When we first started talking about this week’s blog and the topic we wanted to tackle, the focus was on outdoor fun. In some previous articles I’ve raved about items like the Plasma Car, and Ariel has written about the wonderful world of bubbles, which are a fantastic activity for special needs kids. (Bubbles are great for practicing counting and encouraging language development. I used to blow one bubble at a time and say, “Pop, pop, pop!” to encourage interaction.) But while I was brainstorming about all the fun we had playing out in the yard when my daughter (pictured right) was still quite young, I kept remembering the most challenging part—going inside for bedtime. So this week, I’m going to talk a little bit about the activities and toys that helped us when the outdoor fun had come to an end (for the day at least). I hope you enjoy!
The All-Important Routine
I was recently talking with a customer at the Learning Express store in Roseville, CA where I am the manager. He wanted to find a toy that would tucker out his four-year-old before bed. I think that’s something that all parents can identify with. Sometimes we think of toys as just for fun, sometimes they are invaluable tools for developmental learning, and other times they’re something that gives us a little break from the daily grind of parenthood.
As the parent of a child with Autism, I know that toys can bridge the two worlds of learning and play. I also know that quality play time can help with sleep patterns, and reduce the number of times everyone is up in the middle of the night. My husband and I knew that if we were going to have any hope of our daughter sleeping through the night (something she didn’t do until at least the third or fourth grade), we had to follow a scheduled bedtime routine, every single day.
Step 1: Bath Time
Our first task after dinner every night was a nice warm bath. It was our little “water therapy” session, and I was always amazed at how calm and mellow my Kiki was in the tub. It was a mandatory part of her sensory Rx—we focused on having fun rather than the task of cleaning up.
Water play presents a great opportunity for developmental learning. We often noticed that our little girl’s language and focus were much better during bath time while the water was engaging her senses. We worked on pouring, filling, and spilling—great cause and effect activities. Learning Express has several different tub toys that are great for special needs kids—Draw in the Tub Crayons and the Flow N Fill Spout (right) in particular.
I spent a lot of time singing during bath time. My daughter’s primary deficit was language and her ability to process language. She had a severe auditory processing disorder that accompanied her Autism diagnosis. We had to use very clear language with as few words as possible initially, but words set to music seemed to “stick” in her mind better. And besides, who doesn’t like to sing in the shower?
After a warm bath, it was time to put on jammies. We would then go to the playroom area of our tiny house where we had a mini trampoline, a tunnel, and a tub of balls. We would begin with a good amount of bouncing time on the trampoline. At first my daughter couldn’t jump independently so I would give her my index fingers to hold on to, and would gently help her bounce up and down. Eventually her strength, muscle tone, and focus improved and she mastered the jumping all on her own. The development of that skill was very rewarding to watch, and the time on the trampoline was a great opportunity for rare face-to-face time and eye contact. (The Fold N Go Trampoline is pictured right. It has a handle, which is perfect for the transition to independent jumping.)
Step 3: Floor Time
The last step in our bedtime routine was a more mellow activity, but one that still engaged some very important gross motor muscles. We would find ways to play with a tunnel (like the Bella Butterfly below) and a few balls. My daughter would climb through the tunnel or roll a ball through it. (This is very helpful for a shy or apprehensive child who is afraid of crawling into the tunnel. Occupational Therapists stress how important crawling is developmentally, and the tunnel motivates them to do so in a social setting. Take it along to the park!)
I always enjoyed this rare “family time” we got to spend together. It was a great way for our son and daughter to play in parallel. He got to spend some special time with his sister who was non-verbal and preferred to be alone during her toddler years.
My wonderful daughter is now sixteen-years-old, and to this day we can set our clocks to her scheduled routine. She is now 100% independent with her grooming and self care. As soon as the clock says 7:00pm she lets us know that it’s time to take a shower. We acknowledge her and off she goes—down to her bedroom to retrieve her clean jammies and then she’s off to the bathroom! And even as a teenager, she still craves that gross motor input and bounces on her exercise ball while she listens to her iPod.
It is so rewarding to know that we have helped her feel successful and independent. At times, we were discouraged, but with the help of our routines, some wonderful developmental toys, and a great support system, we’ve come a long, long way.
Thanks so much for reading!