How to get possibly-ASD toddler to engage more with play skills?

(9 Posts)
letsgooutstiiiiiiide Sat 11-May-19 02:37:23

DS is 2.5. Possibly has ASD, unclear, is having SALT sessions around play skills, and has just started at Montessori kindergarten.

It is very difficult to get him to do things like puzzles, building towers, jigsaw puzzles, games etc. This obviously means at Montessori he ends up "helping the teacher" because he lacks the skills to sit down and work through something by himself, or engage with another child.

I don't think this is because he lacks the cognitive skill to actually do the puzzles - when we do things together he e.g. can play dominoes correctly for a few turns before throwing them all off the table (so can obviously count to 6, even if the turn-taking mystifies him), he can tell me where to put a Charlie and Lola domino; and he could do shape sorter puzzles before age 1. He loved watching me do a 200-piece puzzle recently, and picked up pieces saying "that's part of the polar bear" or "those are the planets".

When we've had a playdate where another child has sat down and biddably worked through all our puzzles he has glanced over and said things like "the brain goes on the skull" (layered body jigsaw), "the koala goes in that hole" (picture-in-hole puzzle), "the four candles hold up the square" (peg shapes puzzle) "the crane piece goes over here and the fish piece is on the edge" (Thomas jigsaws). THe other child built towers with blocks beautifully - DS just wanted to knock them down (and then got furious because I told him off).

But e.g. me saying "let's build a tower with the blocks!" - he will be chucking the blocks round the room rather than try to build anything. Likewise Lego. And dominoes are thrown off the table, Thomas jigsaws are thrown at the walls, he gets grumpy and wants me to put them away...

So he seems to have the spatial and pattern-matching skills, but absolutely none of the sequencing or turn-taking or self-regulation required to actually engage with anything.

All the kids at Montessori are so self-contained and seem to have such amazing sequencing and self-regulation skills - even if they can't actually do the thing in front of them, they patiently work through it. Whereas DS seems to see instantly how to do it, then refuse to actually see it through. Which of course will do him absolutely no favours whatsoever at school or in real life!

Obviously I'm trying to work on this with the SALT, but any suggestions here?

BTW his imaginative play is fine. Pet dinosaurs go exploring, take trips on aeroplanes, go to the moon etc. Stuffed toys look at things on trips out and "comment" on stuff.

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123bananas Sat 11-May-19 03:04:33

He is only 2.5 give it time. Also I know it is hard, but try not to compare him to his peers and focus on what he can do then try to model the other things. He is obviously taking it all in if he is able to comment on the sequence in such detail.

A lot can change in a short space of time. My youngest has ASD and was non verbal at 3 and would not play with others. He is now 5 and speaks in complex sentences and plays imaginative games with his peers. That all came from work with the SALT and modelling play/activities. He also does the whole reluctant/upset/angry thing over new or different activities, but we persist with modelling and him sitting their and then once he has had processing time he either joins in or after the second or third time of modelling it will suddenly do it himself.

openupmyeagereyes Sat 11-May-19 05:49:59

- Use techniques such as first/then - first we will do x for one minute, then we will do y (y being something he really enjoys and already does willingly).

- You could offer a choice of two activities and try to include one he is likely to enjoy. This gives him some control.

- Try to get him to engage for a very short period such as one minute or one turn and then build gradually. Give him lots of praise. Take control of the toy after that, saying x finished, and put it away to help prevent the knocking over or throwing. Also use control of the item to encourage turn taking i.e. covering holes and stating mummy’s turn, ds waiting.

- Try to use engaging activities to encourage him, not just something you think is good for his development or that he ‘should’ like. Look up the attention bucket online or on YouTube.

And I agree with PPs, give it time. He has just started at the nursery and with his SALT sessions and he is only 2.5. It’s a while until he starts school so you have lots of time to work at this. Don’t compare him to the other children but focus on his progress.

livpotter Sat 11-May-19 06:01:00

I agree with pp he's really young still. Turn taking is challenging for all children and more so if they are autistic.

How are his fine motor skills? Could it be that he can see what needs to be done but is anxious about handling the pieces because he doesn't have the finger agility/strength to manipulate them properly.. Or maybe a sensory thing, that he doesn't like the feel of the pieces? My ds used to love knocking things over at that age. It was a real joy for him to see the cause and effect. We used to joke that he would end up being a demolishions expert.

letsgooutstiiiiiiide Sat 11-May-19 07:43:06

Thanks for the thoughts here.

Good point about giving him things that will engage him specifically.
I've acquiesced to him finding Thomas boring/ something that therapists ask him about, and bought him some dinosaur jigsaws (he likes dinos).

I think his fine motor skills and finger strength are fine for things that interest him - playing the piano, typing on the computer, manipulating absolutely tiny dinosaurs that live in an egg-box house, etc. He definitely has a perfectionistic anxious streak, so is often inclined to mess around or refuse to cooperate on something he doesn't seem to think he can do. Viz. bike riding, swimming, etc etc etc

i am definitely trying not to compare him - i used the example of the playdate kid doing puzzles to show that he's engaging with the process but not in a typical "joining in" kind of way. The other kids at Montessori are all 6 months- 3.5 years older, so not useful comparators - I expressed myself badly there - I meant more that he needs to develop some of their skills, rather than that their way is innately "better". He will need a mix of his instant-solution-seeing and their sequencing/perseverance/self-regulation, to be able to cope well at school.

