism awareness stitched on clothing,
                  bracelets and headbands of the dolls.

This is a wonderful resource for so many families.  In addition to raising awareness for siblings, work experience is gained through the packaging of these dolls.  Here is the information about this wonderful program from the My Sibling Dolls site:

The My Sibling/My Pal Work Experience Program™ provides work opportunities for teens and adults with disabilities: dressing, accessorizing, packaging, labeling of dolls; packaging, labeling and assembly of our other products, such as autism awareness items. We have developed relationships with public and private schools and adult programs who want real job experiences for their students and adult workers.

Read more and find out how to order one as well at:
'My Sibling Dolls' were created by an amazing woman, with an even more amazing story.  Her life has been one of struggles, trials and tribulations but overcoming so much she is now an advocate extraordinaire. 


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Look Inside Temple Grandin's Fascinating Mind

 If you have not read Temple Grandin's book, 'Thinking In Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life With Autism' you need to run out to the library or nearest bookstore now! This is a must read for anyone interested in in autism spectrum disorders. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism in the early 1950s, a time when autism was largely misunderstood. Although Temple had little language very early on, she is now able to eloquently describe her life with autism and the way her brain works and she does exactly that in this book.

She describes her mind as a movie that is constantly playing images in her head. She learns by first visualizing specific examples and then forming the concepts from those detailed pictures. She writes about her struggle in translating words to pictures for more abstract concepts, but she has taught herself these skills along the way. In this book she talks about how she has used her strengths in visual thought to earn her Ph.D in Animal Science and develop humane cattle handling devices. She has the unique ability to relate to cattle and uses that and her own experiences of the world to better the field of animal science and our understanding of autism spectrum disorders.

HBO Movie: Temple Grandin:

This incredible movie premiered earlier this year and has since won 7 Emmy Awards! Claire Danes stars as Temple and plays the part perfectly. Like the book, this movie chronicles her life from a a young child when she had no language through her socially isolating experiences in school and college to when she found her niche in a career using her life's passion. In images that flash on the screen to depict Temple's thought processes, this movie allows the audience to get a glimpse inside her mind and the truly fascinating way it operates.

You can purchase the movie on amazon, as well as the book-- see the respective links below:


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Make Schedules EASY - 'Choiceworks'

We often recommend to families that visuals are essential in planing for changes, handling difficult emotions and completing evening/morning routines.  This sounds simple but truly putting it in place for families is overwhelming.  I love this system.  I think it is so easy for parents to get started and reach their child at their level of understanding.  I was shocked at all of the things they thought of! 

The board easily sits on a counter or can be mounted on the wall.

A brilliant system of showing the child how long they have to wait, with the timer.  Additionally, they can see their options of what they can do while waiting.
What to do when upset and what they can do after they are able to calm down.

A ton of extra pictures all inside of the the schedule stand.  Also, it includes blank squares and a dry-erase marker to add your own info; this would be great with unexpected events!

Super easy to take to the location you need; for example, the bathroom for the 'night-time' routine.

This is a great system, easy to use and very versatile.  I love the fact that it can sit up on a flat surface, attach to the wall or carried out of the home/school environment.  The Beevisual company was also able to combine some of the most challenging situations for those with autism as well.  They included components that include, thinking about waiting/passage of time and what to do when anger/frustration arises.  It also includes booklets to explain the system to the student in a storybook format. 

Overall, Choiceworks is an amazing system that seemed to think of all the important factors in scheduling and preparing for unexpected situations.  The system can be purchased on the BeeVisual website:  I especially like the deluxe bundle because you get so many extras and can print and make lots of extra icons as needed:

These choices work!!


Thursday, December 23, 2010

More Fun Sensory Things!

Originally designed to help with the development of biting and chewing skills, 
these Chewy Tubes are great for kiddos who seem to put everything in their
mouths! They come in a variety of colors, shapes, textures, and sizes. A family
I recently worked with loved the T-Shaped Chewy Tube in Extra Large. This
child used to chew all the ends of his pencils off and using this as a pencil topper
in the classroom really helped.

What kid doesn't love the Wiggles? This is a great toy for kids who love music and
have an interest in instruments. I know one preschooler who first started exhibiting 
pretend play skills with a toy like this and even started a "band" with his classmates!

PIN ART-- A classic toy that is always a hit. Such a great tactile toy and seems to
appeal to kids of all ages. They even make versions that glow in the dark!

