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The joy of jigsaws – 5 great benefits

With winter now well and truly on it’s way, we’re going to be spending a lot more time indoors.

What can you do to keep the kids entertained without the whole day turning into a tech fest? Simple…..

Getting started on the underground

Just choose something that’s fun, makes kids think and gives them a tangible reward at the end of their endeavours. You probably already have one of these boredom busters lurking somewhere in the house! On a recent wet weekend when helping my autistic son complete a 500 piece puzzle of the London Underground map, we re-discovered the joy of jigsaws.

The joy of jigsaws – 5 great benefits

1. COMMITMENT

Doing a jigsaw puzzle uses a number of cognitive skills including reasoning and problem solving. Even the simplest puzzle requires planning and thinking about where and how the pieces fit together which leads to a commitment to solving the problem and completing the task.

2. CONCENTRATION

When working on a jigsaw puzzle we’re using memory, critical thinking and usually a lot of patience! We need to remember the shape of pieces we’ve already tried, use strategies for sorting pieces into similar types, shapes or colours and keep trying until we find exactly where every piece fits. That all requires a great deal of concentration.

3. COORDINATION

Picking up pieces and having to slot them together without breaking up the rest of the puzzle can be a complex task. Puzzles require intricate coordination of hand and eye movements and can also help improve children’s understanding of colours and shapes.

Picking up the pieces

4. CONVERSATION

The subject of the puzzle can spark conversation around the topic. A number or alphabet puzzle can reinforce learning about letters and numbers. My son is very keen on all forms of transport so the Underground puzzle prompted him to talk about related topics.

Tackling a jigsaw together is also a great social activity and gives the chance to talk and spend time together. Keeping a puzzle on the go in the living room or kitchen is a great idea and the whole family can do a little bit whenever they fancy. Especially good for keeping the channels of communication open with teenagers!

5. COMPLETION

jigsaw 3
Finished – well almost!

Solving a jigsaw puzzle gives a real sense of satisfaction. You will have practised goal-setting and patience as well as a number of different problem-solving strategies. Your brain will have had a fantastic work-out so it deserves to celebrate! It’s just a shame our puzzle had a few pieces missing. Still, another valuable lesson learnt – life doesn’t always fall neatly into place!

 

TOP TIP: Charity shops and car boot sales are both fantastic places to look for good value jigsaws. Return them to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy once you’re finished and the charity benefits again too.

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Improving handwriting skills – without even lifting a pen!

The ability to write legibly remains an important skill even in this keyboard-driven era.

For children with dyspraxia, difficulties with handwriting can cause significant problems at school. As part of our focus on Dyspraxia Awareness Week we look at ways of developing children’s handwriting without the need to lift a pen!

Must haves for legible handwriting

boy balnacing on high ropes trailTo develop a legible, fluent and fast handwriting style, children need to have good gross and fine motor control as well as good hand-to-eye coordination.

Handwriting requires a steady shoulder and for the wrist and elbow to move in just the right way.

The development of good posture and balance are important.

How to develop gross motor skills

girl holding onto handles, swingingGross motor skills are the controlled movements in our whole body or limbs ie arms and legs. Activities such as dance, football, cycling and gripping climbing frames can all help develop gross motor control. Try these exercises too:

  • Skywriting – ‘write’ letters and words as large as you can in the air as if you’re holding a giant pen or pencil
  • Animal walks – develop shoulder stability by pretending to walk like an animal e.g. a crab. Makes for a great party game!
  • Jumping jacks – to improve core strength

How to develop fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are the smaller movements our bodies make, usually of the hands and fingers. Activities to improve fine motor control include:-

  • Bead threading
  • Making patterns using peg boards
  • Using chopsticks or tweezers to pick up small objects – the Operation game is great for this!
  • Bursting bubble wrap – who doesn’t love doing that?!
  • Using a squirt gun to ‘shoot’ water
  • Jenga
  • Hug and Tug

What’s Hug and Tug?

Hug & Tug is an exercise that’s particularly recommended to strengthen muscle tone in the fingers. Great for warming up the fingers before starting to write and can also help as a calming exercise.

  1. Start with interlocking your index fingers. Squeeze and pull – one relaxes as the other pulls.
  2. Repeat 3 or 4 times.
  3. Unhook your index fingers and interlock your middle fingers. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. Continue with all fingers, including thumbs.

 

Most importantly, remember to make the activities as playful as possible. Kids learn best when they’re having fun!

Hop over to the National Handwriting Association for lots more information and helpful advice.

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Dyspraxia Awareness Week

Dyspraxia awareness week logo

Dyspraxia Awareness Week

12th – 18th October 2014

 

Organised by the Dyspraxia Foundation this nationwide campaign aims to raise awareness of dyspraxia and this year has a particular focus on the emotional impact the condition has on teenagers and young adults.