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openupmyeagereyes Sat 11-May-19 08:50:19

I would say you’ve partly answered your own question. He will learn those skills during his time at the nursery, subject to his own personality. That is what their job is. I’m sure the other children didn’t arrive there already possessing these skills.

If he is a perfectionist then focus on and praise/reward effort rather than attainment and show him that everyone gets things wrong sometimes, even adults, and that it’s ok. You can be the bumbling, clumsy parent that makes mistakes to show him this.

Make sure he gets lots of outdoor play and fun and try not to worry too much about academic achievement yet. I’m sure you do this already but show him things, talk to him and he will soak that up and it will benefit him in the years to come.

SinkGirl Mon 13-May-19 14:57:21

I have twin boys the same age as your DS and they have both been diagnosed with ASD already - have you been referred for this assessment?

Your son sounds similar to my DT2 (although my twins have no imaginative play skills) but further along in some areas. Whereas DT1 started making towers taller than himself before he was 1, DT2 only wants to knock them down. He was amazing with shape sorters until a big regression at 18 months. Then he wouldn’t play with anything at all. Literally. He spent the days running up and down and spinning, and putting everything in his mouth.

Personally I wouldn’t say to just leave it because I know DT2 spent 9 months where he made not one speck of progress. However, when we started working with him specifically on these issues with proper strategies, he’s coming on in leaps and bounds. He’s now interested in people, making eye contact, wanting affection, and most importantly choosing independently to play with a few specific toys (he wouldn’t touch toys until a few months ago and if we coaxed him into it, his attention span was less than five seconds - now it’s 3-4 minutes if it’s something he likes).

First thing I did while waiting was to get this book: An Early Start for Your Child with Autism: Using Everyday Activities to Help Kids Connect, Communicate, and Learn

I read it all but I don’t use all of it - some of it links into ABA which is very controversial in the ASD community so I won’t go into that here, but it did help us start to tap into what motivates him, and how to make use of that to help him develop social awareness and new skills. First things first: watch him for a while and write down the things that he likes doing. If he likes spinning, you can play spinning games with him, using “ready steady...go” to build anticipation, improve communication, encourage him to sign or vocalise for go or more, etc. Rather than trying to push him into the things you want him to do, step into what he wants to do. It really helps, but I’d recommend getting the book as this is just the start.

The other thing that works so well for him is what’s called “PEIC-D” here - it’s basically copying what he does. So if there’s a toy he likes, get two of the same toy. Sit opposite him and copy the movements he makes. If he likes turning pages of a book, grab a book each and copy his turning pages. Most kids with ASD won’t stop and watch you - you may not even be aware of them noticing you. The first stage of this is literally just the glancing briefly at your hands occasionally. That’s social awareness right there, and you can build on it. We are now at the point where we can use this to encourage turn taking, or switch between who is leading the movement etc but it has taken months and months of copying him.

Do you have involvement from portage? They are the single best service we have accessed by far, and the work they’ve done with us is making such a huge difference to my boys. They are honestly like different children now (not in a bad way or trying to make them like NT kids - they’re still them, but life is getting much easier for them). I self referred and you may be able to do this too or ask SALT, your HV etc.

I’m also wondering whether Montessori is right for your little one, I don’t know them so I could be totally wrong. But we ruled it out because it’s so child led, and if we let our boys be child led one would do nothing but spin, and the other would get fixated on one repetitive game which increases his stress. Something a bit more structured may help him more.

I hope this is somewhat helpful - definitely get the book, definitely get a portage referral sorted and keep pushing for formal diagnosis.

LightTripper Mon 13-May-19 16:26:49

I agree with the others 2.5 is really little, he will come on a lot. Looking back I realise DD never did shape sorters etc. - now she's 5 and did a 300 piece jigsaw she was given at Christmas (over a few days obviously, and with some help grouping things to do one section at a time - but still I was astounded). Basically it's hopeless trying to get any kid to do something they are really not into at all, so it's always about looking at things they like doing and trying to just tweak it a bit so they learn something. So it sounds like you could definitely use his imagination (could he take turns with one of his toys, for example: might be easier to handle as both turns are "him"? Or if he's doing something imaginary could he and you take turns to do it? E.g. my DD and I used to take turns to cast spells, e.g. she'd turn the tree into a rocket, then I'd turn the house into a castle, or whatever). If he likes books a good book for practicing turn-taking conversation when he's older is "You Choose" and "Just Imagine".

We also got this book out of the library and it's very attuned to sensory needs, and covers a very wide range of ages and abilities: could be worth asking your library for it and having a look to see if any of the ideas are appealing to your DS?

E.g. I seem to remember there was a game where we made shakers out of ice cream boxes with pasta in and took it in turns to make different noises/patterns - she liked the sensory feedback from the shaker and the noise I think, so it was surprisingly engaging.

letsgooutstiiiiiiide Fri 17-May-19 06:34:38

Thanks for the further thoughts, and what look like good book suggestions.

@SinkGirl we're in NZ so no portage here. Interesting point about Montessori, given that it was originally started as a highly structured environment for kids with things like ASD. Our one does seem to be quite child-led, and I am keeping an eye on it for precisely the reasons you mention. There are a couple of other Montessoris here that may be more structured, but otherwise nothing useful - conventional kindys and daycares (and indeed early years of school too) make a virtue of being totally child-led here, which doesn't work well for a lot of kids.

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