Speaking of glowing in the dark, these light-up bouncy balls flash colorful lights and 
have shinny sparkles and ribbons inside. Not a toy for the a kid who tends to throw 
things-- it could really hurt if hit with one of these things! 

"Blobby Robby"-- Like a stress ball, but cuter and more fun! I love to use "Blobby
Robby" to help the individuals I work with learn relaxation skills. I found this at an 
educational store in our area and kids and adolescents love it.

We have many more fun and exciting toys and other products coming soon so stay tuned and


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cause and Effect - A Few of our Favorite things!

Although holiday shopping is over, we are always looking for new things to reinforce and help motivate the kids we work with.  Cause and effect toys are enjoyable across the spectrum and developmental levels.  At times children with autism are steered away from these activities due to self-stimulatory and perseverative behavior.  However,we see this as a great thing for individuals to 'earn' for their free time.  Using some simple, sensory-stimulating toys can assist parents and professionals in their quest to capture every one's attention. 

 Playskool Busy Ball Popper
Music, lights and balls racing around spiral paths.  Lots of fun for kids to try to catch the balls as they pop out and scramble to put them back in!

Fisher Price Roll-a-Rounds Swirlin Surprise Gumball
Load the balls on top and push the lever.  Fun lights and sounds are activated with the lever as the balls swirl out the gumball machine.

Roll-a-Rounds & Listen-Up Rounds
I use these interchangeably with many activities and toys.  They are visually stimulating and the 'Listen-Up' version makes fun noises.  Kids will have a great time exploring the variety of objects inside each one!

B. Whacky Ball - Target
One of the best toys has been revamped by Target stores.  This great toy has four balls that can be placed on top and pushed in or pounded in with the hammer.  It is fun for the kiddos to watch go through the ramps and this version even has a mirrored background which is even more exciting!

Little Zoomers Spinnin' Sounds Speedway - FP
This toy is absolutely adorable!  The fun cars that come with it fly down the ramp and spin around the 'speedway' before shooting out the other side.  There are great lights and sounds that go with the spinning.  The kids found it even more interesting to add some of the balls from other toys and watch them whirl around the ramp too!

Fisher Price Lil' Zoomers Spinnin' Sounds SPEEDWAY

Fisher Price Playzone: Pull up Ball Blast
Put the balls on top and watch them roll down the spiral path.  In addition to watching the balls, this toy lights up and plays music.  Definitely a toy for all the senses!


Fisher Price Little Superstar
Adorable toy with a mirror (always a plus!), lots of lights, music and large buttons.  It can sit on the floor or up on a table for taller kids. 

Playskool Busy Poppin Pals
There are lots of versions of the pop up toys and I have had experience with many of them.  I don't favor one over the other but like them all.  They are exciting having the 'Peek-a-Boo' effect of the animal or character popping up and always a hit!
Playskool Busy Basics: Busy Poppin' Pals -  Hasbro - Toys"R"Us

Chicco Butterfly Spinner
This is another toy that has many versions that are just as enjoyable as the last.  It is fun for kids to watch the butterflies, balls or other objects spin around as the top is pressed.  This version also has a mirror inside to make it even more fun to watch!
Chicco Butterfly Spinner -  Chicco - Toys"R"Us

This is a very short list of some of our favorite toys that we hope to continue adding too.  It is hard to mention them all.  Let us know about some of your favored toys as well.  Must keep playing!


Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Ryuu-- The Game'- A Fantasy Game to Teach Social Skills

We came across this 'Ryuu' game a few weeks ago and were instantly intrigued. Ryuu is a card game similar to popular cards like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon, but are used to teach social skills through dragons and other mythical characters. This is a great way to approach puzzling and difficult social situations in a fun and interesting way! Through dragons, players move through various stages of social maturity and encounter both 'dark forces' that work to break down our social skills and 'light forces' that make us all more socially savvy.

'Ryuu' includes three different games of all different levels. The first game is simply a game of 'Memory' where you put all the cards face down and try to pick the two cards that go together (or opposite, such as the "rigidity" card and the "flexibility" card). You can then use the descriptions on the cards to start a conversation about different emotions and behaviors. The player with the most matches wins.

