Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas Books

When I started writing this blog, I did not think I would be sitting down to write a post about the books that we've been reading with the boys just a few months down the line.  Charlie has always had an interest in looking at books but it has always been on his terms and on his own.  Well we have reached a point where he enjoys looking at some books with us and is asking for them to be read again and again by signing please.  James is not quite so keen but will sit through the whole book and listen which is a great step forward too!  I will admit that I don't play by traditional rules here though - if sitting on the table means that Charlie will look at the book, he sits on the table!  A little unorthodox but I have learnt with my 2 that if they don't want to do something they won't and its better to take an activity to them in their way than making them conform to a strict idea of what is deemed polite and acceptable behaviour.  This is one of the great advantages of educating them at home.

 The book we are reading here is called 'Father Christmas Needs a Wee!'  Its basically a counting book, but I think the rhyming aspect of the text and the simple pictures of familiar items are what appeals to the boys.

Some other Christmas books that we have also enjoyed are the Christmas series of the Usbourne touchy-feely books and a sing-a-long Jingle Bells book with an interactive button to play the tune.

Conclusion? Again...its got to be the right books - musical/rhyming, the right type of pictures, cause and effect, and sensory feely books all appeal at the moment......and of course we are over the moon by all this!!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Advent Calender and Illuminated Pot Pourri Jars

I wanted to make an advent calender that we could use year after year and that the boys could actually do themselves.  I'm very sick of those chocolate things - too much waste, the boys can't open the doors themselves and they don't like the chocolate - all in all a waste of time! I cut out the numbers from old wrapping paper, stuck them onto coloured paper and sprinkled them with glitter and little stars before laminating them.  I then used a cheap red door mat to velcro them to.  It has to be kept in the cupboard because the numbers would go walkabout otherwise!! It worked better than I expected actually, with the boys happily sitting and placing the numbers on and counting across with us.

I found the idea for the illuminated jars on this website -
For ours we used battery powered lights which just sit behind the jar and I just topped them with a bit of red fabric and tied it up with tinsel.  Although I had to do the lights and the lids for James and Charlie, it did give them firstly some sensory play with the pot pourri and secondly they put it all in the jar!

Christmas Playdough Again - The Christmas Tree

Our Christmas playdough was pretty successful so I wanted to expand it a bit and made this green version.  Its a cream of tartar recipe as before, but to this one I added green glitter and pine oil along with the food colouring.  It smells a bit like cheap toilet cleaner!!

We did some cutting out as usual but as James often needs a purpose to his play e.g. the threading or putting things 'in' and 'on', I made him a Christmas Tree and decorations and got him to decorate the tree.  He did this all himself.

Father Christmas Magnets

I found these magnets in Lakeland on a last minute whiz around town before Christmas.  We've not really used them yet as the boys have been ill but I thought I could put them back for next year.  They are ideal for the magnetic board we painted in the playroom and will be great for constructing the small picture and saying the words for 'arms' and 'legs' etc as we do it.  Its also given me a few more ideas as to how I could make magnets for this board myself......I'm thinking a face, fruit bowl, aquarium?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas Play Dough

This is a cream of tartar play dough recipe to which I added a lot of red food colouring, glitter and cinnamon.  Charlie enjoyed playing with it whilst it was still warm - it was really nice with the spicy cinnamon smell!

We make hand prints and cut out shapes with our Christmas cutters.

I printed and laminated these pictures and we are working on making little red baubles to put on the tree and a nose for Rudolph....

James doesn't want to spend very long on play dough, so as he is still really into threading, we encouraged him to make a sausage and thread the cutters onto that!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Christmas Sensory Box

This is supposed to be a Christmas sensory box - it does smell Christmassy but I think it looks autumnal! 

It contains :-

A bag of mixed nuts
Bag of walnuts
Cinnamon sticks
Dried orange slices
Christmas scented pine cones

James helped to make the orange slices.  He's quite into helping to do fruit and veg at the moment and its a great way to get him exploring different foods without the pressure of having to eat them.  He licked a few bits of orange doing this. I say, 'Mum cut, James put IN' and he puts the items in the baking tray!

With the sensory stuff, I tend to just encourage exploration of the textures and smells.....

 but my mum got James putting a nut in each section of a little plastic cake tray which worked really well!

