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By Brenda Kosky-Deskin

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What Would Be In Your Autism Survival Kit?

August 1, 2012   Comments (0)

General Interest Learning Materials For People With Autism



I'm going to put a new twist on an old question... if you were trapped on a deserted island with a person who has Autism and could only have ten things, what would they be? (Okay, I know I'm cheating here, but I'm going to assume that the island we're going to has electricity, other basic life comforts and an endless supply of Tylenol!)

So, looking back on what has helped me, Michael – my 17-year-old son who has Autism – and the rest of our family the most over the years, here's what I'd put on my list...

Noise-cancelling headphones

They are not cheap, but Michael's Bose QuietComfort Headphones have been a wonderful investment, helping to alleviate much of his anxiety which I feel can so often be attributed to sensory overload. They have allowed him to stay at family functions, sit in synagogue quietly during his brother's Bar Mitzvah, enjoy his very first fireworks show just last month, and so many other activities that he would have otherwise had to miss out on. They also enable us to spend more time together as a family at home. Michael can hang out with me, my husband and our other son, Noah, in the family room enjoying his own video or app on his iPad while we watch a movie of our choice. He doesn't have to hear what we're listening to and vice versa. 

It's not only Michael who enjoys these auditory marvels of technology. Often, one of us will borrow his headphones to get a little break from some of Michael's louder "happy noises" that he has become famous for.


The iPad has improved the quality of Michael's life in so many ways that I really couldn't imagine life without it. It is so multifaceted, serving as an augmentative communication device, interactive calendar, visual timer, educational tool, data-collection instrument, and the list goes on, and on, and on. The iPad's functions and abilities are far too great to list, and are only limited by the apps we run on them, the number of which seems to grow exponentially every time I check into the App Store. It's no wonder that within a day of having it in his hands, Michael – who is faced with some significant hurdles with respect to language acquisition – learned the word "iPad" almost immediately.

Apple TV

I know this is starting to sound like an ad for Apple, but really, we have to give credit where credit is due, and Apple was responsible for finally filling a void that existed for so long for individuals on the Autism Spectrum. The Apple TV is a prime example. For those who aren't familiar with this clever device that's not much bigger than a hockey puck, think of it as in iPod Touch without a screen. Instead of watching your movies or listening to your music on the device itself, you watch on your tv screen. While many neurotypical individuals certainly enjoy the convenience and "cool factor" of this perhaps lesser known Apple product, it has been an absolute godsend to our family. No more DVDs or clumsy VHS tapes to scratch, lose or break. An entire library of Michael's movies is now safely stored on a hard drive out of sight and reach, conveniently "streamed" to this magical little box that allows Michael to rewind and fast-forward to his heart's content.

Laminator and a healthy supply of laminating sheets

Every member of our family is a self-professed techno-geek. Having said that, sometimes all the technology in the world can't replace a little reminder picture on the bathroom mirror to flush the toilet, or a home-made placemat that displays outlines indicating where each piece of silverware is to go. Although the iPad has certainly lessened the number of PECS we produce, there is definitely still a need for these helpful little pictures. While laminating does up your production cost, in the long-run it's a time- and money-saver by greatly extending the life of your printables that would otherwise be crumpled up or destroyed by liquid in no time. Buying laminating sheets in bulk yields great savings. I've found some great prices on 100-per-pack boxes of letter-sized 5 Mil pouches at the Lamination Depot.


I love Velcro! I know it sounds strange, but it's an absolute must! We use it to adhere an alarm to our fridge, stick pictures of therapists onto Michael's giant wall calendar to show him who is coming in each day, and the list goes on... I keep both the coins (remember you need the hooks or rough sides as well as the loops or smoother sides) and the strips on hand, and if you are a serious Velcro user like I am, you can buy it in bulk at places like IDL Displays where I purchase it by the wheel.

Laser printer

As I've mentioned, we often rely on printed icons and photos to help Michael with his every-day activities. Our printing needs however, pale in comparison to Michael's! One of his all-time favorite activities is watching a movie on his computer, pausing after every frame and printing a screen-grab.  Needless to say, this hobby can get pretty expensive! Since we didn't have the heart to deprive him of the pleasure he gets from printing and collecting these treasured photos (which incidentally, he keeps chronologically sorted) we replaced our inkjet printer with a laser printer about a year ago. It has been an indispensable tool in our household both for its speed and cost-effectiveness. For more details on this and other cost-saving measures, check out my older blog, How To Save Money On Autism Therapy Supplies.

Assessment Tools -  The ABLLs and AFFLS

The Assessment of Basic  Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) is an invaluable tool that tells us what skills and words Michael already has or knows and to what extent he has proficiency in each. It is upon this information that we then develop and modify his curriculum. Knowledge and abilities are conveniently divided up into 25 different domains including "Imitation", "Expressive Language", "Reading", "Spelling", "Fine Motor", etc. and an easy-to-use graph depicts your child's progress in a very visually friendly way.

In a similar fashion, the newer Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLs) focuses on, you guessed it, Functional Living Skills! We just received our copy last week and are already working our way through it. Like its language- and skills-based counterpart, it is telling us where Michael's strengths lie, and where we need to invest more time and teaching to make Michael more independent both at home and within his community.

Time Timer

Imagine someone telling you to wait for a bus, but neglecting to let you know when that bus would be coming. Or, you are asked to stop talking, but not told when – or if – you can resume. Honoring such requests would be difficult, to say the least. So, when we ask a person with Autism to do – or not do – something that is demanding or unpleasant, without offering some type of understandable timeframe for our request, the results can be, understandably, rather disastrous.

The Time Timer has been a wonderful tool, giving Michael a visual answer to that question he'd like to ask but cannot... "How long?" Very cleverly, the Time Timer depicts the passing of time visually, giving him a clear and concise understanding of how long he has to sit still for a haircut, wait for his Dad who promised to take him for a bike ride, or persevere through some handwriting worksheets he's not particularly fond of doing.

There are many Time Timer formats from which to choose:

Audible Time Timer 3-inch

Audible Time Timer 8-inch

Audible 12-inch Time Timer

Time Timer Software for the Mac or PC

Time Timer App for the iPhone

Time Timer App for the iPad

Visual Suite Computer Software

Whenever I need to make a picture symbol, Visual Suite is my go-to program. It's super-fast and easy to use. There's no messing around with borders in word processing programs or having to fiddle with expensive graphic design software. It's simply made for creating educational teaching materials and it does just this - beautifully. With a few clicks you can turn border printing on or off, and you can easily enter how big or small you want each of your little picture squares to be. Not only can you use one of the 15,000 pictures or illustrations they provide, but you can just as easily use one of your own photographs or an image that you find online. It's a must-have, for sure!

Our pug, Otis

Sorry hubby Steve and my youngest guy, Noah, but I'll have to send you two a postcard! Michael and I simply adore our most handsome and lovable pug, Otis. And, when you read about the recent research on how Pets Boost Social Skills In Kids With Autism, I'm sure you'll understand.



August 1, 2012   Comments (0)

General Interest Learning Materials For People With Autism

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