LIFE IS A SPECTRUM / Reviews

Reviews: Autism products, services, therapy

Every autistic child is different, and each responds differently to various therapies and products. However, we want to at least honestly share our real-world experience with you, in the hope that that information will help you make a slightly more informed decision. If you have any questions that aren't addressed within the reviews, please feel free to contact me directly at AmandaBroadfoot@gmail.com.

One of a parent's biggest fears for their child with special needs is how other children will react to him. Will he have friends? Will he be bullied? Will he spend a lot of time alone? How do you pave the way for him to create strong bonds with his peers?

Since We're Friends, a children's book by Celeste Shally, beautifully illustrated by David Harrington, is a lovely way to do just that. An unnamed child has a friend named Matt; Matt is autistic and sometimes reacts differently to situations that arise on the playground. Matt's friend helps him understand instructions during games and distracts him when he gets upset. They share many common interests; Matt talks a lot about animals, but his friend doesn't mind because he likes animals too.

We donated a copy of this book to Billy's pre-K class where we're happy to report he has quite a few friends. Ages 3 to 5, his classmates vary widely in their development. We were delighted that he would be in an inclusion class, half of which is normally developing children. Some of the older girls are particularly sweet to Billy, holding his hand during line-up, engaging him on the playground and generally watching out for him. When he started preschool last summer, Billy's social interactions amounted to, at best, "parallel play," playing with toys alongside other kids without really interacting with him. In less than a year, he has started seeking out other kids to play chase, hold hands or share a ball.

As positive an experience as this has been for Billy, I think it's good for normally developing kids to have the experience of interacting with peers of varying abilities as well. Learning patience, compassion and seeing first-hand that someone who is different can still be a fun and beloved friend -- well, I think those lessons are at least as important as reciting the alphabet and counting to 20.

As parents of special needs kids, we often debate how much to talk about our child's challenges. We fear stigma, expect judgment, and desperately want to protect our children. Dave and I went through this same debate, not wanting other parents or kids to assume things about Billy that aren't true: that he's weird or violent or any number of other myths about autism that are widely prevalent. Ultimately, though, we decided the best defense was a good offense, and that we would err on the side of too much information, rather than too little.

The only way to dispel myths is with hearty dose of reality. Books like Since We're Friends are a good place to start.

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If an elementary school music class and Floortime therapy had a baby, it would be Kindermusik. I've written before about what fans we are of this program, but having been through an entire semester now of Family Time at Good Samaritan Arts, taught by Jaci Niks, I can be more specific about what is special about Kindermusik -- particularly for kids with special needs.

Kindermusik isn't designed specifically for special needs kids; the classes are available for all children from birth to seven years old. But where a traditional, highly structured music class or lesson might be impractical for an autistic child, or a child dealing with any kind of developmental delay, Kindermusik provides a positive, flexible environment, while still encouraging development of real skills through hands-on participation.

We participate in the Family Time class, which has a mix of ages and allows Billy and Willow to interact in the same class. Like Floortime therapy, Kindermusik supports the child-led philosophy. So while the teacher provides a certain amount of structure, with activities and songs selected prior to class, there is plenty of room for individual expression and creativity. From playing with rhythm instruments and scarves to rocking and listening with Mom and Dad, the activities encourage exploration and family bonding.

Take-home materials include CDs with each unit's music, a set of rhythm instruments (like egg shakers or wood blocks), copies of the books introduced in each unit, a puppet, a game, and a parent's guide with activities you can continue at home to reinforce the new concepts introduced at Kindermusik. Both Billy (age 3 1/2) and Willow (1 year) love and respond to the music. In fact, we hadn't originally planned to enroll Willow in the class, but she had such a positive, joyful response after a visit at 6 months that we decided to make Kindermusik true Family Time once a week.