The second game is where the players evolve through social stages. Each player picks a certain dragon and draws cards from the deck and answers the questions presented on the card. The questions are either "conceptual" or "personal" so the players have a chance to talk about how the concept on the card applies to their real life. There are various cards that help the 'light forces' and can serve as a free pass to the players. This game is not competitive and  is over when everyone has progressed through the four stages.

The most advanced version in the series is the 'Role-Playing' game. Within this game there is also a beginning and advanced version. Here the players are challenged to actually act out social scenarios. Like the second game, the dragons evolve through stages. The difference between the beginner and advanced versions is that in the advanced version the dragons encounter random 'dark forces' decided on by the facilitator where the dragons have to use their particular strengths and 'light forces' to overcome these challenges. Again, the game is over when everyone has evolved to a mature dragon.


  • Players learn to label their emotions and social behavior in a meaningful way
  • Players learn to respond appropriately to social situations and get to practice these skills
  • Learning through the dragons makes approaching the topic less awkward and more fun!
  • The three versions of the game make it relevant for individuals of different ages and skill levels
  • The game comes with an interactive CD where the players can learn more about the dragons and the land of Ryuu
  • The facilitator has the opportunity to individualize the questions to the particular player to make the game more relevant and meaningful!
  • It is important to make sure group members are all of a similar social level and all understand the rules and intricacies of the game, especially the more complicated version
  • The third game in particular is quite complex and requires upfront research on the facilitator's part to successfully moderate the game (in fact two facilitators may not be a bad idea!)
  • The role-play scenarios can be very open-ended, therefore, the facilitator may need to provide more direct guidance
  • Depending on the dynamics of the group, the role-playing game could be quite time-consuming so it may require some adapting
    Our Verdict: It's a Winner! Although this game can be very complex, it's designed to be flexible enough to adapt to meet the specific needs of the group. For a younger child with an interest in the fantasy world, the first game is a great place to start labeling emotions and social behaviors. Then as kids mature, the second and third games allow for more personalization on the topics to help players become more self aware. Through role-playing, players can actually practice these skills in a fun and safe atmosphere. Finally, players have a chance to get lost in the world of fantasy and learn with their dragons to conquer the confusing social world!


    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    From Thomas to Anime

    I have often wondered what draws those with an autism spectrum disorder(ASD) to certain interests.  I had the pleasure of reading perspectives of teenagers with asperger's that see similarities in two of the biggest interests which are Thomas the Train and Japanese Anime. This is not saying that if you have an autism spectrum disorder you are predisposed to like these interests but rather this is a common theme.  I thought it was fascinating to think about the similarities. 

    Often, it is difficult for those with ASD to perceive the emotions of others.  Thomas has very exaggerated facial expressions to make it more obvious how the characters are feeling.  Thomas and the other characters have friendly faces, often with exaggerated expressions. In the videos, the expressions are set for some time and are often accompanied by simple narration explaining the emotion ("Thomas was sad."), allowing children to identify the feelings and expressions. - The specific survey by the NAS was conducted about the appeal of this lovable character:

    In June and July 2001, The National Autistic Society conducted a survey of 81 parents of children with autism and Asperger syndrome to investigate their putative 'special relationship' with Thomas the Tank Engine. The survey confirmed our assumption from anecdotal evidence that children with autism spectrum disorders associate far more strongly with Thomas the Tank Engine than with other children's characters.
    Thomas plays a vital role in the lives of some children with autism, acting as an initial point of entry into realms as vital as speech, emotion and imagination. For many other children on the autism spectrum, Thomas serves as a comforting, familiar and reassuring presence in a world that is frequently frightening and incomprehensible. - Resource:
    The National Autistic Society, London, England. "Do children with autism spectrum disorders have a special relationship with Thomas the Tank Engine and, if so, why?" Research undertaken by Aidan Prior Communications. February, 2002.
    Likewise, anime has more obvious features regarding emotions and extremely expressive eyes. 

    One quite articulate individual on the 'Wrong Planet' forum stated, "The depictions of emotion are intense and easily understandable even by those of us who have trouble reading people."   Within the world of anime, many of the characters have similar characteristics as individuals with autism.  

    Using these interests to work on social skills may be the key to making it more understandable to our kids.  Thinking about using those high interests to pull them into our confusing world of social subtleties and nuances.  We are in the process of reviewing such social skills resources that use these interest areas, so stay tuned!


    'Asperger's What Does It Mean To Me?'

