Photo of sand toys which are great for kids with special needs

Play is essential for all children but especially for kids with autism and other special needs. Many children with special needs spend upwards of 40 hours a week in therapy and school, and need a break from all that work. Summertime play also gives kids an opportunity to feel more normal.

Outside play is particularly helpful for children with developmental delays. Children get to do things outdoors than they could not do indoors, such as running and jumping, and this type of outdoor exercise can improve muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility. Playing outside can improve cardiovascular health and exercise endurance in ways that increase a child’s life expectancy. Regular outdoor play can improve body awareness, balance, and motor skills. Many kids with special needs have vitamin D deficiencies; exposure to the sun during outdoor activities helps kids get the vitamin D they need for good health.

Outdoor play also provides mental benefits. In particular, exercising outdoors helps boost the self-esteem of kids with special needs by helping them improve their physical skills and overcome obstacles. Playing outside with other kids can also provide social benefits that may include improved behavior and relationship building.

While play provides extra benefits, many special needs kids face particular challenges when it comes to play. They may tire quicker than do other students, and some children have mobility issues. Communication challenges, difficulties with social skills, and sensory issues can interfere with play. Fortunately, a number of creative minds and forward-thinking companies have created special needs toys that nearly any kid will love.

Top Special Needs Toys for Summer Fun in Houston

The Egg & Spoon Race Game is a great way for kids to have fun on a summer day. The kids balance a plastic egg on a spoon as they run towards the finish line. Racers must be careful, though, as dropping the egg will cause it to crack.

  • A Double Swung Package swing set allows parents and able-bodied kids to swing together, side by side.
  • Time for a rest? Try the Hammock Chair Stand-Mediterraneo, a comfortable hammock chair.
  • Brightly colored Sand & Water Toys makes every trip to the beach more fun. The beach can be a sensory therapy experience for kids with autism. Sand tools, a watering can, a bucket, molds, toy boats and trucks can help kids explore the sand and sea.
  • Deluxe Indoor Single Swing Package-Child is an indoor swing that offers the same fun as the outdoor versions. Houston gets warm in the summertime and kids with special needs may be more sensitive to the effects of extreme heat. Indoor versions of outdoor toys, such as indoor swings, keep kids entertained during hot summer afternoons.
  • A Gorilla Gym creates an indoor gymnasium, providing kids with hours of fun on an indoor swing, rings, and ladders. The unit attaches to a doorframe like a home pull-up bar, without the need for drilling or hammering.

 

Choosing the right summer toy can help a child enjoy indoor and outdoor fun in Houston. Although playing presents unique challenges to children with special needs, the physical, mental and social benefits make summer playtime worthwhile.

Photo: Autistic child using technologyThe world has become deeply rooted in technology, but how can parents and teachers use these devices to help children on the spectrum? A study conducted by The University of Edinburgh found that children and adults with autism love high tech as much as anyone. Computers, games and videos offer some unique benefits for autistic children when implemented in a fun and practical manner. Consider ways autism and technology work well together.

Why Technology is a Practical Choice for Autistic Children

The proper use of high-tech devices like laptop computers, tablets and mobile DVD players help autistic children develop new skills and stay motivated to learn. Being autistic does not deter the thrill that comes from playing a computer game or watching an exciting video online. They tend to want to share this joy with others, too, enhancing their socialization skills naturally.

Working with teaching tools like assistive technology for autism helps these children master their own learning and play without adding stress to their lives. The right video can offer the perfect distraction to avoid a meltdown, too.

The benefits of combining autism and technology are not lost on developers, either. For example, Apple provides training resources to help teachers use technology to support students with sensory and learning disabilities.

Fitting Technology into the Life of a Child on the Spectrum

Technological devices have practical application both at home and in the classroom. These special children might respond better to a video story then a parent reading a book, for example. Watching YouTube videos on a laptop, television or tablet computer can provide a singular bonding experience for mom, dad and siblings.

Consider storytelling software such as The Monster at the End of This Book from Sesame Street, which is designed to provide learning experiences through interactive play. With interactive reading apps and videos, autistic children develop a love of stories.

4KidsShare is an app that helps kids of all ages create timelines and stay organized. It offers an audio feature so children can record messages of their own or listen to ones made for them when they need a little extra encouragement. It also provides a social share option to improve socialization and communication skills.

Samsung’s Look at Me app is about understanding social situations and how to cope with them. The developers state that using this app will improve eye contact and teach autistic children more about socialization and communication. The app uses actual photographs and facial recognition technology to create games about emotions. In clinical trials, 60 percent of autistic participants showed marked improvement in eye contact.

What to Look for When Buying Technology for Your Autistic Child

Ideally, you want to get your child a device that is easy to use but durable, like a touch screen tablet or smartphone – something light and portable. Quality matters, too, because you don’t want the child to become frustrated with screens that lag or shutdown unexpectedly.

Technology is an effective tool, but it can’t replace comprehensive Applied Behavior Analysis or traditional learning practices. Instead, teachers and parents should use these devices in conjunction with proven methodologies like ABA to help autistic children grow, experience new worlds and enjoy learning.

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Photo: Child going through behavior therapyDisruptive behavior, such as aggression and property destruction, can be a challenging aspect of autism. Challenging behavior can also cause harm or interfere with a child or adolescent’s learning. Applied behavior analysis can help curb challenging behavior and provide a better means of communication.