What is dyspraxia?

Sometimes referred to as the ‘clumsy’ syndrome, dyspraxia is a neurological condition that affects coordination and spatial awareness. It comonly also causes difficulties with planning or organising and is known to affect speech and thought. Dyspraxia often occurs alongside other conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia.

Common features of the condition include:-

  • falling over frequently
  • difficulty walking up and downstairs
  • poor short term memory e.g. unable to remember or follow instructions
  • difficulties with dressing and fastening clothes
  • difficulties with running, jumping, catching/kicking balls
  • illegible handwriting
  • poor organisation skills

What can I do to help my child with dyspraxia?

Sensory integration therapy

Sensory integration therapy involves using equipment to help the child to take in sensory information such as touch, deep pressure, movement experiences and visual information. This sensory information helps improve spatial awareness and coordination.

Practice fine motor activities

Activities to improve fine motor skills will also help with handwriting and self care skills.

Encourage exercise and make it fun

Set up a mini assault course using simple household items – cushions to jump over, a long stick for a finish line, bean bags for throwing, etc. Try to include lots of running, jumping and throwing activities. Time them and challenge them to beat their personal best!

Simplify things

Opt for loose fit clothing that’s easy to take on and off. Look out for elastic waists on trousers and skirts, velcro fastenings on shoes and coats and jumpers rather than cardigans with fiddly buttons.

Easy belts have velcro closing belts in a variety of colours and sizes for children and adults.

Lock Laces elastic shoelaces can replace normal shoe laces on any shoes or trainers and come in lots of exciting colours!

Use checklists, daily diaries and visual supports such as TomTag to make day to day organisation easier and more predictable.

Where can I go for more information?

Dyspraxia Foundation – become a member of the foundation (£25 for 12 month membership) to access a host of information sheets and gain access to your local group.

Dyspraxia UK – can help with finding a specialist occupational therapist in your area who will be able to assess, diagnose and devise individualised therapy plans.

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Are you getting enough exercise?

Between us this year we have completed a triathlon and a 100k (10 x 10k) challenge.

We’re not athletes, gym addicts or super-women. It all started a few years ago when we challenged each other to enter a Race for Life 5k run. It was hard to get started but several months and lots of huffing and puffing later, we did it. The physical benefits of the exercise were obvious – we’d gone from barely managing a 10 minute jog to completing a full 5k though we weren’t going to break any land-speed records!

As busy parents we’d previously found it difficult to slot in any sort of regular exercise into our days, putting the needs of our children and families first rather than our own physical health. Although it was great to see the physical changes, what really got us both hooked were the powerful psychological benefits.

Exercise really does help to clear the mind – it gives us time away from other distractions to think more clearly and order our thoughts. If I’ve been struggling to get my head round a particular issue, heading out for a jog will often prompt new ideas to flow as well as blowing a few cobwebs away.

 

Setting a goal or signing up for a challenge is a great way to force yourself to keep to a regular regime and gives you a reason to take time for yourself. It’s essential for our mental health and self-esteem to remember that we are important too. Making a commitment to exercise commits us to some ‘me’ time – time away from children, housework and work worries.

I often hear people say “Well done, I couldn’t do it”. I tell them that’s what I used to say too. Go on – challenge yourself today!

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When is a child old enough to walk to school alone?

Most of us parents will remember walking to primary school on our own at some point but it’s an increasingly rare sight these days.

Practice the journet

There are actually no laws or official guidelines around age or distance of walking to school so it’s down to each of us to decide when our children are ready.

As well as the obvious health benefits, walking to school can help build independence, responsibility, safety awareness and social skills.

The biggest fears amongst parents about letting their children walk to school alone are of traffic and stranger danger. The Living Streets campaign tries to help parents understand the reality of these risks and explains that by protecting children from them they could be unwittingly harming their long-term health and well-being in other ways.

This Living Streets and Parentline Plus Walk to School report states that “Giving children the opportunity to walk to school not only reduces the risk of obesity but helps them develop independence and teaches them important life skills such as road safety and route finding”.

Start small

Build up to walking all the way by accompanying your child most of the way and letting them go the last bit by themselves. Gradually start making that last bit longer whilst they (and you!) gain in confidence until they’re doing it all themselves.

Safety in numbers

Try pairing up with other parents and taking it in turns to walk with the children to school first and then build up to the children walking together without any of you.

Road safety

Use this transition time to give reminders and tips about crossing roads and traffic awareness. If you always make the decision when it’s safe to cross, your children won’t learn what to look for to make safe decisions themselves. Talking through likely scenarios will help build their confidence to know what to do when they’re on their own. Do you know your green cross code?