    To piggyback on Abby's post, Catherine Faherty's book 'Asperger's What Does It Mean To Me?' is a great workbook for kids with HFA or Asperger's who are beginning to feel they are different and are ready to talk about their diagnosis. It is written in a positive way (in first person from the individual's perspective) about how everyone has strengths and difficulties and each child is able to fill in what is relevant to him or her.

    It's also really easy to make photo copies and white out the term "Autism" or "Asperger's" if you want to start a conversation with your child or client but do not want to use the label. The book covers all areas-- from explaining what it means to be on the autism spectrum to communication styles, social experiences, and sensory differences. The format of the workbook is mainly multiple choice so the child has answers to pull from and does
    not have to write a lot.

    This is also a great resource for parents, teachers, and other
    professionals who are looking for practical strategies. It goes
    into detail about using schedules, adapting tasks and lessons,
    how to approach homework, play dates, you name it! This
    book has by far been one of the most helpful resources I've
    come across to date.


    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    'All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome'

    This book is simple, beautiful, and heartwarming.  It's critics feel that it simplifies something that is so complex but isn't that exactly what we need when we are describing what differences these wonderful individuals have?  I think the characteristics that the author focuses on are absolutely endearing when describing our furry friends or our children/adults that sometimes struggle in the world.  I originally looked at sample pages online at Amazon but didn't truly fall in love until I saw the book in it's entirety.  My only wish is that the term 'Asperger' wasn't used but rather autism.  I feel that children identified with any type of an autism spectrum disorder would also benefit from the descriptions in this book.  I would love to pass a copy out to every child, adolescent and even adult that I know that has been given this label.  A must for every bookshelf!

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Minimizing Holiday Stress

    The holiday season can be such a fun and relaxing time, but for many individuals with ASD or sensory processing issues it can be overwhelming and even stressful! I recently came across this article from the Autism Society of America and thought it provided some really useful advice.

    One great idea mentioned to make the unexpected more familiar is to go through photo albums of family members who are coming to the house or show pictures of the people you are traveling to see. It's also important to talk to relatives ahead of time about your child’s specific needs and tips on how to help maintain a calm and enjoyable visit. Extended family members do not always understand what it means for a child to have an autism spectrum diagnosis and it may be helpful to set some clear rules ahead of time. Establishing a safe place the person with autism can retreat to is also key!

    As described in the article the social rules of the gifting process can be difficult to negotiate. Earlier this week Abby and I went to visit a social group in our area and “gift giving" and "gift receiving” were the topics of the night. It was amazing to see this group of kids from ages 8-14, all with HFA or Asperger’s put on their detective hats to figure out all of the complicated rules involved. After all, it isn't in their nature to tell a white lie if they do not like a gift, is it? 

    Through role-playing how to react if you receive a “less than desirable” gift, these kids really seemed to get the hang of it! They were also challenged to put their interests aside and to think from another person's perspective when giving a gift. It was delightful to see how caring and thoughtful all of these kids were—a few direct pointers and helpful hints can go a long way! 


    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    HFA Writer's Block

    If we want to strike fear in individuals with High Functioning Autism/Asperger's we just have to mention Writing.  Most kids that I work with run in terror at the mention of English or Language Arts.  Coming up with ideas, organizing thoughts, making inferences, on top of the fine motor components of putting that pencil to paper, is overwhelming to even our brightest students.

    I started using this book a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed it.  Products from 'Tasks Galore' are always a hit and this is no exception.  There are so many parts of writing and understanding passages that involve abstract concepts.  The book takes the strategy of a Graphic Organizer a step further.  It goes more in depth into the how and why behind inferences in writing, making statements to have the most impact and how to understand more complex concepts.  I knew this book was a great resource when using it with a middleschooler that despised writing, summarizing passages and understanding the structure of writing.  I reeled him in with the great poem activity that this book included about an 'Ode to Nintendo DS'.  I immediately captured his attention by talking about a high interest and something that he viewed as fun!  Having this more enjoyable mindset helped him to view the activity in a more positive light and in the end be successful. 

    In addition, this book comes with a CD to reproduce all of the workbook activities.  This makes it so easy to have on my computer and print at the push of a button as many copies as I need for that session. 
    Visit the tasks galore site to take a peek inside the book:

    Let us know what strategies with writing have worked for you or what experience you have had with this book.  We would love your feedback!