Christmas Goo

We've been doing this with plain hair gel and food such as tinned spaghetti, custard etc for years.  I decided to make a Christmas version by adding glitter and Christmas confetti to the gel before putting it in the bag.  Its a great activity for children who don't like the feeling of gooey messy stuff on their hands as it is a 'safe' way to explore the textures.  We've progressed on from being quite so defensive but James did play with this 'bagged' for much longer than he would have done if he had actually had to touch it and anyway, it's fun!!

I usually use the sealable bags to do this and put the filled bag inside another one to minimise leakages.  This definitely needed 2 bags as the stars started to poke through the plastic.  You could tape the top but to honest, I never have.

Christmas Pudding Bathbombs -not just for baths!

Lush do great seasonal sensory stuff and the staff in our local shop are lovely with the boys so we go in there fairly regularly (maybe for mums stuff too!).  We got these Christmas Pudding Bathbombs to use in our water play.  They might look a bit murky but they smell good!!  The only one of the five basic senses this activity does not address is taste although they did do their best to try......

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Feeding the Ducks

I love going to feed the ducks!  It's lucky that I do because I have spent much of the past 10 years doing it!  I wanted to write about this simple childhood activity because we have got so much out of it.  When our son's were born, our daughter was just two and we lived in a small town.  We were lucky to have a great nature area where there were lots of ducks to go and feed and it became part of our daily routine - town, ducks, park!  We all loved going, it was something we could all do together and it got to the point where I am convinced that the duck recognised our double buggy!! Well it just kept on until we moved and the boys went to school.  Although they had and still do have very little speech, one thing they could both say at that time was 'duck'.  They lost this when they lost the consistency of the activity and hearing the word which really highlights the need for repetition and routine in their learning.  Now we are home educating and live very close to a different flock of ducks, we're back at it.

This week we have been learning about animals and water so of course we had to go and feed the ducks.  Feeding the ducks actually means mum and dad feed the ducks and James and Charlie feed themselves.  This is the other great thing that we have got out of it.  They are both so restrictive about what they will eat and this was not helped by trying them on a gluten and dairy free diet several years ago.  After that we couldn't get them to eat bread at all.  They gradually started eating it again over many trips to feed the ducks when they were given a piece to hold and there was no pressure to do so.  Yay for the ducks!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Another Rainbow Ribbon Toy

I've been browsing various blogs and craft sites and keep seeing these little wooden hoop ribbon streamer toys.  So I decided to make one but adapt it to the boy's preference for objects that have handles, with the thought that it would probably be easier for them to manage this way.  I was trying to get one of those wooden spoons with a hole in the middle.  I don't think I've dreamt the existence of these but I couldn't find one anywhere!  What I did come across was a plastic paint stirrer with several holes which looked suitable.  Here is what it looked like when it was first made....

......and here is what it looks like now it has been personalised by James!


This is a rather late post about the stuff we did around Bonfire Night and fireworks. We've had illnesses, lost most of our pictures and then the laptop cable broke so not only is it late, but its lacking in visuals too!

We are finding one of the best resources for us is youtube! Our sons need to see something if it is to have any meaning to them so short video clips are ideal.  This worked brilliantly in terms of talking about fireworks. Its hard to get them to watch anything at length but no problem with this subject - I suppose you can't really get more visually stimulating than fireworks!  We tend to use video clips/images on the laptop at the same time as activities so we watched a few displays and then brought in the 'real' thing...

I found a great recipe on this website,,  for 'Chocolate Sparklers' made out of chocolate fingers dipped in sugar strands, (no pictures I'm afraid) which was so simple to do.  James enjoyed eating them as he took part and then once finished decorating them, proceeded to then remove all the decorations before he could contemplate eating them!!

We made several attempts at different craft activities. I'm trying to keep these ideas really simple. Anything too involved and lengthy is not a good idea.  I'm also trying to come up with ideas based around the way the boys like to play so for Charlie it would be very sensory based and for James its more about putting things 'in' something else and threading. We made a bonfire out of lolly sticks and orange/red tissues paper. No glue involved here. We looked at a photo and tried to recreate it by piling up the lolly sticks for the base and putting the flames in the middle. We also did a firework starting with a lump of play dough and sticking pipe cleaners in. Some we made into spirals by wrapping them around a pencil, others we left as they were and we just gave the boys the options to chose which they wanted to use. Its the pictures from these activities that we lost but I do have a picture of my ancient pipe cleaners saved from my own childhood!!!!!