Some of the music may be familiar to you. In our first unit, we worked with versions of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "Ring Around the Rosey." Our parent's guide explained the origins of these songs, which I'd never known. We also learned new songs like the beautifully restful "Shalom Haverim," which has become a favorite calm-down song, and "Bubbles on Me," which Billy sings every time we blow bubbles. There are traditional American folk songs, music from around the world, such as the beautiful Nigerian Boat Song, and original tunes.

Activities during each class include a "Hello" and "Goodbye" song, a great way to reinforce social skills, a "Family Jam," when we all get to grab various instruments and play along with the music, story time, active listening, and a whole lot of various types of movement. We might be asked to listen for a particular phrase in a song, like "Hands all around, Jing Jang," and when we hear that phrase, we all run together and join hands for a circle dance. We might practice walking slow during the slow beat and jumping fast during the fast beat; or we might wave our scarves up high during the major key and wave them down low during the minor key change. Even if they don't undestand the terminology, you'll be amazed how quickly children pick up on things like key change and rhythm variations.

When we started the class, Billy mostly ran around and around the room non-stop. Our teacher, Ms. Jaci, taught me to let him be. I learned to follow his lead and bring the music to him if need be. Fairly quickly, he saw the advantage of joining the group and getting his pick of instruments. He loves to try out new rhythm instruments, particularly those that allow him to bang stuff with a stick -- and luckily, there are a lot of those.

All of our jaws dropped one night when he grabbed a wood block and started beating out a complicated, syncopated rhythm in time with the recorded music. He knows every song and poem by heart, and it always makes my heart swell to hear him reciting "Happy Little Me," which he learned at Kindermusik. He now loves to join the group for circle dances and playing with the parachute, and at the beginning of each class, he grabs all the stuffed animals lined up along the walls and sets them out on the story blanket for the hello song. Because obviously, they need to participate too.

I can only speak to our experience, and I believe we are truly blessed to have a phenomenal teacher in Ms. Jaci who seems to have a magical way with children of all developmental stages, and we have a great place to go in Tallahassee with Good Samaritan Arts (which also offers all kinds of dance and music classes to kids and adults). But the great thing about Kindermusik is that no matter where you are, you can try out a class in your area for free.If you do, I'd love to hear about your experiences, so please keep in touch!

Reader Comments

When I was Billy's age, apparently I used to demand, at bedtime, "Daddy, read me a story and not God Made the World!" all in one non-stop, breathless sentence. Daddy, apparently, liked the brevity of the 7-page God Made the World: God made the sky, God made the animals, God made the flowers, etc. I, of course, couldn't understand why my father wanted to constantly hear this fairly plotless tale over and over.

As a parent now, I get it. I have to stop myself from shuffling the longer books to the bottom of the pile at bedtime. Waddle takes about 45 seconds to read (a parent favorite for the 'Feet), while Oh, The Places You Will Go is more of a commitment. Sometimes, though, Billy and I will find common ground, and with that in mind, here are a few of our favorites:

Odd Boy Out by Don Brown
Apparently, Albert Einstein was a holy terror to his parents. At least that's Billy's favorite part of Odd Boy Out, a children's tale about the life of the genius scientist. He had a big head, he hit his sister a lot, and eventually, he became a famous scientist. (We have to read the part where he hit his sister a lot of times.) Most of the beautifully illustrated book is over Billy's head, but I think he gets in a general way the message that despite what other people said about Albert, he grew up to become someone very special.

The Big Honey Hunt (and all rhyming Berenstain Bears Books) by Stan and Jan Berenstain

We are on our second copy of this 40-year-old classic, having read one book until the pages literally fell apart. Billy loves the rhymes and how silly old Papa Bear keeps trying to find honey in the forest and landing in all kinds of trouble with bees, skunks, porcupines (one of his first words was "pita-pine!") and owls. I love how, in the end, he follows Mama Bear's advice and just goes to the honey store. "Always listen to Mama Bear is the moral of this story," I tell him solemnly and he finds this hilarious.

