As the parent of a child with ASD, I’m always on the lookout for fun and interesting ways to engage and help Neil develop his skills. I have spent many a night on the Internet looking at special needs toys, and sensory toys. There is a lot available, but it’s disappointing to find that a lot of ‘special needs’ toys carry quite a high price tag.
A little while ago I was introduced to Learning Resources and was amazed by the huge range of educational toys on offer. I was very pleased to find they had a dedicated section devoted to special needs toys, and the big winner for me was the price… Everything was so well priced! I have loved the place ever since, and I was very pleased when they asked if we would like to try a couple of their products.
The Helping Hands set contains four tools for various activities, to grab, squeeze, scoop and drop. The tools are all brightly coloured and immediately appealing. The tool set is designed to help children develop their fine motor skills, which is an area we are keen to work on with Neil.
To test out the Helping Hands, we gathered together Neil’s collection of miniature Minecraft figures which were just the right size for grabbing and scooping with the various tools. We started with an empty bowl and the Squeezy Tweezers and I gave Neil the task of collecting up each of the figures and dropping them in to the bowl. This tool is great for developing hand eye coordination. Neil struggled at first because to open the tweezers you have to squeeze the handle, so it took him a while to coordinate his movements, but once he got the hang of it he was flying!
I then filled the bowl with water and asked Neil to retrieve the figures using the Handy Scooper. This is my favourite tool, as it is very similar in shape to scissors, and is perfect for developing the movements needed to control scissors properly, which is something Neil does struggle with a lot. The handle is designed perfectly for little hands, but I could also use them comfortably too. The large scoop has lots of little holes around it making it ideal for water play. Neil had a lot of fun lifting his characters from the water then watching the excess water drain away,
This was Neil’s favourite activity and he could have played with the water and the Scoopers for hours. They are great for water play, and would be a perfect addition to bath time fun. I think this tool would be great for playing with flour or fine sugar too, but we haven’t tried this as Neil doesn’t like to get messy. Another great water play tool is the Twisty Dropper. The dropper helps strengthen the muscles in your child’s hand because there is a lot of squeezing required to suck the water up in to the tube and squirt it back out again, and Neil enjoyed playing with this too.
The last piece in the kit was the Gator Grabber which looks like a little pair of tweezers, and is designed to help develop the pincer grip which is essential when learning how to hold a pencil properly, which is something a lot of ASD children can really struggle with. The grabber is very similar to one that we use in Occupational Therapy, and is great for picking up and sorting small objects.
The Second item we received was the Play Foam. We had never tried anything like play foam before, and were completely intrigued by it. It claims to be mess free and non drying and I was very interested to put the claims to the test.
Upon first inspection, the Play Foam looks like lots of tiny polystyrene balls stuck together. The pack we received contained four very vivid colours, including found original and four sparkle. The texture of the foam is bizarre. It feels sticky, but isn’t sticky…. I know that doesn’t really make sense but that is the way it is. The tiny little balls stick to themselves, but not to you. As soon as you put it in your hands you just want to squeeze it, and the squeezing is great for strengthening the hand and finger muscles.
It was out of the box for about one minute before Neil had mushed the 8 colours together, which is fine because it looks just as pretty.
It is so mouldable, and will hold its shape until it is squashed back down. Neil had a lot of fun moulding shapes and words. The great thing is that is doesn’t dry out, unlike other popular mouldable products, so there is no need to worry about squashing it up and putting it away too soon. This means that the product can be played with for hours! All of the shaping and moulding takes place with the hands and fingers, and again is a great way of strengthening those muscles and developing fine motor skills.
Its quite common for children with ASD and Sensory Processing Disorder to chew things and put them in their mouths but I just want to let you know if your child does like to taste or chew not to be put off by this as it is non toxic and doesn’t expand in the stomach and so if the odd piece is swallowed there is no risk to your childs health with this. I feel completely fine with Neil using the product and he is compelled to taste and chew everything around him.
We were very impressed with both of the products we were sent. What I love about the Helping Hands Tool Set and the Play Foam is that they are so good for helping develop fine motor skills, but they are so much fun at the same time. I don’t think Neil realised how much work he was doing with his hands because he was too busy enjoying himself. Both of the products would be great for children with ASD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Issues, Dyspraxia and many others. I feel the products would also be great for preschoolers who are still developing their motor skills.
The 8 pack of Play Foam is currently selling at £9.00, with the Helping Hands set selling at £7.14 which I think is a bargain! These two items, alongside many more great resources for children of all abilities are available from the Learning Resources Site, which you can find here.
If you would like to see the play foam in action you can do so in our youtube review:
To celebrate World Autism Day on the 2nd of April, Learning Resources UK are kindly giving one of my lovely readers the chance to win their own pack of Play Foam. To be in with a chance, please enter below. Good luck!