Thursday, February 2, 2012

Theraplay ( Strengthening Little Hands II)

My autist has very weak/uncoordinated hands so when I see toys, I see therapy!  It's amazing how many of her little brother's toys can double up as therapy.  There's a good chance you already have these common play things around the house or have a friend who does, so here's some Tips that you can Take, Tweak, or Toss!

1. K'Nex - the round pieces with the notches paired with the long, flexible pieces that you bend are a great combination.  Inserting one end into a notch is pretty easy, but holding that end there while bending and maneuvering the other end into a 2nd notch is pretty challenging!  If your child struggles connecting the 2nd end, you can hold the first end down for her until  she gets stronger.  It took quite awhile for my daughter to be able to do this without my assistance, but once she could get it, she was encouraged to put on a 2nd flexible piece.

2. Nuts and Bolts - we have plastic ones that are toys, but you could use real ones as well. Lining up the grooves and twisting the nut onto the bolt requires both eye-hand coordination and dexterity. Once the nut is on, twist it all the way to the top.  As your child gets stronger, you can tighten it and then have your child try to untwist it - this is very challenging as well!

3.  Jars and Screw Lids - even the container that our nuts and bolts came in screams "Therapy!" to me.  I like this because the lid is wide.  You have to spread your entire hand out to make it unscrew - all those muscles get worked - right down to the fingertips!

4. I'm not sure what this is called, but stop at any house with little kids and you'll find it!  This set  here is pretty new so the connections are really tight.  Ashi had to put her whole body into getting them to snap together and also to pull them apart.

5.  This is a puzzle that has a snap, buckle, zipper, button, plastic fastener, and shoe lace.  Ashi mastered the snap in a ...snap!  We're still learning to completely pull out the zipper and feed it back in.  You could use a fastener, snap and zipper from any article of clothing or a jacket, back-pack, or luggage even, and of course, you could always use shoes to learn tying.

The pieces of the puzzle above are removable.  Ashi worked every day for a week to get the button both opened and closed.  It's hard to manipulate both button and material! You could use any button at home, but you might want to start with a large one, like on a sweater. You can gradually reduce the size of the button or find tighter buttonholes as you progress.

short vs. long needle
6. Stringing beads and sewing cards.  While these are pretty standard for most kids, my daughter could not successfully do either of these until recently at age 8.  What you can do to make it easier is  add tape around the end that you are sewing with or beading with.  Make the 'needle' longer by wrapping tape around it. The longer the 'needle' is the easier it will be to sew or bead.  You remove the tape as your child gets better at it so the 'needle' is smaller. 

7.  Cutting.  This is a skill I've been patiently waiting for Ashi to be ready for.  I've learned to follow her cues and up until a couple of weeks ago, she's never wanted to even hold scissors. All you need is paper and a marker or sharpie and you can draw outlines of shapes to be cut.  Right now, I'm sticking to long lines, squares, and rectangles, but of course as she advances I can do rounded shapes and diagrams.  You can also purchase activity books with cutting activities in them.

8. Writing.  Just a little bit each day can go a long way.  We do about 10 to 15 minutes of handwriting class. At the age of 8, Ashi is learning cursive.  She also is dysgraphic so it is important to separate handwriting and creative writing.  You can learn more about dysgraphia here.

If you have a 3-4 year old who doesn't enjoy scribbling or use eating utensils, he may have weak/uncoordinated hands. Here is a place to find info and some great things you can do at home to start helping those hands become stronger: Strengthening Little Hands ( Part I)

Annie Eskeldson writes for parents of young autists.  Her best advice is to listen to and watch your child's cues.  It's okay if he can't cut at age 5 like your neighbor's kids.  It takes time to build up strength and coordination. You can help build his confidence by letting his pace be good enough. Annie's autist finally used a crayon at age 5, wrote with a pencil at age 6, and just began 'sewing' cards at age 8.  She is also a straight A student. 

Annie has 3 published children's books about autism that also nurture parents.  Check them out!


  1. Love these ideas. Where did you get the bear puzzle with the buckle, snap, zipper, etc.?

    1. Hi redkitchen!! The bear puzzle we picked up at Toys R Us - it is a Melissa and Doug Brand and was very inexpensive.

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