The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone, Illustrated by Michael Smollin
This was my favorite book as a child, and I love that Billy loves it too. Essentially, Grover is terrified by the title of the book and doesn't want to get to the end of the book where there is a monster. So he keeps begging the reader not to turn the page and trying to block our progress with a series of crazy ideas. We make a game out of it, as I ask Billy, "Should we turn the page?!" And he demands, "Turn the page! Turn the page!" even though the anticipation nearly kills him. Of course, Grover is the "monster" at the end of the book and that is very funny every single time.

What's Wrong, Little Pookie? (and all Sandra Boyton books) by Sandra Boynton

I just love Sandra Boynton's style. You can tell she has kids, because her books have that unique, oddball creativity that really captures kids' imaginations. In this one, Mama is trying to figure out why Little Pookie, her baby pig, is upset. This one used to be VERY handy when Billy was himself upset, because I would go through Mama Pig's questions: Are you tired? Are you hungry? Did you lose something you love? And by the time we get to the nonsense questions about elephants borrowing his shoes, he's got the giggles. We also have The Belly Button Book and the Going to Bed Book, both of which are excellent. We've adopted "Bee-bo" as our word for "belly button."

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (and all Eric Carle books)
No library is complete without this classic (as well as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?). Billy had Hungry Caterpillar memorized after about two readings, and he loved to inform me, on a regular basis, what the caterpillar ate on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on. It's a beautiful illustration of how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, and I tried to use this reasoning to get Billy to eat more things: "Don't you want to get big and strong and become a beautiful butterfly?" No dice. But he still loves the book. The book is so popular among kids that there is now a Memory game, several toys, and a pop-up book associated with it.

Possum Come a Knockin by Nancy Van Lann and George Booth

We borrowed this one from the school library, and it quickly became a favorite. While a wacky family carries on a-knittin', and a-whittlin' and a-fussin' and a number of other poorly enunciated activities, a possum knocks on their door. The rhymes are infectious, and we made a game out of this one too: Billy would give three knocks every time we heard the phrase "Possum come a knockin' at the door, at the door." I had to order our own copy when this one went back to the library.

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss
I read this book to Billy while I was pregnant with him, and it still chokes me up. Of course, then I had no idea that he would be autistic, but Oh the Places You Will Go is particularly lovely for kids facing inherent challenges in life: "I'm sorry to say, but sometimes it's true, that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you ..." The book was a gift from a dear friend, and Billy always has me read the inscription to him, "To Billy ... Love, Melissa Witek, Miss Florida USA 2005." How many boys can say they have books in their library from Miss Florida USA?

The Potty Train by David Hochman and Ruth Kennison, Illustrated by Derek Anderson

Chugga-Chugga-Pooooo-Poooo! Need I say more? Brilliantly and hilariously illustrated, this is a great book for keeping them on the potty for a while during training.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

Billy is a big fan of the train in general, and The Little Engine that Could is actually right up there with Thomas in terms of cool engines. After about 80 years, its message of self-help and determination is still a good one, though modern books probably wouldn't include open pocket knives in a cargo of toys for "little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain."

Wonderful World of Knowledge
My mother-in-law has been sending us this series of books for Billy, a few at a time, from the UK. But I remember a version of these from my childhood, so I'm sure they're available over here as well. They're like encyclopedias for children on subjects like "Dinosaurs," "Marvels of the Sea," "Atlas of the World," and so on. Even before he's old enough to get into all the subjects, he's still fascinated by the illustrations, which always include a Disney character in any scene: Mickey traipsing across the desert, Donald snorkeling and looking at fish, Mickey scared by a giant squid, etc.
An unexpected upside is that the science in these books is on about my level of understanding, so I've used them to actually look up scientific facts. Everything I now know about chemical reactions I learned from Donald.

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When I first heard about therapeutic listening, I was very dubious. I didn't understand how wearing headphones and listening to weird sounds was going to do anything except seriously tick Billy off. Having completed the program now, we still can't conclusively say that his gains were specifically because of therapeutic listening, but I would call myself a tentative believer. Dave, for the record, is still skeptical.

