Most parents have the opportunity to play many great games with their children in their toddler/early elementary years.
Spectrum parents are not different – except our games are. Instead of playing hide and go seek or tag, we often play games directed by our OT (Occupational Therapist). Here are a few examples of games we played in Tucker’s early years….
What’s in the bag? One of the early ‘games’ that we played to help Tucker develop his sense of touch was “What’s in the bag.” We would put a variety of objects in a paper bag – starting with larger obvious items (a fork, a nerf ball, a banana) then ask Tucker to reach in and tell us what he could find. As he would master those larger objects, we would replace with smaller, more complicated objects. He really struggled with this game in the early years – with enough practice and time he was able to determine qualities of objects.
Reasoning? Children on the spectrum often have difficulty isolating one sense. This games requires a child to only use their sense of touch. This concentration helps in several ways.
- Practice the sense of touch.
- Strengthen the sense of touch.
- Distinguish between textures.
- Identify objects by feeling alone
- Develop stronger connections between the sense of touch and allowing the brain to make the connection to identify the object.
Why does this make a difference? Think about how many times you reach for something, but cannot look where you are reaching. Maybe into your purse or even your pocket. This ability also opens up a variety of occupations – mechanics must be able to reach in and identify the parts they are feeling, so must plumbers, carpenters, and any other occupation that requires tangible objects.
What’s the number? We began this game by drawing numbers, letters, and shapes on his back. I would begin this game by using more pressure so the image was more obvious. As Tucker’s progress moved forward I would touch more gently to get him to have a stronger focus. I also move on to different body parts like his thighs, upper arms, or the back of his hands. This games served him on several levels.
- Letter, number, and shape recognition
- Further the develop the sensation of being touched
- Pay attention and increase focus. To focus on one task long enough to recognize what is begin drawn.
Why does this make a difference?As these three goals began to work together Tucker developed the skills that he needed to focus and recognize the sensation of touch on his body.
At first, both of these games seemed silly – but I did it anyway – like so many other times with our OT. (See Day #22 – Trust the Professionals). Tucker rarely succeeded at first, but as time passed he improved. He began to concentrate more, he began to take his time, he became more patient. Soon enough his competitive streak came through and he wanted to ‘beat me’ at my own game.
When Estelle was a toddler, I played these games with her. That was the first moment I realized how much different Tucker really was. She could name the objects in the bag right way and had no issues telling me which letter/numbers/shapes I traced on her back.
He was the oldest, as I look back there are so many moments that I now realize were abnormal – but honestly, I didn’t know any better. So, if this child is your first child and your ‘team’ asks you to try some special ‘games.’ Take the advice. It may or may not work, but anything to help your child get in touch with their sense(s) is worth a try!