Everyday Activities to Help Your Young Child with Autism Live Life to the Full – Debra Jacobs and Dion Betts
This is a book aimed at parents, carers or teaching personnel working with autistic children, with exercises and ideas to help develop gross and fine motor skills, sensory processing, co-ordinations, self-care and life skills. There is a brief description of autism (because almost everyone buying this book is going to know what autism is) and some quick vocabulary and then it goes into the first section.
The book is broken up into eight chapters in terms of activities:
- Body Awareness
- Increasing Coordination
- Fine Motor Skills
- Understand the World through the Senses
- Daily Living Skills
- Activities in the Home, School, and Community
- Calming Techniques
- Building Capacity: Optimizing Care and Treatments
Throughout each section are suggestions and descriptions for different activities that a parent (or in some cases a teacher or one-to-one support) could carry out with an autistic child to help them develop different skills. Some of these acitivities are just slight alterations of day-to-day life:
Using a routine activity is another way to increase the child’s understanding of his image. Seat him in front of the mirror as you brush his hair or teeth. He is seeing what is happening to the image in the mirror as he feels his own hair and teeth being touched. This can be done with dressing, face painting, or any other activity that involves daily care or fun activities.
I think it’s important to include reminders of these activities because I think that, at times, if a diagnosis of autism is received quite young (18 – 20 months) there can be times when parents stop doing the sorts of activities that they would do with a neurotypical child. There is a section which describes throwing a bean bag back and forth and making it more complicated by doing things like clapping hands in between each throw, which seems really obvious, but I think the mention of these activities do have their place in the book. There are also other, more detailed and less obvious activities throughout the book and within each section, covering areas such as pincer grip, crossing the midline, balancing, activities related to writing, mealtimes and so on.
I found that some sections seemed to be aimed at children who were comfortable with verbal instructions as the expansions of those activities were based around giving verbal instructions which may be difficult for a number of autistic children. I was originally looking through this book for ideas for activities for two children I work with, hoping to get some inspiration for vestibular and proprioreceptive activities that I could introduce as part of their school-routine. I did find some things that sparked off ideas – but quite a few of the activities were just not the right sort of level that I needed.
The book has a bit of an indecisive attitude towards sensory processing issues in autistic children, and a few times it comes across as a bit flippant about them with the general attitude of “they just have to get used to it”, but then will provide differentiation of tasks to accommodate sensory issues such as using the rubber (eraser) on the end of a pencil to turn the pages of a book.
Use one pump of preferred liquid hand soap. You can use the same soap you use in the shower in a small pump dispenser. Using the same soap provides some connection to bath time and provides that comforting continuity. If the child is sensitive to different textures of fragrances, using the same soap is important. Each brand of liquid soap feels different. When you find the one that is acceptable to the child, stick with it.
The second half of the book has a greater focus on experiences and the child’s life as a whole, rather than individual activities and there were parts that made me wonder what Jacobs and Betts were thinking. One thing they suggest is taking an autistic child to a bowling alley or arcade as a family outing. They then go on to acknowledge that an autistic child would probably have massive sensory issues associated with such a place, but then describe methods to make the visit easier for the child. I cannot think of many places more overstimulating than bowling alleys or arcades, and yet these were the suggestions for a family outing?
The focus shifts towards the end of the book into more general advice, such as setting up a schedule or visual time table, how to approach school work and how to explain things to your child’s teacher to ensure that they get the accommodations that that they are entitled to receive.
While the special interest of the child should not be discouraged, broadening his horizons is a good idea. The involvement in subjects and experiences outisde of his special interest provides more opportunities for leaning that is the child continues to be involved with a limited number of subjects.
Generally, this book had some good ideas, but as I read it for the second time to refresh for this review, I was reminded of a thought that I had the first time around. Mainly that there weren’t as many activities detailed and described as I expected there to be. It’s difficult to explain exactly how, because there are a number of activities throughout the book, but I think there isn’t as much creativity as I was expecting.
Is it worth reading? If you know a bit about Occupational Therapy and autism, then you might not get much out of this book. If you don’t, then yes it’s worth a read. Aimed more at parents than any other group.