One of my sites has two SDC classrooms for students on the autism spectrum. The social and communication skills of these students varies greatly. I have students who are non-verbal using PECS all the way to students who are verbal and can use 4-5 word sentences. I am used to working with students who are more verbal, so working with these folks can be a challenge for me at times. I think the biggest challenge is that I can’t READ their minds and have difficulty finding activities that they enjoy. I can say that 98% of these students love my IPAD to the point of obsession and never find enjoyment for playing with other toys. That is why I began dabbling with all sorts of materials to figure out some ways I could get them to interact with me without TECHNOLOGY! One of my biggest helpers with finding materials was my 4 year old son and my 2 year old niece. I watch them to see what interests them and then “borrow” my son’s toys to use with my kiddos. Here is a list of toys and ideas that have worked for me. I always have 1-2 students who don’t find interest in my materials, but overall, most of the group is engaged and laughing!
Here are my two tips for working with these students: think functional communication (i.e. initiating communication, requesting, playing with toys, imitation) and re-introduce toys/materials in different sessions if the first time brings no interest.
10 Toys That Promote Functional Communication
This is by far a best seller in the speech group. The kids love it when I use silly voices and let them feed things to the puppet. The kids can feed my puppets food, speech sounds, legos, or their fingers! I work on joint attention, initiating requests, verbs and turn taking. I bought a set of puppets at Beyond play. I get the most interaction and spontaneous requests/responses with this material.
2. Play Sets
My students have liked using my farm house and doghouse toy sets. It has been great to work on requesting “more” of something, learning prepositions, requesting different commands such as “open”, “close”, “in”, “out”, and all the vocabulary for the set.
3. BUBBLES- Bubbles are always a great material for teaching verbs “blow”, “pop”, “want”, “more”, joint attention and requesting. I also like to blow bubbles and do the verb action “stomp”. The students love to “stomp” all the bubbles to the ground. Check out Kristine’s post on bubbles at Live Love Speech would did a very comprehensive post on how to use bubbles in the therapy room.
4. PLAY DOUGH- This can be a great sensory toy that can help with working on verb actions and requesting. Have the students “roll”, “push”, “squeeze”, “pull” and “cut” the play dough. You can also have them work on pretend play and make different items such as pizza, cookies, snakes, snails, balls, telephones, etc. Just make sure your kids don’t like to eat the play dough!
5. MAGNETIC PUZZLES- I love these puzzles because they are so interactive. You can work on turn taking, colors, simple verbs and prepositions and hopefully some joint attention when you catch a fish!
6. Cooking or preparing snacks- Right before Christmas, I made different shaped sugar cookies and brought in frosting and candy decorations. I had ALL the kids interested in communicating with me to get their cookie. They had to verbalize or use their PECS to request a cookie, frosting, and toppings. It was so fun that I will probably do it for a Valentine’s Day activity.
7. Squishy balls and wind up toys- these toys are great for sensory integration as well as working on cause/effect. I used these squeeze balls to have my students request for items as well as work on turn taking and waiting their turn. It was a highly preferred item, so they were willing to communicate what they wanted.
8. Foam blocks- I snagged these foam blocks from my son’s closest and brought them in. I made some PECS icons for the blocks as well as some verb actions “knock down”, “stack” and “push”. I had students requesting by shape, color and what they wanted to do with the blocks. Most of the kids wanted to knock down the blocks. I liked this material because the blocks are foam, so in the event a student may want to throw the block, they can’t hurt anyone!
9. Movement Games- Bean bag toss and toy bowling sets are a great way to get your wiggly kids moving while working on language targets. I had my students request I want ball, my turn, knock down, I want roll, and which pin they wanted to knock down. Students had to practice giving the bean bag toss to a peer and using their names, waiting turns, and making comments when they got a bean bag in for points! I found the bowling set on amazon and the bean bag toss at a garage sale (score)!
10. Play food- My kids have been interested with the play food, but the not the ways you would think they would enjoy playing! One of my little girls, loves to tap the food, while a couple of my verbal kids enjoy feeding my puppets with the food!
I hope this helps give you more ideas for working with your students who are not spontaneously communicating. I would love, love, love to hear more ideas about what you are doing in your therapy rooms with these kiddos. I can never have enough ideas because each students has different likes and interests!
Love the toy ideas! I may have to check out those puppets on Beyond Play. I have three students functioning cognitively around the 6 month level. Interestingly, all three of them love the vibrating “jigglers” facial massagers…which I think are also from Beyond Play. Three for three…that doesn’t happen too often! Thanks for the post!
Good ideas! I’ve just started working in a setting where I’m going to need to invest in some good toys and manipulatives. I’m going to keep these in mind! Thanks!
Awesome ideas! Thanks for sharing:) I love using a small basketball hoop and small abc boxes with lids (with toys inside) along with some of the toys you mentioned.
I use slinkies a lot while singing songs (especially “Wheels on the Bus”). I get them to sing along and imitate actions with them. I also get great eye contact by looking through the slinky. Then, we also talk about things all around us with the carrier phrase “I see…”
Love this idea!!
I love this post! I struggle to find enagavinf activities with this group, too. Thank you so much for sharing! I’d love to read more about this population.
These are great ideas! Another fun (and inexpensive toy) is a balloon pump with various sized balloons. The kids make requests, identify size (long, big, little, tiny), name colors. Then we blow up the balloon practicing some oral motor skills. Even though, we are using the pump, we still blow. Then it’s ready, set, go and we let the balloon fly around the room. Prepositions come flying as well. This is a favorite activity for all ages. I even use it for birthday celebrations for articulation therapy!
I love that idea! Thanks for sharing.
How about non verbal toddlers who dont follow instructions, dont understand what u say and does very little imitation.. but plays a lot.. great with blocks, shapes and puzzles.?? What are the best toys for them?
I would use the highly preferred toys that they like to play with and work on increasing joint attention and cause and effect with those toys. Once they are using more joint attention, they can communicate with gestures, pictures, and/or words.
Don’t forget books! Not just for reading, but pointing out things in the pictures. I Spy books are great if they like them. And puzzles are good for “turn it around” “up there” and other direction phrases. Toy train tracks are good for “go down” “faster” “around” and more.
Yes Katherine, books are an awesome resource! Love your ideas!