discovery toys blog of billie elias
Tips for parents who play with their children or who want stay-at-home income.
Toys for special need, autism, gifted and typical kids.

September 17, 2009

Autism journey of Leslie & Joe

Leslie St. Jean had joined Discovery Toys as a consultant several years back. One year at the Discovery Toys convention she shared her story with us, which she gave me permission to share with you. I wanted you to hear it in her own words: Discovery Toys helped her child!

"Our Journey with autism began on June 24, 2004. My husband and I spent our 9 year wedding anniversary in a neurologist’s office looking for answers.

This is what we shared with the doctor:

'Our 2-year-old son Joseph is as cute as a button and a joy to be around, but we cannot overlook his odd behaviors. For example, when we call his name, he does NOT look at us. He does not seem to hear us. We had his hearing tested and the results were “normal”. Why does he walk on his toes? Why is he not aware of the world around him? For example, he does not acknowledge a new person walking into the room. Joe cannot play with toys appropriately no matter how many times we show him. Whether it is a ball, car, shape sorter or book, he does the same thing, spin them. When I sit down next to him to read a book, he immediately stands up and walks away. Why doesn’t he talk? Why does he not seem to understand me? He cannot follow any direction. Even simple ones like “Where’s Mommy?” Why does he jump up and down and flap his hands when he is excited? Why does he cover his ears to certain noises? Why does he make high pitched screams when he is “playing”? If kids are playing on the left side of the room, Joe moves to the right side of the room. Why does he laugh uncontrollably at nothing?'

The answer to all these questions and behaviors was AUTISM.

Autism impacts 1 in 166 children. 4 out 5 children diagnosed are boys. There is no known cause or cure for autism. It is, in my opinion, a silent epidemic. Maybe Discovery Toys can help, not just by supporting parents of children with autism like me, and children with autism like our Joe with wonderful products, tips and testimonials, but by helping us to feel able to talk about it. That’s why the foundation, Autism Speaks, must have selected its name, to bring autism out into the open.

From the moment DISCOVERY TOYS® products began arriving at my door, the door to my son’s mind began to open. But these products mean more to my family than most would ever understand.

Did Joe immediately begin to use the products like they were meant to be used? No, not even close, but at least he was interested. And interest goes a LONG way for children on the Spectrum. Because he was interested in the products, he was motivated to learn how to use them. A BIG positive!

Whenever I meet a parent who has child on the Spectrum I recommend the following products, BUSY BUGS, ROLL & PLAY and IT’S A MATCH!

BUSY BUGS was the first DISCOVERY TOY® product I opened from my Rocket Start Kit. Every child with autism has their little quirks or “stims”. Joe’s is picking up items that are the same and dropping them one by one. It actually is very impressive. Even his Occupational Therapist (OT ) has marveled at how many objects Joe can fit into his cute little hands. As I opened up the box for the first time, he screamed in excitement. His hands literally dove into the box as he picked up bugs and began running around the house dropping them. I brought him back to the table, this time only giving him 6 red bugs and the all red square card. With my hand over his, (known in the autism world as “full manual guidance”, or “hand-over-hand”), I showed him how to match the red bug to the red square. For 3 months I worked with Joe on this skill and one day he just did it; independently. He can now independently complete up to card 3!

In my opinion, ROLL & PLAY is the best “floor time” therapeutic product for children on the Spectrum. Most young children with autism are unable to talk and have audio processing issues. This means they are unable to decipher or decode what we are saying. However, many are successful at understanding and interpreting a picture. For this reason, many children on the Spectrum begin communicating through PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). When my son was younger and wanted a drink, he was unable to verbally express his need in the form of the spoken word, “drink”, “cup” or “juice”. Instead he removed a wallet sized picture of a sippy cup from our refrigerator door and handed it to me. He was “exchanging” a picture for the item. He was communicating through pictures. ROLL & PLAY is “PECS in a box”. We have used ROLL & PLAY to teach Joe the parts of the body, gross motor skills imitation and how to follow directions, (“find something yellow”). Gross Motor Imitation is a prerequisite to expressive language (spoken words). This is also a game Joe’s big sister Renee (age 5) can play with him. Imagine having a brother very close to your age (they are 17 months apart) who has no idea how to “play”. With this product it is bridging that gap and providing a means for my children to interact!

I recommend to EVERY FAMILY of autism IT’S A MATCH! When Joseph was completely non-verbal and we had no idea what he was capable of in an academic sense. Well, through IT’S A MATCH! we found out he knows his letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and animals. It also reinforces matching, which is a HUGE educational program for children on the Spectrum. From that moment on, we changed the programs in Joe’s therapy, we kicked it up a notch and that has made all the difference. He has progressed more in the last 18 months than I thought was possible. Joe not only can identify his letters, numbers, shapes, colors and animals through matching, but he can SAY THEM!

SPLASH ROCKET has become Joe’s favorite DISCOVERY TOY® product. Therefore, it has become Joe’s “most preferred reinforcer”. What is a reinforcer? A reinforcer is the reward that Joe earns for doing what is asked. Most of this summer you could find me in my back yard with flashcards and a SPLASH ROCKET. I would show Joe a flashcard, if he was able to identity the object and say the word, (“expressive label”), I would blast off the rocket. It is his reward for doing something he finds very difficult to do. Through the efforts of Joe’s dedicated teachers and SPLASH ROCKET as a reinforcer, he is able to identify and verbally express close to 200 words!

I share my stories today to give you an opportunity to learn how autism can affect a child and how important it is to support the child and their FAMILY. [If you sell Discovery Toys] you are making a difference! You are providing these families with affordable educational products, potential reinforcers, and fantastic therapeutic tools.

Are you providing the families with a cure? No. But we are showing them that we care and we want to make a difference in their lives. And this means more to the Autism Community than you will ever know!

So how is Joe today, 2 years after his diagnosis? Well, he is a different kid. He is a child that all the preschool girls and teachers fight over. He is a quiet cute, kid with the “all teeth showing” smile. He is no longer considered to be non-verbal. My son has words, however, he is still considered non-conversational. He is just starting to put 2 words together. My favorite is “Luv Ya.” His favorite is “Sit Down!” And why is he asking me to “sit down”? …to play. And what do we play with… DISCOVERY TOY® products. Because playing with Joe everyday is the best investment I have ever made in my son’s life."

Today, Leslie is the Director of Finance of Huge Possibilities, Inc. a 501(c)(3) charity that helps teach parents and caregivers of children with autism about the huge possibilities for their child who's been diagnosed on the spectrum. Visit their site to donate.

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