There are few therapies associated with autism, though, where you can draw a direct correlation between what you do and changes in behavior. If we change Billy's diet and see an immediate derailment into tantrum-land, we sometimes start blaming something he ate. He could also, though, be tired, have taken a irrational dislike to the neighbor's cat which keeps showing up in our yard, or have a headache. Until he can really talk to us about what's going on in his head, we just give it our best guess.

The same thing is true about good behavior and gains in communication. We want so much to believe that any particular therapy is working. Or I should say, I do. Dave is comfortable in the permanent "It's BS till they prove to me otherwise" skeptic position.

So we look for a few things in any therapy: First, do no harm. We have to know that there's no downside before we try something. Secondly, does he enjoy it? We believe strongly in following his joy -- to the point that it does no harm. (He can find joy in riding his inflatable spaceship down the steep staircase but we do have to draw the line somewhere.) Finally, where's the science? We want to see a recent, reputable scientific study with real data -- which I then hand off to Dave to read.

Therapeutic Listening (a trademarked term but I can't figure out how to make that "R" with a circle around it) passed our test. The aim of this therapy is to help autistic kids, with underdeveloped nervous systems, differentiate the human voice from other noises in their environment. Based on what Dave explained to me -- and I could have some of this wrong; I majored in English lit and creative writing and I sometimes, admittedly, tune out when he's talking about science -- this specially filtered music and specially designed headphones help build up certain muscles in the ear whose primary purpose is to recognize the human voice.

You have to find a therapist trained in Therapeutic Listening to administer the therapy. Then you have to buy the special headphones. We ordered ours from Vital Sounds for about $145. And a CD player with a random play button and the ability to turn off the bass. There are about a dozen different CDs, ranging in theme from animal sounds to kid songs to Mozart; special sounds and clicks have been added to each one, and if an adult, with a fully developed nervous system, tries to listen to it, it can make you feel slightly dizzy or even nauseous. I got an immediate headache after about a minute of listening to "Mozart for Modulation."

But Billy didn't. He liked some CDs better than others but on the whole, he didn't mind sitting down for "headphone time" twice a day, for 30 minutes per session. Our OT let us rent the CDs for $10 a pop (if you buy them, each costs about $40) and each CD would last us two weeks. Billy hated the one with dolphin sounds on it (and who wouldn't?! That was two weeks from hell.) but loved "Peach Jamz," which was a series of upbeat kid songs to which he'd sing along. We worked in one 30-minute session before school, usually while he was eating breakfast, and one after school.

Kids are allowed to eat, ride in the car, or play with toys while listening. They can't watch TV or really interact anything with bright flashing lights or loud sounds. Ideally, he would walk around and play while listening, but we could never get him to wear the fanny pack into which the CD player inserts, so he mostly just sat and looked at books or played with table toys.

At the beginning of this therapy, he wouldn't even allow headphones to touch his head. By the end of the series, he had no problem with headphones -- but he still has strong resistance to hair washing, brushing or cutting. He has become much more verbal over the past six months, and his potty training has made significant strides. Six months ago, we were at our wits end with the tantrums and he had also started head-banging, which was alarming to say the least. Now, that is extremely rare. His connections to people are much stronger and his eye contact is much better. He said, "I love you, Mama," to me for the first time in December. He is more likely to look at someone when he's talking to them. Whether he looks up when we call his name is still a crap shoot, but it's better.

** BUT ** (And I want to put this BUT in bright neon letters!!) Therapeutic Listening (insert trademark here) is NOT the only therapy we've been doing. Far from it. We are committed to Floortime, regular occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy and Kindermusik. And I can't overstate the importance of going to school and learning from his peers and teachers. He attends pre-Kindergarten five days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and he loves it.

Now that we've finished the Therapeutic Listening series, our occupational therapist has recommended we purchase the CD Billy really likes -- "Peach Jamz" -- and continue on a two-week on, two-week off schedule. Apparently, the nervous system can get too used to one CD if you listen to it every day.

