6 Sensory Friendly Stocking Stuffers for Under 10 Dollars!

It is so hard to believe that the holiday season is already upon us.  This year just flew by. If you are anything like me, standing in long lines at the mall fighting for the best deals is not how you want to spend your holiday.   While some people enjoy holiday shopping, for busy moms like yourself who have a million things to juggle already, it is probably more stressful than fun. Additionally, kids with Autism often have very limited interests so knowing what to buy your child can make holiday shopping even more frustrating. 

I want to take the mystery out of shopping this holiday season for you. One of the number one questions that parents ask me during the holiday season is what they should get their kids.  There are a few things that i have found that hold true for almost all kids with Autism.

  1. They respond well to toys that provide visual or tactile sensory stimulation. Because many kids with Autism lack complex play skills, they find solace in simple things that either enjoy watching or touching.
  2. You may have to try a dozen different things before your find something that interests your child.
  3. Children often get bored of things very quickly.

That’s why I put together a list of 6 stocking stuffers you can order right from this blogpost that cost less than 10 dollars. While I cannot guarantee they will work for your child, I chose them because they are the most common toys that the children I work with enjoy.  Since none of the toys cost much, there is minimal risk. All of the toys selected will provide your child with some sensory input which is demonstrated to reduce stimming behaviors for some children.

References

Allen, A. P., & Smith, A. P. (2011). A review of the evidence that chewing gum affects stress, alertness and cognition. Journal of Behavioral and Neuroscience Research, 9, 1, 7–23.

Foss-Feig, J. H., Tadin, D., Schauder, K. B., & Cascio, C. J. (2013). A substantial and unexpected enhancement of motion perception in autism. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(19), 8243-8249.

Stalvey, S. and Brasell, H. (2006). Using Stress Balls to Focus the Attention of Sixth-Grade Learners. Journal of At-Risk Issues, 12, 2, 7-16

Just Freaking Eat It- 5 Steps for Exhausted Parents to get your Sensory Child to Eat!

5 Steps for Frustrated Parents to Get Your Sensory Child to Eat

What is food selectivity disorder?

A child has food selectivity disorder when they have a very limited selection of foods that they are willing to eat. Having food selectivity disorder is not the same as a child being a picky eater. Usually children with food selectivity wind up being underweight and/or malnourished as a result of eating such limited foods.

Food selectivity looks different for all children. Some children will only eat food with specific textures like pureed food or baby food. Other children will avoid textures like wet foods. Some kids will only eat salty foods, some only sweet foods and others only foods of a specific color.

Many times, when kids are presented with new foods, they will become extremely upset and refuse to eat. When you force selective eaters to try something new, they will spit it out or gag and make themselves throw up. Often times, they are unable to express why they are rejecting the food which leaves parents wondering what is going on!  You may be offering them cake, cookies, chips or similar things that it may seem like all kids would want to eat! Either way, it is extremely frustrating and rather than dinner being a fun time for families to spend time together, it becomes one of the most dreaded parts of your day.

Why is my child selective about food?

There is no one answer to why a child is selective about eating particular foods. There is a very high correlation between Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder with food selectivity. The most common reason is that sensory eats avoid specific food textures. Apraxia, a motor speech disorder, also can cause children to reject foods at it makes moving food around the mouth a challenge. The good news is, no matter what the cause of the food selectivity there are five simple steps to overcoming it!

Step 1: Encourage your child to Play with Food Food

Allow your child to play with foods that they do not want to eat without requiring them to eat it. The exposure to the foods without the threat of being required to eat them will create a positive association with the foods and will reduce your child’s stress.

If your child doesn’t like solid foods, you can play with cereals, by dumping them in and out of cups and bowls. You can glue pretzels to paper, string pasta, and even include some of you child’s favorite toys in the games such as putting the food in trucks or feeding the food to stuffed toys or dolls. There are limitless possibilities.  Liquid foods can be a little more messy, but with a little creativity and some rags to clean up the mess, there are also tons of options!

Stay on this step as long as necessary! Feel free to also continue it throughout the rest of the steps.  I would encourage you to use several different foods to help with generalization! No matter what, keep it fun! Remember, the goal is to create a positive association!

Step 2: Require Your Child to Kiss the Food

Children will be reluctant to try new foods. However, if you assure them that they will not have to actually eat the food, they will be far more willing to cooperate. In this step, you have the child kiss the food and then they are done! You can tell them ahead of time how many times they will have to kiss the food but you would never ask them to put the food in their mouth! Praise them for doing a really great job once they kiss the food and give them access to their favorite toy or activity before either having them kiss the food again or to go to the next step.

*You may be able to progress through all five steps in one day or you may stay on each step for days or even weeks. Stay on each step until it becomes effortless for your child. Then, move on!

Step 3: Require Your Child to Lick the Food

Step 3 is almost identical to step 2 with the exception that in step 3, they are licking and kissing the food. Like with step 2, you should end the demand, praise them and give them access to their favorite toy or activity every time they lick the food. Also, like with step 2, stay on the step until it becomes easy for the child. Then, they are ready to move to step 4.

Step 4: Require Your Child to Put the Food in his Mouth but Allow them to Spit it Out

In this step, for the first time, you are requiring the child to put the food in their mouths. For many kids, this will be the most difficult step. Be prepared to give them a major reward for trying the food, especially the first time they do it!

This is also the most difficult step for many parents because it may seem counterintuitive to allow your child to spit out the food. The main reason for this that knowing that they can spit it out makes children much more likely to try them. The good news is that more often than not, they wind up realizing the food actually tastes good and they don’t spit it out!  You don’t want to repeat this step too many times for the same food! This step is meant to be a transition to step 5. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. It is just an option the first few times a child tries a new food. Keep in mind, there may be some food your child just doesn’t like!

