When it comes to living with a child who has autism, educational experts, pediatricians and scientists all have their advice for parents. But who better to bounce ideas off of than other parents of children on the autism spectrum?
MyAutismTeam is a social network for parents of children with autism that has more than 20,000 members. Described as a “Facebook-Meets Yelp- network,” the site utilizes local reviews of doctors and services and connects members to fellow parents they can ask for advice. MyAutismTeam also connects parents with 30,000 providers, from babysitters to dentists to Taekwondo instructors, who all have experience working with children with autism.
“Parents of kids with autism constantly worry whether they are doing enough, or are doing the right things to help their children thrive,” Eric Peacock, CEO and founder of MyAutismTeam, said. “We focus on making it easy for parents to learn from others who have been in their shoes, so they don’t have to start from scratch when looking for providers that are highly recommended.”
Children with autism, much like most children, gravitate to toys and activities for their entertainment, and parents have noticed their kids prefer certain games more than others. To find out the top gift and toy ideas for children with autism, MyAutismTeam recently surveyed 1000 of its members. For World Autism Awareness Month, here’s what the community voted as their top 10 gifts:
10. Quality time
Everyone loves getting gifts, but what better way for a child to play with the whole family than during good old fashioned quality time. A simple, cost effective and much desired gift for children with autism is a family’s time, patience and empathy. Baking or doing arts & crafts were popular activities.
9. Educational DVDs, toys and games
Children with autism tend to learn more visually or by touch and as such, sometimes struggle with instructions given in the traditional school settings. Giving interactive educational materials like DVDs, toys and games including popular brands like Leapster or Leap Pad help children with autism learn, while keeping them entertained, according to surveyed parents.
Most children love to be read to, and children with autism especially enjoy many of the features found in children’s books, such as repetition and rhyming. Classics like “Good Night Moon,” “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and Dr. Seuss books all use predictive patterns, repetition and rhymes. The ability of children with autism spectrum disorder to remember details is astonishing. Surveyed parents said older children may enjoy books that focus on specific subjects within history and science, full of detailed information that allows them to immerse themselves in the story.
Puzzles are a favorite toy of children with autism, according to their parents. Connecting pieces provides a satisfying tactile sensation, and children enjoy the bright colors that come into picture as the puzzle progresses.
6. Play date
Many children with autism struggle to interact socially. Surveyed parents said setting up play dates with other kids may help children with autism apply their social skills while enjoying the emotional benefit of a friendship connection.
5. Video games
Video games can engross children with autism and help them learn and gain confidence, according to surveyed parents. Many parents said they bring handheld games when they’re traveling or taking their child to another activity where he or she will need to sit still for a long period of time.
4. Gift cards
Parents of children with autism say they turn to gift cards to avoid the embarrassing “I don’t like it!” moment. Giving a gift card is a good way to give both the gift of flexibility and the gift of respite from a socially awkward moment.
3. Sensory toys
Many children with autism struggle to process sensory information: Some children are sensitive to touch, while others are sensitive to sounds or lights. As a result, gifts that appeal to the senses like plushies and flashlights are popular.
From high-tech to low-tech, the No. 2 toy on parents’ list was a classic: Legos. The bright colors and tactile experience of playing with Legos is a big draw for children on the autism spectrum, who can also use the blocks to express themselves creatively and experience the tactile sensation some children crave when snapping the Lego pieces together. Lego building sets are great for older children, surveyed parents said.
According to MyAutismTeam’s survey, nearly a quarter of responders said the favorite toy for children with autism may be the preferred toy among many Americans of all ages: Apple’s iPad.
As 60 minutes reported last October, many iPad apps help children with autism learn and communicate, which can often be a struggle. The sensory experience of the touch screen also holds the attention of many children with autism keeping them engaged for hours.
You can also engage with autistic children through active play. Learn how in this Active For Life article.