IPads have opened up a whole new world for children with autism. They can provide wonderful learning opportunities, many with immediate reinforcing responses that reward children’s learning efforts.
However, too much of anything is never good! You’ll know your children’s use of iPads has become excessive when it starts to interfere with their sleep, mood, social connectedness, or when they become reliant on it for their enjoyment.
Changing habits can be difficult…but it can be done with good preparation.
My eldest son not only has control issues and anxiety, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was also non-verbal. Trying to steer him to other activities didn’t work, and the fall out of just removing the iPad was distressing. I went through a process of trial and error, until finally realising that what I needed was to keep it simple and to use an approach that allowed him to feel involved. Getting him involved was the key! It’s changed the way we plan our day. In fact, we quickly went on to use this approach during meals, at bedtime, during therapy and have started working closely with my son’s therapist to integrate the Learning PatchTM First/Then Schedule Pad at school.
Here are some budget activities worth considering in place of the iPad.
Depending on your child’s age, you can either measure ingredients in advance and have them pour each item into the bowl, or you can break down the recipe so they can follow the instructions step by step and measure all the ingredients themselves. My eldest son has been helping me bake for years, and now likes to mix, pour mixture into patty pans, and then take away the unused batter to taste-test it for me.
Making and flying a kite
Making a kite is a fun and involved activity, which can also broken down over many days – this will depend on your child’s interest in this activity, and on how attached they may be to their routine activities (such as playing on the IPad). For example, you may spend one day building the kite, and another painting it, and then venture out to the beach or park to fly your kite on a separate day. Give this activity a go, and be patient if it takes a little time for your child to build interest.
TIP: Use the Learning PatchTM First/Then Schedule Pad to show your child that they will “first” do the set activity, and “then” they will be able to resume playing on their iPad. At first, keep the set activity short so that they have time to get used to this new behaviour.
Playdoh is a great activity, and it’s a shame that it’s mostly only presented to pre-school children – because playing with playdoh is a great way to relax, to build fine motor skills, and to teach ASD children to work alongside other children (and even to learn to share). There are lots of recipes for playdoh on the internet. If you do take up this activity, I highly recommend you stay away from recipes that have ingredients like talcum powder or baby oil as there’s always the likelihood that children will want to taste it - and those ingredients don’t seem kid-friendly.
Playing with sand has the same benefits of playing with playdoh. I’ve had great success encouraging my boys to play together and to learn to share by playing with kinetic sand. There’s one type of sand that I’ve found to be more popular with my boys than the other. One brand we trialled wasn’t very good – we found it too dry and horrible to vacuum – but there’s another (the one that clumps together) that has given my boys hours of sensory fun.
Indoor or outdoor obstacle course
The last, but not least, activity is obstacle courses. This activity is great for helping your child develop their motor skills, their ability to take turns, getting your child to burn off excess nervous energy, and it’s also a great way to build your child’s confidence. I have constructed so many obstacle courses, mostly indoors but it can also be done outdoors. Use cushions, hoola-hoops, balls, buckets, blankets, skipping ropes, or any number of toys to create an adventure for your children.
The thing to remember is that regardless of how bumpy our journey may be….it’s worth taking the time to plan to create wonderful memories for our children.