Continuing on the theme of threading, we made some fireworks out of cardboard tubes and tinsel. Really, really simple.  Just threading the tinsel through the tube and holding it in place with an elastic band. 

We used these for a rather excitable re-enactment of a bonfire and firework display! We have a wonderful rug which I found on ebay a while ago which has lights running through it, so that was the bonfire, we had our mirror ball going, loads of party poppers for the bangs, blew balloons up and then let them whiz around, 'Light My Fire' playing really loud and we ran around the 'bonfire' with the tinsel fireworks. It was a lot of fun!!

Our touchy feely sensory activity was with our coloured rice. (Again!)  We just put a piece of black card on the base of our tray (I use cat litter trays) and threw handfuls of the rice in so we got the noise as well as the visual effect. 

At the end of the week we went to a real display, which the boys loved.  We are lucky in this respect I think, a lot of children on the autistic spectrum find this hard.  It was a great display but I always find it hard to know where to look as I get as much pleasure out of watching their faces as watching the fireworks!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Halloweeney 'Half Term'

I had big plans for quite a lot of activities in the week leading up to Halloween but Gaby was on half term, we had several visits from friends and therapists, a few half term activities to go to and we decided to just chill the rest of the time and give ourselves a half term!  We did however have a little Halloween tea party and a friend of James and Charlie's joined us. 

I sat both boys down with a pumpkin just with the idea that they would have a little investigation and wander off, but they were both very interested,

having a good look and feel of the pumpkin, then helping scoop all the seeds and pulp out.  I did the cutting out but both boys really enjoyed watching this and put the cut out bits into the bowl - lots of good sensory food related stuff going on here!!

As Charlie had loved playing with the water balloons recently, I did him some Halloween ones to play with for a few days.

I knitted a couple of Halloween themed toys for general play and to help talk about it all.  I might add to them next year.

We also had quite a lot of fun with this light up flashing pumpkin toy. Charlie is really entranced by these types of things and he did some brilliant communication whilst playing with it.  I made a point of only keeping it on for a minute or so at a time so he would have to ask for more which he did by signing more please in a very definite manner!

I did make some iced pumpkin shapes with orange squash too but they are still in the freezer! I'm going to be more organised next year.  I live very close to a supermarket and went in there and picked up a couple of bargains on 1st November! Including a rather gruesome bowl which I think they will love!

I tried to get the kids doing a few games at our party.  We did some apple bobbing.  Charlie was more than happy to stick his face in the water and lick the apples!  His sister added to the effect by emerging from this with a nosebleed! Oh dear!

I've done this coloured pasta in many situations, including previous Halloween parties.  You just need to add food colouring to the water as you cook it.  It works well in a pumpkin with toy creepy crawlies added, maybe a bit of hair gel for slime and little parcels of sweets wrapped up to find amongst it all with a forfeit attached.  I call it pass the pumpkin and get the children to pass it around to music as you would for 'pass the parcel'.  For the boys and their friend though, I simplified it down to 'Find the Finger!'  I had some chocolate fingers that they had to reach in for at random.  They all had a go - chocolate is a big motivator!

Besides that, we had fun with party poppers and silly string and listened to a spooky CD.  Oh and ate lots of cakes and stuff! That was enough for our guys and I think they enjoyed it!

Noisy Shakers

I had these 2 very large tubs lying around.  (They were those body building milkshake powdered drinks - not mine!!). Anyway, I thought they would make quite good musical shakers so my daughter and I painted them using black paint with some craft glue added to it.

I filled one with some kidney beans and the resulting noise was extremely loud so to try and have a contrast, we filled the other one with pistachio nut shells which both sounds and feels lighter!  I need to get the glue out and fix down the lids, although I'm in 2 minds about that as I could potentially change the sounds if I left them accessible.  This is not the sort of thing I would let the boys play with unsupervised anyway!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Dealing with the difficult days

I'm anxious that my blog doesn't come across as an unrealistic portrayal of life with autistic children! Some things are really tough and we have really difficult things to deal with at times.