We're thinking about it. We want to see if there are any changes in his behavior when we stop doing Therapeutic Listening (R with a circle around it here) for a while. If so, we may pick it back up in a month. I would love to hear from any other families who tried this therapy. And if you have any questions about it that I didn't cover here, please email me or post a comment. When we started, we were disappointed not to be able to find more experiences from parents online.

Reader Comments

The Internet is both my salvation as a parent and the bane of my existence. You can find anything, any opinion, any oddball group of people uniting to discuss their shared obsession. At the best of times, you can get some really great information, advice, support and ideas from the right website. Or you could waste 45 precious minutes playing a Space Invaders game you stumbled across ... or so I've heard.

If you're parenting an autistic child -- or any child for that matter -- there are plenty of sites out there dying to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Some of them are worth it and some aren't. However, there are some really great sites out there offering, for some altruistic reason, their goods for free. We love you. And here's the Broadfeet salute to some of our favorite sites with free stuff for parents and kids:

Starfall.com
We credit Starfall with teaching Billy the alphabet. Designed for teachers and parents, the site has pre-reading and reading activities, including an animated alphabet that Billy loves! After you graduate past the alphabet, there are animated interactive stories that teach phonics, and well as games to promote reading skills. Downloadable coloring and worksheets accompany each level. Educational materials are also sold in the Starfall store, but there are plenty of free goodies to enjoy. Our favorite interactive stories are "Peg the Hen" and the "Car Race."

Babybumblebee.com

We're big Baby Bumblebee fans and have the complete set of DVDs and flashcards. For more on the program, click HERE. To get to the free stuff on their website, though, click on FREE DOWNLOADABLES on the left-hand side of the screen. You can download books and flashcards, educational posters, handwriting practice sheets and more. The page is a bit of a mess so scroll through carefully to find all the options.

EnchantedLearning.com
Speaking of mess, this wonderful site hasn't met a font it doesn't love. Design challenges aside, though, the content is awesome. There are a million easy craft ideas from masks for Mardi Gras to a "Litter Bug" for Earth Day. There is almost too much information here: songs and worksheets on music theory, books to print, homework help, games involving dinosaurs. It's like wandering through an online thrift shop where everything is organized according to the whim of the owner; but then, I like thrift shops and every time I go to this site, I find something new and delightful.

PuppetResources.com
Puppets are a great rainy day activity, but when I'm sleep-deprived and not firing on all cylinders, making up interesting stories is a bit beyond me. Acting out Mommy and Daddy's last fight about the right way to organize the dishwasher is not really as compelling to the kids. PuppetResources.com has a searchable library of free scripts of classic and new stories (specify in the search whether you want religious or non-religious scripts). Kids don't really care whether you have an actual puppet theater or not (you can make one easily out of a big appliance box), but if you'd like a good one, Amazon has a selection such as the tabletop theater shown here.

Kididdles.com
Ever get halfway through singing a kids' song you thought you knew and realize that you don't know the words? Kididdles has the lyrics, midi files of the tune, and even sheet music for an impressive library of songs. There are also downloadable activity sheets to accompany favorites like "5 Little Ducks," "Three Blind Mice" and "Farmer in the Dell." Well-designed site that you have to join, but it's quick, easy and free to do so.

Storynory.com
I was singing the praises of Audible.com to my Circle of Moms when one of them pointed me to this tres cool site where audio stories are FREE. Everything from fairy tales to bible stories to original stories by the creators is available to keep your tike entertained in the car or stroller or preoccupied in the doctor's office waiting room. New free stories are uploaded every week, and downloading is a simple as a right-click of your mouse.