Stranger safety

Agree an easily remembered code word or phrase to use in the event that someone else has to pick up or meet your children. Tell them to ask for this code word if anyone approaches them offering a lift, whether it’s someone they know or not.

October is International Walk to School Month

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October Events with TomTag

2013-10-13 17.04.01October events

Meet the Orkid Ideas team and see all our TomTag products first-hand.

It’s going to be another busy month!

Here are some of the events we’ll be attending. If you know of any other suitable events near you, please let us know.

 

CAMBRIDGE

Thu 2nd Oct

Autism Network Event & Parent Roadshow

The Chitra Sethia Autism Centre, Cambridge

See Parent Roadshow Flyer.doc for more information

STOCKPORT

Thu 9th Oct

Parents in Partnership Stockport Information Day

Edgeley Park, Stockport

CLICK HERE to register for your free ticket and HERE for more info from PIPS

CHESTER

Fri 10th Oct

Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Difficulties awareness day

Chester Racecourse

A5 Portrait

BIRMINGHAM

Tue 14th Oct

Autism Central 2014 – an event to showcase support and services that are available to those on the Autistic spectrum, their families and professionals who support them. FREE to attend and also features a number of seminars throughout the day.

Aston Villa Football Club, Birmingham

MORE INFO HERE events124a

This event is running alongside an NAS Conference – understanding and supporting challenging behaviour in people with autism

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Choosing the right school for your child with autism

How do you choose the right school for your child? Not only do you want to find the school that will give them the best possible education but somewhere that they will be happy, make friends and discover new interests.Cheerful school boy

This is a difficult and challenging process for most parents but if your child has autism, making the right decision becomes even more important.

Do your research

Get as much advice as you can

Talk to family, friends, other parents and professionals who have knowledge of provision in your authority
e.g. Educational Psychologist, Parent Partnership or Parent Support group

Look at the school website and brochure

This should give you a general view of school policies & structure.
Under the new SEN Code all schools must now have details on their websites about their policy for children with SEN too.

Arrange a private visit to the school

Open days are useful but to get a real feel of a school arrange a private visit during school hours and preferably over a break or lunch time.
This gives you the chance to observe how pupils behave and interact with staff and their peers. You can also get a feel for the more practical issues – how busy are the corridors, how noisy is the school canteen, etc.

Boy and teacher

Important questions to ask when visiting schools

As well as general questions on issues such as uniform, opening hours and holiday dates, you will undoubtedly want to ask questions on autism specific issues.

Here are some ideas for important questions you might want to know the answers to.

Staff knowledge and training

What experience and knowledge do the staff have of autism? Have they had any specific training?

Are all staff aware of the associated difficulties of being autistic e.g. sensory issues, dietary needs?

Do teachers use autism-friendly communication strategies e.g. visual cues, key words, clear and unambiguous classroom language?

Individualised plans

Would the school be able to offer a tailored curriculum to take into account your child’s needs?

What resources does the school have to accommodate your child’s special interests?

Is one-to-one support available – how much and how often?

Is homework differentiated where appropriate and clarified for a child with autism?

Are there opportunities to learn life skills such as cooking and self care skills?

Pastoral care

How is bullying dealt with and what steps have the school taken to understand the particular vulnerability of children with autism?

What is the system for home-school communication? In my experience, good communication between staff and parents is the key to a successful school placement!

Is there a designated quiet area or room available that children can go to when necessary?

Are there any break time or lunch clubs where your child could go for support or that would match their interests?

Does the school have any system of peer support in place e.g. circle of friends or buddy schemes?

Useful links

The Autism Education Trust have just published a really useful guide that will help you in your search to find a new school, whether it be primary, secondary, mainstream or special school. There’s even plenty of room to make notes so why not print off a few copies to take with you on your school visits.

A parents and carers’ guide to finding a school for your child with autism

 

Images courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Fine motor skills

Fumbling in my purse for loose change today, I’m reminded how important fine motor skills are for daily life.

What are ‘fine motor skills’?

Fine motor skills are the small muscle movements in the body. They enable activities such as writing, grasping small objects and fastening clothes. Children who have a weakness in fine motor skills struggle to develop strong muscles in their fingers, hands and wrists. They may also have poor eye-hand coordination.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Problems with fine motor skills can have a detrimental effect on education and impact on life in general. For example, the ability to hold a fork and eat, write legibly and complete personal self care tasks such as washing and dressing all depend on the coordination of small actions.

My own son still struggles with pen & paper tasks, his ability to tie shoe laces remains a work in progress, not to mention the hours of frustration spent battling with fiddly zips!

What can I do if my child needs help?

There are lots of inexpensive resources and ideas to help strengthen fine motor skills.