I hate the phrase 'Challenging Behaviour' (although I do use it to get my point across to professionals!).  I worked for nearly 10 years as a residential carer with children and adults with learning disabilities and this phrase was always bounced about without much thought for the 'why?'  To me, challenging behaviour is what happens when someone can't communicate to others what they need or feel.  When you have a baby and they cry, you tend to work through a mental checklist of 'hungry?', 'nappy change?', 'teething?' etc.  Sometimes there is no explanation that you can identify and those are usually the hardest times.  Its much the same with the behaviours we deal with.  We have to try and work out what the problem is because our lads usually can't get that kind of message across.

So how do we deal with the days when something is wrong but we just can't get to the bottom of it?  I don't have a magic wand to make it all better, wish I did! I do get stressed out by it at times but I've learnt to keep a few things in the back of my mind that sometimes can work.  They are usually distractions into 'loved' activities.  Simple things like a car ride, a walk, blowing bubbles all work for us on occassions but I guess the 2 main players here are music and our trampoline.

A jump on the trampoline with mum often does the trick and I just do not know where we would be without the love of music in this house.  We had the most horrendous visit to the dentist the other day (there is, I think, something that Charlie really does not like about the new waiting room) and managed to calm the situation with some Patti Smith on my mobile phone! At home, putting some music on loud and having a crazy dance around usually does the trick. Both boys really do like music but I think the deeper significance of how it calms them is that we love music too.  It relaxes us at times when they are wound up and a relaxed parent is more likely to equal a relaxed child I think.  We are lucky to have something so wonderful we can share with our children.

This morning, I was woken before 5 a.m. and have spent the last hour switching a flashing pumpkin light on and off for a very tired and grumpy boy.  I'm keeping this toy in the cupboard to bring out for such occassions and I guess it's what made me think about writing this post!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Water and Ice Play

As part of our 'water' theme we have made a variety of icy 'stuff'.  There's lots of sensory interest at all stages of the process of making ice, touching water, feeling the coldness, exploring the ice as it melts, crunching and licking ice cubes.  There's also fun stuff like pouring the water into the trays and banging the cubes out again -all part of it.

We started off with some basic ice cubes.  I put them in this silver mixing bowl which added extra visual stimulation from the reflections and made great noises when shaking the cubes around the bowl! (This bowl was bought with the intention of play rather than cooking.  It is well loved and used as a mirror and a hat on a regular basis).

We went to the local Bowling alley where they do really nasty slush puppy drinks and got one of each colour to try.  That went down like a lead balloon but we did try them!!  We talked a bit about colours at least...

Next we looked at turning water different colours with food colouring.  Both boys really enjoyed this.  We used the 'Go Talk' alongside to encourage colour identification.

Then we used the coloured water to make coloured ice cubes.  I didn't realise that I only had one ice cube tray so when it came to doing this activity with James, I had to improvise. I tried making some in a mini doughnut mould I have and luckily it worked really well.....

Unfortunately, Charlie had to go to his riding lesson with blue hands!

We've also got some alphabet ice trays so we made names and played with those.

The other thing which has gone down really well is water/ice balloons.  The whole process of making them was quite a lot of fun.  Charlie must have played with his water balloon for at least half an hour when we first made them and has gone back to playing with them again and again.

We froze some too and few days later took them out to play with.  We played with them, watched them melt gradually and one we melted quickly under the tap.

I don't think we are finished with ice yet.  The boys find it quite stimulating so I expect its something we will keep returning to.  I just found some pumpkin cake moulds so we might do some ice pumpkins next week with Halloween coming up.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Autumn Jar

This is so simple I'm wondering if it's even worth writing about!  We go on lots of walks and over the last week or so we've been collecting a few fallen leaves and conkers etc.

Well today I was trying to get James to touch and explore them but he didn't really want to, so I was just going to let it go when it occurred to me that he would probably like to put them back in the jar I had been storing them in.  He likes to put things 'in' or 'away' so that's what we did.....

He got to touch it all without thinking he was and made a nice autumn jar that he can look at in the process! 

I expect we will add to it as the next few weeks go by.