 

About ABA Therapy
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a process based on scientific principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is a good example of such a principle. When someone receives an award immediately after behaving in a certain way, the individual is likely to repeat the behavior. ABA therapy applies these principles to bring about meaningful, positive changes in behavior.

Challenging behaviors do not occur in a vacuum – there is a reason these behaviors develop. Disruptive behavior occurs in response to an event, known in the therapy world as “identifiable stimuli.” The consequences of a challenging behavior can either strengthen the behavior or weaken it.

ABA focuses on the function of the behavior rather than what it looks like. In other words, when behavior analysts assess a child who engages in aggression, they look at how the child benefits from the aggression instead of focusing on the biting or hitting. Disruptive behaviors serve many functions, such as getting the attention of a parent or peer, gaining access to preferred activities or items, or an easy escape from an unpleasant task or environment.

Behavior is a form of communication. An outburst may be a non-verbal way of saying, “I need attention” or “I am angry.” A child learns to use challenging behavior as a tool to communicate needs and get what he or she wants. ABA provides the child with better communication skills and tools.

 

Assessment and Treatment of Challenging Behavior

Behavior analysts use Functional Behavioral Assessment to identify the underlying function of disruptive behavior. Functional Behavioral Assessment is a process that uses a variety of techniques and strategies, such as questionnaires and interviews that reveal what the child needs or wants but cannot express.

Identifying the function of a challenging behavior helps the therapist develop a treatment plan that targets that particular function. A child who behaves aggressively to gain the attention of a parent, for example, would learn different ways to get that attention.

Since ABA treatment focuses on the underlying function of the behavior rather than on the behavior itself, the aggressive behavior is ignored. Focusing on aggressive behavior, even in the form of correcting or punishing a child for that behavior, actually reinforces it. Ignoring the behavior takes all of the “ammunition” out of it, so that engaging in undesirable behavior is no longer an effective tool to help a child get what he or she wants.

Competent applied behavioral analysis can help individuals make meaningful changes in many areas, but changes in behavior tend to come about slowly. ABA is a step-by-step process that builds upon previous successes. Progress varies from person to person, so some children require more practice and training than do others.

Parents of children displaying challenging behavior associated with autism or other behavioral conditions should contact an ABA professional to learn about applied behavior analysis. Just as qualified medical professionals direct medical treatment programs, qualified behavioral professionals should design and supervise ABA programs offered at our behavior therapy clinic in Houston. Board Certified Behavior Analysts have special training in ABA therapy and applied behavior analysis techniques. Contact Behavior TLC today for a consultation.

Behavior TLC

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Many individuals with autism have feeding problems, such as sensitivities, selectivity and aversions to different foods. Tantrums, meltdowPhoto: Family Making a Salad Togetherns and other behavioral issues can also make mealtime especially challenging for autistic kids. In some cases, restricting consumption of certain foods can help reduce symptoms of autism but restrictive diets can also keep a child from getting the nutrition he needs to grow and develop properly.

Feeding Problems, Behavioral Issues, and Nutrition for Autistic Kids

Feeding problems combined with behavioral issues can lead to poor nutrition. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are five times more likely to experience significant feeding problems as compared with their peers.

The researchers also found that kids with autism consumed a lot less calcium and protein compared with children without ASD. Calcium is essential for strong teeth and bones. Protein is important for growth, mental development, and overall good health.

Chronic eating problems and the nutritional deficits they cause increase the risk of poor academic achievement and social difficulties. Poor nutrition associated with chronic eating problems can raise a child’s chances of developing one or more diet-related diseases, such as obesity and heart disease, in childhood and later on in life.

Food Triggers and Symptoms of Autism

Eating certain foods can worsen autism symptoms. Sugar can cause hyperactivity in some individuals, for example, while artificial preservatives may cause hyperactivity in others.

Some parents note an increase in symptoms when their child eats gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye, or the casein in milk products so they put their kids on gluten-free/casein-free (GFCF) diets. The theory is that food allergies worsen symptoms of autism so restrictive diets should reduce symptoms.

The problem with these restrictive diets, however, is that they may prevent a child from getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs. Foods rich in gluten and casein are major sources of protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, calcium, and zinc. Children who already avoid certain foods because of extreme selectivity and aversion issues are at special risk for nutritional deficits when on a restrictive diet.

Restrictive diets can also be difficult to maintain. A child may not find anything she can eat at the school cafeteria or on a restaurant menu. Worse still, meltdowns and other behavioral problems may develop when a child cannot enjoy the food offered at birthday parties, while traveling, and during other special occasions. Before putting children on restrictive diets, parents should first verify that food restrictions indeed curb behavioral problems.

One of the best ways to determine if food sensitivities or allergies worsen symptoms is to keep a short food diary of everything a kid eats for about a week, and a symptom journal describing the child’s symptoms for that week. To avoid the risk of malnutrition for a child with ASD on restrictive diets, a parent can work to expand the number of nutrient-rich foods that appeal to the youngster or enlist the help of a dietician or autism specialist to determine if nutritional supplements can help.

Healthcare professionals and behavior therapists can use a child’s food diary and symptom journal to help parents identify potential allergens and triggers in the foods their young one eats. A dietician can also assess the child’s diet and recommend supplements, such as multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B6, or magnesium. To make it easier to determine what is working and what is not, children with autism should start one supplement at a time and track behavior with a symptom journal.

Nutrition is a balancing act for kids with autism. Eating the wrong foods can increase symptoms while avoiding certain foods can lead to poor nutrition and other behavioral or health problems. For more information, talk with your Houston behavior therapist.