Education.com
This site can be a bit overwhelming, even though it's well-designed and organized, simply because of the volume of content. As the name suggests, it's about education from birth to returning to college and everything in between. We spend most of our time in the education.com/activity/preschool/ area, checking out the preschool-appropriate recipes, science projects (yes, science projects), games and crafts. Do you know how to play Jan-Ken-Pon (Japanese Rock Paper Scissors)? Have you ever hatched your own preying mantis? Me neither, but if we get the urge, Education.com has the instructions.

SchoolExpress.com
This site boasts 16,000 worksheets! In other words, every kid's nightmare and every exhausted teacher's 15 minutes of peace. But there are also Flash-based interactive storybooks, thematic teaching units based around various holidays and subjects, and free downloadable software that includes a Bingo game and several interactive math, phonics, geography and spelling programs. Warning: click on Funtime only if you aren't susceptible to waste time on bad versions of '80s video games.

VisualAidsForLearning.com
I highly recommend a picture schedule for any preverbal child, whether autistic or normally developing. It helps them understand their day and teaches them to make choices, an important step in strong communication skills. We used a digital camera and took our own pictures (of lunch, bathtime, teeth brushing, etc.) and printed them out, but that can be very time-consuming. There are plenty of places online where you can buy starter icon packages, but this site has some great support tools for getting started with a picture schedule, providing a basic package of icons completely free.

Notebookbabies.com
Just hilarious videos. A teacher makes his own animated stories to teach lessons about owls, frogs, sharing, bullying, etc. My personal favorite is "A Few Facts About Owls."

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I never used to think of Tallahassee as a rainy place, but man, if my kids don't get more outside time, one of us (or maybe all of us) is gonna lose it.

At least, that's how I felt until I discovered Carole Stock Kranowitz' book The Out of Sync Child Has Fun. Her earlier book, The Out of Sync Child, completely opened my eyes to my autistic son's sensory processing problems. If you aren't familiar with sensory processing disorder (SPD), it occurs when an underdeveloped nervous system can't make sense of the sensory input it receives. Autistic children are often afflicted with sensory problems, but SPD can be a standalone disorder in some kids.

A child might have difficulty taking in sounds, for instance, analyzing them and assigning more importance to human voices than other background noises. Another child might be “tactile defensive,” making human touch almost unbearable to them. The Out of Sync Child described these dysfunctions and how a parent could use a "sensory diet," a daily dose of the appropriate amount and kind of sensory input, to help regulate a child's nervous system.

Billy has some minor issues with his sense of gravity which results in him craving movement and impact. He also has some tactile defensiveness, specifically related to his head. Smells and tastes affect him in strange ways sometimes, as so certain sounds and lights. By focusing on a sensory diet, a large part of which involves giving him plenty of time and space to run off nervous energy, he can manage these issues to the point that you might not even notice them on a good day.

Rainy days, though, are a challenge. But The Out of Sync Child Has Fun provides parents with fun activities that provide that sensory input inside and outside. Depending upon your individual child's needs, you can choose an activity that engages that sense. For instance, if you have a child who needs to "crash and bang" to organize his/her balance and movement (vestibular and proprioceptive) systems, you can play the "Jack and Jill" game. Touch (tactile) sensitivity can be addressed by playing with "Unpaint." And oral-motor skills can be practiced with "Puffin' Stuff."

Almost all the materials are readily available either around the house or at your local grocery, craft or hardware store. And the great thing about the activities in this book is that they're fun for any kid. So friends, siblings and classmates will happily play along, not even realizing that their nervous systems are getting a little tune-up. Parents with perfectly normally developing children will find a wealth of fun stuff in these pages to entertain their kids, rain or shine.

Here are a few of our favorite rainy day games for preschoolers (games appropriate to ALL age ranges are in the book):

1. Go Fishing
A variation on a popular carnival game, this activity has you create construction paper "fish," with a paper clip attached to each fish's head, and then "Go fishing" with a magnet attached to the end of a string on your "fishing pole." Gross motor control is practiced as the child steadies the pole and magnet to catch each fish. A variation we've tried with this game is to use the pole to catch other small metal objects (such as his Thomas the Train engines).

