Flashing lights, tons of buttons, and rhyming songs Oh My…God get it out of my house! The electronic toys are adorable and fun, but for a child with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), they become hyper focus prisons. It might take a little time to replace the toy box contents, but the non-electronic toys are out there and they are so much better for promoting cognitive and engaging play.
Our toy box has blocks, stacking rings, and a few electronic toys that play music with super colorful buttons. My son was always drawn to those toys; obviously they looks way more fun and being the son of two tech geeks, I just assumed he would naturally gravitate towards electronics anyway.
It wasn’t until we received this super adorable activity table that we realized he was hyper focusing. At first, my son tested out each and every button to see how it all worked. Then he would start pressing certain buttons in a specific order over and over. My hubs and I joked that he looks like he was at work…”First I press this, then I press this…oh and I can’t for get to press this.” We didn’t realize he was getting stuck. He was focusing on those few buttons and creating a repetitive behavior that he couldn’t escape from. The hyper focus wasn’t allowing him to just play and explore, and soon he started ignoring the world around him.
When we first started EI (Early Intervention), his hyper focus was a top priority on our IEP (Individualized Education Program.) It wasn’t just the activity table, it was any electronic toy he owned became a “push button, get reward” carousel. And this type of repetitive behavior was becoming a barrier for learning.
With the help of our EI teachers, removal of electronic toys, and the hand over hand technique, we slowly started to open up his world again. We relearned how to play with toys like the stacking rings. I would sit on the floor behind him and place his hand over a ring, help him grab it, then place it on the pier. We would do this together for each ring and make a spectacular deal about it when it was completely. (All the praise to reinforce positive behaviors) We used this technique for all of his toys, to show him how to appropriately play while getting the reward (positive praise) from his teacher and myself.
I’ll be honest, the hand over hand took a lot of dedication, and some days I wished I could have just given him a busy toy so I could have a break. It was frustrating and tiring…but it made a huge difference in his learning ability. Instead of shutting the world out with buttons, he was starting to engage in play and allowing me to play with him. After a few months, we were even making up our own games that didn’t even involve toys.
Here’s a list of some of our favorites – the ones that provide tons of creative play with multiple uses:
Stacking Blocks – These colorful nesting boxes are super fun to stack and knock over. They can also be used as great motivation to teach language such as Give Me, On Top, Next To, etc.
Bubble Bear – This all-in-one bubble and wand container is shaped like a bear for adorable fun. We use our bubble bear to practice pointing (and popping) as well as a transitional toy to prevent meltdowns.
Chunky Wooden Farm Puzzle – These puzzles are easy to grip and slide into place to promote task completion without frustration. It’s also a great way to learn animal sounds and names. And they can be used for pretend play without the puzzle board too.
Pound and Roll Tower – This is a perfect toy to practice requesting with a super tactile reward….banging the heck out of the balls and watching them slide down each level of the tower.
And basically anything Melissa & Doug. All their toys are button free and imaginative. You can find them on Amazon, Target, Marshalls, and Home Goods.
Of course it’s impossible to exist without any electronics, and who would want to, but having more of these cognitive learning toys will give your sensory child the brain food they need while keeping them engaged appropriately.