Autism Fact: Many children affected by autism also benefit from other interventions such as speech and occupational therapy.
I’m lucky to be a part of RJ Scotts’ Autism Awareness Blog Hop again, and this year we’re talking toys, something I’m passionate about. I worked for two decades as an educator and family therapist before I started writing full time, and in another life, I would’ve loved being a toy researcher, helping find the best toys for kids.
My passion stems from the knowledge that play is essential to child development and vital to strengthening parent/child relationships. Play is a child’s work. It makes their brains and muscles grow and fosters social skills and emotional growth in a way that allows kids the freedom to practice before they have to engage in the real thing. This is why play therapy is so effective for all kids, but especially for children with autism.
If you’ve never watched a speech or occupational therapist in action, you likely don’t know what they do. They were the saving grace for my own child, and I witnessed many kiddos in my classrooms benefitting from both speech and occupational therapy. So I’ve had a front-row seat to witness the magic in action and see the results.
It was a speech therapist who helped teach my baby how to swallow. When Poppy was born, she had a feeding tube place before she was even a day old. She got 100% of her nutrition from feeding tubes and couldn’t swallow without choking. Her occupational therapist brought in special tools, foods, cups, spoons, and helped us find the best position for feeding. The speech therapist was the one who actually taught her how to swallow food when she was a toddler. Without their interventions, I’m not sure how long Poppy would’ve been on that feeding tube.
In my toddler classroom, those kiddos’ eyes lit up every time the speech and occupational therapists walked into the room. They had something new and exciting each time. Like Mary Poppins! While their interventions are meaningful and work toward a goal, kids don’t even know they’re working because it’s all play to them. And the tools of that work is toys!
I grew up in the 1970s before the toy industry was taken over by such gender delineation of toys, and I’m so thankful for that. As a parent, I bought toys for their educational value, not the color shelf they were placed on. I loved LEGO sets, tinker toys, puzzles, and I lived on my bike and roller skates, while Barbie was tossed in a corner with snarls in her hair. I experimented in my play kitchen, grew salt crystals, and mixed my own perfume.
And then there was Brown Sugar, my stuffed dog that went everywhere with me and is still in my house. I met him as he lounged atop a cash register and asked if I could have him. I tried to name him Sugar, after my sister’s white cat, but I was told that wasn’t possible because he was brown. So as five-year-olds do, I used logic. “Then I’ll call him Brown Sugar,” I told my sister with a big nod. Brown Sugar is my forever toy. He was who I told my deepest, darkest secrets to. He absorbed my tears through heartache and hopelessness.
A toy, but so much more.
My daughter has one of those as well. Hers is a wooden worm on wheels that my sister mailed over from Germany when she lived there. Gary. He went everywhere with us for years, and people in the family would ask about Gary at the holidays and over the phone.
Gary was a simple toy, as was Brown Sugar. They allowed for imaginative play. Many toy makers dictate how a toy should be played with, but these open-ended toys give children more freedom. LEGOs were that way for me growing up. Yes, I built the house on the front of my LEGO box a hundred times, but I also experimented well beyond that. I wasn’t limited to twisting this, pushing that, and the toy functioning in only the two ways the manufacturer was able to envision.
I’d love to hear about your favorite toys growing up. Comment below for you chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card. And don’t forget to follow along at all the other participating sites. Master Post is here.
And if you haven’t had a chance to read my North Star Trilogy, it’s available at all stores through this month. After that, I will be putting it back on Kindle Unlimited.