2. Box Sweet Box
Every parent who has ever had a large appliance box in the house knows the fascination that it holds for children. Next time, store it somewhere in anticipation of a rainy day. Sometimes when we hit a run of rainy weather, a giant box is the only thing between me and total insanity. "Box Sweet Box" plays on the fact that many autistic kids, and Billy is one of them, are "nesters" who appreciate a quiet place to go. And when they help decorate the box, it feels even more like home. Some great ideas that Kranowitz adds include opening the ends and attaching several boxes together to make a tunnel; uses a flashlight to explore and decorate the inside of the box; and depending upon your confidence in your art skills, turning the box into a puppet theater, store, castle or rocket ship to encourage make-believe play.

Pre-writing and writing skills can be practiced on the surface of the box, as vertical surfaces (like easels) are often easier writing surfaces for kids with sensory issues. Crawling in and through the box works gross motor coordination, and of course, a quiet place to nest and rest is a handy tool for any child on the spectrum. (Obviously, this activity doesn't help a child with a fear of small places.)

3. Jack and Jill
Most kids like to crash and bang. Sensory seekers, like my Billy, need to do it. Kranowitz' "Jack and Jill" activity is good for inside or outside. Outside, you would construct a "hill" with a board elevated on one end, followed by a "crash pad," or soft place to land. Indoors, we use my inclined aerobic step (I have the Transfirmer, which is secure in an inclined position), followed by a folded up mattress topper that Billy uses as his crash pad. A bean bag also works. He carries a plastic pail "up the hill" as we recite the rhyme, stomping in rhythm and then delightfully crashes on the floor when Jack "falls down and breaks his crown" with Jill (played by Mama) tumbling after. He can do this 5,000 times without tiring of it. (My personal limit is about 12.)

4. Puffin Stuff
At its most basic, this one is super-simple. You just need a straw and a cotton ball and, as Kranowitz explains, and by blowing the cotton ball across a table, you can exercise the muscles in the face that strengthen the repiratory system and speech articulators. But you can make "Puffin Stuff" as complicated as you like, including different objects to move with the straw, like empty plastic bottles, Ping-Pong balls, feathers, golf balls, tissue, marbles -- and even some things you know will be difficult to move, so that you can discuss why certain things move and others don't. You can have races, create obstacle courses for your objects -- the sky's the limit.

5. Hammer and Nails
Also fairly easy to set up (hammer + nails in log = hours of fun), this one should obviously be closely supervised to ensure that objects other than the log don't get nailed. You'll need to start the nails for your child until they get the hang of it, but if you have a "busy beaver" in your house, this one is a winner. The impact of it really seems to be a great stress reliever. I think adults could get a lot out of this one as well.

If you aren't comfortable with the idea of nails, Kranowitz suggests an alternative: toy hammer, golf tees and an inverted egg carton or a pumpkin into which to pound them.

There are a jillion ideas in the Out of Sync Child Has Fun, complete with recommended supply lists and easy-to-follow illustrations. These are just a few of our favorites, but I'd love to hear about yours.

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Five things I liked this week ...

5. Martha Stewart Baby: Sleepytime

Most parents spend at least half of their waking hours obsessing about their kids' food, poop or sleep. If you have a child on the autism spectrum, you can double that time commitment -- at least. We've been on a sleep-obsessed phase over the last few months. I'm a firm believer in bedtime routines and using music as a wind-down cue. Music always works well as a cue for Billy: He has an "All done" song, a "time to go" song, a "taking turns" song, etc.

We've tried a variety of lullaby CDs to set the mood for bedtime. Most of them are just unbearable after a few hundred listenings. Too cutesy with drive-you-bananas-stick-in-your-head melodies is a common problem -- not what you want before bedtime.

My mother bought Sleepytime as part of a batch on eBay, and it has been our go-to bedtime music ever since. Beautiful modern soft folk-rock from the likes of Allison Krauss, Natalie Merchant and Barenaked Ladies, the songs can bear repeated listening without making you want to throw yourself into moving traffic. In fact, I ripped the CD on to my iPod and have actually listened to it by myself on several occasions.

