One of the core beliefs at Fat Brain Toys is that toys, when used in interactive, positive relationships, are among the very best tools for helping all children grow intellectually and emotionally.
After reviewing the latest literature and incorporating the opinions of true experts, here are some of our thoughts, opinions and findings.
The Ultimate Goal - A Focus on the Individual
Therapists and parents agree, after the newness of diagnosis wears off, the goal is to further develop the individual - and to not concentrate on the label. While each condition has distinguishing characteristics, at a 1,000 foot view, each and every one indicates emotional challenges and logical thinking challenges to some degree. The goal is to meet the child where he/she is and to light the path to increased capabilities.
Remember, Most Learning Is Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
That's okay. You are still moving forward. Sometimes children operate at the top of their ability level, sometimes at the bottom, the majority of the time somewhere in the middle. This range is especially significant in children with complex tendencies or patterns in emotional state and thinking processes. Help your child reach the next rung of the developmental ladder "of the moment". Don't worry about what he/she could do yesterday.
Playtime with a Partner Can Be Powerful
Interaction in playing together offers visible benefits. "One of the main things is to not allow the children to play off in their own little world. Engaging children with purposeful toys in the context of play with a partner provides just the right environment for learning," suggests Erin Kipple, therapist and research coordinator at the University of Autism research center. Although the spectrum of known developmental challenges in children is broad, a number of studies in recent years have shown that interactive experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. "We now have evidence from neuro-imaging studies (e.g., fMRI, PET, and SPECT scans) that new neuro-pathways are created and connections among neurons are enhanced when the brain is stimulated," explains Dr. Ron Savage, Executive Vice President of the North American Brain Injury Society and expert on neuro-developmental disabilities.
Take an Active Role in Your Child's Playtime
Tip #1: Be a bridge to new ideas. Your child is stacking blocks. "What if I put these blocks like this? What does that look like?" If your child doesn't pick up on the fact that you were making a window, you might say, "Hey that looks like a window! This could be a house." Lead the child to the next idea. "Who will live in this house?" While making a zoo with toy animals and blocks, you might make one of the animals escape and say, "Oh no! What will you do?" Keep the scenario moving as your child responds.
Tip #2: "Become" the toy. Your daughter is cuddling her doll. You may feel a bit odd at first, but become the doll saying something like, "Oh, thank you for the nice hug. I'm getting hungry now." Playing cars? Set up a rough terrain. Become the car. "Bump, bump, bump!" "Ouch! This is too rough! Hmmm...where can I find a smooth place to drive?" This approach makes interaction easy for your child and playtime with you more fun and creative.
Tip #3: Focus on concepts of quantity or quality: Size, Length, Distance, Color, Strength, Speed, etc. When racing toy cars ask, "Which car is fastest? Which car is slowest?" Decide together if the stuffed dog should jump a long way or a short way. When playing with action figures ask, "Which one is the strongest? Could he push this little ball?" Say, "I wonder which is longest, the red block or the blue one?"
Tip #4: Redirect When The Going Gets Tough. If your child does not respond, ask in a curious tone, "How come you won't answer?" Ask gently and repeatedly if necessary to help the child focus. If your child becomes discontented, don't despair. The potential for developmental growth and building relationships through play experiences with loved ones is exponential. Kim Ward, parent of children with Bipolar/Aspergers with ADD and autism; and an active advocate for special needs children clarifies, "In the most difficult times and the most challenging situations, hope comes from the look of satisfaction in your child's eyes as she understands A comes before B and next comes C. Growth and learning through parent interaction and play is an education almost as if by accident. To have the opportunity to help open your child's world through something as easy as playing with them is a joy that knows no words."
In summary, playtime goes beyond fun. "All in all," says Ron Savage, "play is the best stimulation for children, especially when children are playing with toys, games, and people devoted to helping them learn." It's proven...loving relationships, meaningful toys, and time engaging in play together are best!