Drawing, colouring and craft activities can all help build these skills in a fun, informal way.

We’re lucky to have Star Tree Studio nearby who host a range of craft and creative classes (as well as art & craft birthday parties) where kids can ‘play-create-learn’ without messing up the house! Check out your local free papers and family magazines to find something similar in your area.

The imagination tree has a great blog post ’40 fine motor skills activities’

OT Mom Learning Activities has some useful suggestions for fine motor activities for older kids

Make it fun

Kids learn best when they don’t realise they’re learning! For example, we always recommend that children are involved with putting together their own TomTag ready to use. As well as helping them to understand their own routine it is a very tactile and fun activity that can help strengthen fine motor skills. Peeling off and sticking stickers onto buttons requires hand-eye coordination and pincher grip – both important for writing. Hand and finger muscles come into play too when clicking buttons into tags and removing them.

Zip it up!

Getting hold of a zipper to fasten up a jacket, bag or pencil case can be incredibly difficult for children with fine motor difficulties. We’ve now got funky zip pulls to help with those fiddly zips!

We’re giving them away free right now to anyone who recommends TomTag to a friend who then places an order.

We’d also recommend Zipz by MERU – colourful, ergonomically designed zip pulls which are also great for glove wearers: skiers, bikers, winter & outdoor activities lovers.

 

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TomTag for all the family

Reading through our recent blog posts you could be forgiven for thinking that TomTag is just for children with special needs. As an avid list-maker and user myself, I know that it can be a useful tool for any member of the family.

I find the last few weeks of school a frustrating time. All the good habits my children had at the start of the year are falling by the wayside and I’m powerless to stop them. What’s the point of trying to enforce a routine when all they care about is the end of term school trip and staying up late to watch TV?

So I’ve decided that if I can’t change things now then I’ll prepare for a time when I can whilst the problems are still fresh in my mind. I’m fortunate to have two fairly independent and reasonably well organised children – one already in secondary school and another about to start in September. Yet somehow I still seem to find myself sounding like a broken record when they come home from school every evening!

Using TomTag, I’ve made a list for each of them which will hang by the coat hooks or on the bedroom door. To paraphrase the famous saying, hopefully these pictures will save me 1,000 words.

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TomTag for all the family

 

 

Do you think it will work? Check back in September and find out!

Have you got any interesting ideas for how to put TomTag to use in your house – why not share them with us and our readers?

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10 top transition tips – smoothing the move from primary to secondary school

Transitions are on my mind at the moment as I’m busy training for my first triathlon. I’m anxious about how I’m going to manage the transition between swim, bike and run but I know that the secret is in being prepared and making sure I’ve got everything I need in the right place at the right time.

Major transitions

One of life’s major transitions – the move from primary to secondary school – is about to be faced by thousands of children around the country. It’s natural that they will all experience some level of worry and apprehension about this but for many children on the autistic spectrum this transition can be particularly difficult.

Transitions issues

Change in itself is a problem because many children with ASD find it difficult to think flexibly and so become anxious about the unknown. They will prefer to stick with the familiar routines established in primary school as they will have difficulty predicting what might happen in the new setting.

A lack of social understanding and the ability to read and understand social cues accurately mean that children with autism may not know how to behave or respond in the many new social situations they will encounter in secondary school.

Add sensory processing difficulties to this mix and it’s easy to see why children on the spectrum can quickly become overwhelmed by the sensory stimulii of this new environment.

Preparation is key

When my own autistic son faced the transition from his small and familiar primary school to a large comprehensive I tried to prepare him as much as possible beforehand. By investing time in preparation now using some of the tips and tricks we’ve listed below, we hope you’ll be able to make those first days and weeks in the new school a lot less worrying for you and your child.

Top 10 transition tips

School-map_annotated
Make a map of the school

1. Make a map of the layout of the school with photographs of important places e.g. school canteen, main hall, classrooms

2. Try to obtain photographs of key staff particularly the teaching assistants that are going to support during lessons

3. Establish a link with a member of staff who can act as a mentor and home-school liaison. Set up a home-school book to pass on information about any worries/concerns or any relevant developments at home.

4. Get used to a homework routine in advance of the new start. Start simply with a 10-15 minute task at a regular time each evening in a quiet environment.

5. Make a visual timetable showing the school day to make lesson order & break times more predictable.

6. Practice the journey to and from school, making sure the child knows the location of bus stops, road-crossings, meeting points or anything else significant on their journey.

7. Familiarise your child with the new uniform and deal with any irritating seams or labels.

8. Practice packing the correct items for school (TomTag is perfect for this!)

GFI264-Calendar

9. Use a calendar to count down the days to starting the new school

10. Create a personal profile written with help of your child to include all the information new staff should know about them