Until I looked up the details for this review, I hadn't even realized that it was a part of the Martha Stewart Baby collection. This CD is so not what I associate with the woman who did an entire TV episode about ironing table napkins.
Favorite tracks are Krauss's "Baby Mine" and Tuck & Patti's "Takes my Breath Away" (chokes me up every time). You can actually sample the tracks here .

4. Baby Bumblebee

Theoretically, Billy shouldn't be watching any TV, right? Well, we do our best. We limit it to no more than an hour a day, and try to use it as a reward -- for good behavior, accomplishing tasks, etc.

At first, I thought we would be stuck with Thomas the Tank Engine and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the educational value of which I find questionable (see my rant against Thomas). But it turns out, he really likes educational DVDs too.

Baby Bumblebee has a series of DVDs that teach vocabulary, question words, and concepts like opposites, numbers and colors. They use real children to teach the concepts -- and these are definitely not trained actors -- and include interactive games and lesson reviews on each DVD. A series of flashcards matches each DVD set, so if you're into flashcards, you can use these to reinforce the concepts. (Billy has about as much interest in being drilled on flashcards as he does in balancing my checkbook, but on that theoretical day when he does develop an interest, we're ready.)

I was overjoyed the day he started showing me "Up and down," demonstrating by standing up and squatting down, "fast and slow," which he shows me by alternately running and walking, "yes and no," nodding and shaking his head. Now if I can get him to stop saying "Visit us next time at baby-bumble-bee-dot-com!"

3. Audible.com
If you have an iPod and long car trips, this can be a lifesaver, particularly if you're trying to limit TV time. Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the creator of our Floortime therapy, strongly recommends audio recordings of stories, because it forces children to use their imaginations to create the pictures to accompany the words they hear.

Audible has a large collection of recorded children's books -- in addition to their volumes of adult bestsellers (I mean fiction and non-fiction for adults, not porn) -- ranging in price from a couple of bucks for a single book to more than $10 for a collection of stories. You can either buy the recordings singly at retail prices, or join their online club and get credits for a certain number of book per month.

Then you download them to your computer where you can either transfer to an iPod (or other mp3 player) or burn to a CD. The whole process was super-simple, and I'm a super-simpleton when it comes to electronics. We joined at the most basic rate ($7.95 per month) and started with a great recording of Dr. Seuss stories, featuring the voices of David Hyde-Pierce and Jason Alexander.

2. Dry rice and beans
This takes the old adage "the best toys don't have batteries" (Is that an old adage? Hmm, now that I think about it, maybe not.) to an extreme. Billy will play with a plastic bucket of rice and dried beans for as long as I will let him. Buried in the dry stuff are tiny toys like dinosaurs and trucks, and he digs them out, reburies them, drives the trucks around. This has -- can you believe?! -- become our substitute for TV when I need 15 minutes to load the dishwasher. Upsides: a lot cleaner than sifting dirt through this fingers; it's cheap; it doesn't make an annoying sound, and you never have to go searching through the house for trip-A batteries.

1. "Up in the Air"
Really liked this film (I got to go to an actual movie!), starring George Clooney as a guy whose job it is to relieve other people of their jobs. He's hired to fly around the country, delivering bad news to employees whose bosses are too scared to do it themselves. I heard Jason Reitman, the director, interviewed on NPR and he talked about how many of the "employees" in the film are real people who were actually recently fired from their jobs. He used their real stories and let them tell them. If I hadn't heard this, I wouldn't have known, because they were really good, really heartbreaking.

I didn't think this was a perfect film the way some reviewers had described it, but I did think it was a beautifully acted and subtly told story. My only big problem with it: The fact that the woman who was supposed to be George Clooney's love interest ever acted aloof -- instead of straddling his wheelie bag in the airport and refusing to let go.

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