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Using Toys and Games to Help Children with Autism - June 2007

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Using Toys and Games to Help Children with Autism

By: Jill Rice, Speech Pathologist and Amy Simmers, educational consultant with Discovery Toy

In today's society where 1 in every 166 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, many different approaches are necessary to target delayed skills in these children. Toys are a vital part of this intervention process and can make the experience both educational and fun! Specifically, toys and games can increase the communication abilities of a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

Toys that require following directions are a great way to strengthen receptive language skills. For example, using a pegboard that has different shapes and colors, you might say, "Can you place the blue circle on top of the red circle?" This process targets listening skills, color and shape recognition and basic experience with prepositions. A pegboard is also an effective way to improve fine motor skills.

Toys that can record voices and have familiar sounds from a child's world are also important for increasing vocal/verbal imitation skills. For example, a toy phone that can record a child's voice or model desired utterances can be a useful tool. Greetings and closings such as "hi", "goodbye" and "see you later" and social exchanges such as "Have a nice day" and "How are you?" provide further opportunities to model for the child. These types of toys can also be used to give simple one-step directions. For example, the therapist could record herself saying, "Please put the ball in the red box" or "Press the green button and then the red one."

Books and toys that have tactile qualities can be useful tools in facilitating verbal expression. Asking, "How does that page feel, rough or smooth?" provides an opportunity for children with ASD to increase their oral vocabulary. Books that show children using sign language can be a viable tool for children who are nonverbal. Imitating simple signs can empower a child to gain confidence for interaction with others because they have a means of communication. An increased use of signing can often facilitate an increase in the child's vocal/verbal skills.

In addition, visually simplistic alphabet books with one picture on each page are a fun way to build simple vocabulary, direction following skills and letter sound/ symbol association. For example, given an "A" book, the child could point to each picture as it is named. With repetition, the child could begin to make associations between the object, the printed word and the spoken word. With one book for each letter, the child could use the books as a hands-on way to sequence the alphabet. Perhaps one of the most important types of toys for children with ASD are toys that encourage pretend play. Conversational skills can be improved when children and adults use playhouses, puppets and stuffed animals to act out "adventures" or relate events of the day. Toys that also encourage children with ASD to "rehearse a script" for upcoming events in their lives, such as the first day of school, going on a field trip, etc. can help ease social anxiety.

There are countless products in the marketplace today for children. Toys and games are simply one avenue which can provide opportunities for appropriate interaction with materials that can make a difference to children with an autism spectrum disorder.

This Month's Featured Vendor: Discovery Toys

Special Thanks to Jill Rice and Amy Simmers for providing an article for this issue's Therapy Corner

Jill Rice has a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Master's degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from James Madison University. She has worked as a school speech pathologist for twenty-six years.

Amy Simmers has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in Early Childhood Education from James Madison University. She taught first grade for eight years before becoming a consultant for Discovery Toys.

Please support our contributing authors and vendors. Amy Simmer can be reached by email at: or her website Discovery Toys Mention you saw her article in the PediaStaff newsletter and receive free shipping on your first order.

Tags: June 2007 Newsletter OT SLP Autism