Step 5: Require Your Child to Eat the Food

Once your child has completed the prior four steps, they are ready to eat the food! If they are still a little bit apprehensive, there are things you can do to make mealtime less stressful. My recommendation is to allow them a bit of a favorite food for every few bites when eating a challenging food. Or, if you are comfortable with it, allow them to bring a toy or watch a video during dinner as long as they are eating or you can use a token board and allow them to watch a video or play with their toys after a few bites. However, typically, the key is getting kids to try foods! Usually, once they try them, they realize they actually like them!

5 Tips for Making Travel Easier For Your Family.

Summer is in full swing! — At least here in the United States!  Summer is a time for barbecues with friends and vacations with families. But, traveling with children with Autism is often more daunting than rewarding.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are from my family vacations. I am sure you can think of some fond memories yourself.

 

Every parent wants to create unforgettable experiences for their children. But vacations aren’t relaxing or fun when you have to worry about meltdowns, what your kid will eat and whether or not places are Autism Friendly …. Here are 5 Tips for making travel easier for your family.

 

Tip 1: Seek out businesses that are Autism friendly.

 

Most movie theaters have sensory friendly screenings and several businesses like Chuckie Cheese and Bounce U have specific sensory friendly hours. During this time, music is often turned down, lights are left on and children are not expected to stay in their seats. Many theme parks have sensory friendly days or sensory areas where children with Autism can go to calm down. They will often provide weighted blankets and passes for children with Autism to skip the lines.

 

The Huffington post recently shared a list of some of the most Autism friendly theme parks in the United States.  The most notable is Sesame Place which became the first certified Autism center. All of their staff are trained on how to help children with Autism have a better experience. 

 

Tip 2: When Visiting a Theme Park Download a Map Ahead of Time

 

I cannot stress enough how much easier your trips to theme parks will be if you plan in advance.  Walking around aimless is stressful for everyone. It is even more so for kids on the spectrum who may not fully be able to express what they want to do or  why they have to double back because you walked in the wrong direction to the carousel they so desperately want to ride. It will also allow you to identify and avoid things you know may trigger a meltdown for your child such as the clowns they have an irrational fear of or the escalator that will trigger a meltdown if they don’t get to ride it at least a dozen times!

 

Tip 3: Bring Food With You

 

Let’s face it. Most kids on the spectrum are not known for their patience. Waiting in long lines to eat can cause tantrums and frustration. Our kids tend to want what they want when they want it. It is far easier to pull a snack out of your bag then to search for one when your child decides he is hungry– which is usually when you are in the farthest place possible from a snack stand — or at least it seems that way doesn’t it? Bring at least snacks with you if you decide not to pack whole meals.

 

But, I don’t need to tell you that kids on the spectrum often eat a limited variety of foods and the smallest change in texture or taste can cause them to reject even their favorite foods.

After all– almost half of you reading this, subscribed to our list by downloading our Free e-Book — Just Freaking Eat it: 5 Steps for Exhausted Parents to Get Your Sensory Kid to Eat! — [ If you haven’t gotten your copy yet — Click Here — to download it for free!]

 

Tip 4: Use Social Stories to Prep Your Child for the Vacation

 

I love using social stories to prep kids for what to expect on family vacations. Changes in routine can be difficult for some kids to cope with. But if they expect the changes, they can be far easier to accept.  Writing them with your children who have the ability to participate can also help them know what to look forward to. You can also use a social story to help them prep for scary or annoying things like plane rides, sleeping in a new place or waiting in a long line.

 

If you don’t know what a social story is, it is a story written in a specific style that is clinically proven by hundreds of studies to help children with Autism know how to respond in new situations. It can be the difference between experiencing the vacation of your dreams or living a nightmare.

 

Tip 5: Bring Plenty of Things to Keep Your Child Entertained

 

Vacations are not the time to try to limit screen times on the iPad or try to get your child to stop watching their favorite episode of Thomas the Train over and over. Inevitably, during every vacation, no matter how organized and structured you are, your child will have a lot of downtime. Be prepared and bring whatever will entertain them with you, even if it is something you normally wouldn’t grant them free access to like an iPad or toy they may wind up using to engaging in stimming behaviors. Remember, the purpose of a vacation is to have fun. If your child spins a top for the entire duration of dinner or watches the same thirty seconds of Toy Story for two hours on a train ride, it is not the end of the world. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.  

 

One of my favorite sayings is to “stand your vision and not your ground.”  Family vacations are supposed to be fun and as stress free as possible. It is okay to give in a little on a vacation. If your child eats a few more french fries than you normally allow him to eat, plays a little more with iPad apps and watches a little more on Youtube– it will be ok!  You won’t break your child or ruin his therapy. The most important thing is your family has fun!

 

References:

 

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/theme-parks-kids-with-autism_us_5ae9cd96e4b06748dc8e85b7

 

https://sesameplace.com/philadelphia/help/autism-resources/

 

Spooner, F., Knight, V., Browder, D., Jimenez, B. A. & DiBiase, W. (2011). Evaluating evidence-based practices in teaching science content to students with severe developmental disabilities. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(1/2), 62-75. doi: 10.2511/rpsd.36.1-2.62

 

Should I Encourage or Discourage Vocal Stereotypy?

Should I Encourage or Discourage Vocal Stereotypy? Find out in this week’s episode!

3 Simple Sensory Activities You Can Do With Stuff You Already Have at Home

In this video, Jessica will show you three simple sensory activities you can do at home with things you already have. We know that many children require constant stimulation and buying sensory toys can be really expensive. This activities are incredibly simple yet are effective and fun.

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