Assembling and Making Things
These are activities where something is assembled or created though art materials, construction materials, or materials found in nature.
A Beginning Level Maker likes to dis-assemble things, knock them down, or spread them around. Making a mess out of things and watching things fall. Ripping up things and pulling things off of a roll, as in toilet paper and paper towels, is fun.
An Intermediate Level Maker may start collecting things that are similar, like sticks and rocks or train cars. She may like putting items in a designated spot, and start to assemble wooden inset puzzles.
The Advanced Level Maker can construct with blocks, put Beany Baby Animal or little cars is a row. For some children with ASD, drawing is a passion and they may be amazingly talented. Many children with ASD have difficulty with fine motor tasks and learn to use art tools much later or avoid them altogether. These children need a lot of support to learn how to write or enjoy art materials. A shout out to the wonderful Occupational Therapist and their assistants who give these children the skills they need when writing and drawing are difficult.
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Additional language activities associated with cooking together include:
choosing recipes together
writing a grocery list together
grocery shopping together
putting food away after shopping
reflecting together on how well a dish tasted and what might be a good change for the next time if a dish was not satisfactory
writing notes on the recipe in a cookbook
taking food to a neighbor or family member
cleaning up after dinner.
Cooking food together is a wonderful activity. It functional and essential. People must eat and a child cook experiences being helpful while learning an essential daily activity and a host of other things along the way.
Language happens naturally while cooking. The meaning of words associated with cooking are demonstrated and experienced. One can talk about CRACKING AN EGG, STIRRING DOUGH, FORGETTING SALT, ADDING SUGAR, PREHEATING THE OVEN, BURNING THE CAKE. So many things happen while cooking and the child both sees and hears the words for all these cooking events and all these cooking feelings. Many dishes come with recipes thus a language activity with literacy built in.! Cookbooks with pictures intended for children are readily available and these are visual supports already created.
The experience of co-creation is a part of cooking together. Young children need a parent to help in order to manage many cooking tasks. Note the mother, in this picture, hand-over-hand helping her daughter to crack an egg. When this cake is done, it can be celebrated as a creation they made together.
Cooking can and does satisfy the need many people have for familiar food and yet there is a bit of variability inevitable in a home cooked dish. While a child can become familiar with the routine of cooking a set of favorite dishes, there are also mishaps and surprises such that the child become desensitized to a bit of the chaos that is always part of a co-creation project.
A child can also become desensitized to subtle variations in the flavor of familiar food. The child can be desensitized to food smells, food textures, food appearances . This helps a child not get stuck in Food Ruts-a dangerous risk for children with autism. Children with autism can develop a strong preference for processed, packaged, and pre-made foods because these foods offers a seductive sameness of smell, taste and texture. Cooking together (and making home cooked food the norm) is a partial defense against the dangers of processed foods and food ruts. While cooking together is not a magic solution to the very real food challenges of children with Autism, it is really helpful.
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Some of the best puzzle makers I have ever met were children with autism. If a family loves puzzles, assembling a puzzle together with a child who has ASD provides a relaxing way to just hang out together. It is also easy to mention and then repeat new vocabulary words with a child who is working on learning vocabulary. Picking a good puzzle for this is key. Some puzzles have many more vocabulary opportunities than others. Some puzzles offer good conversational opportunities as well. Recently, my grandson, ten years old, was delighted to talk about the table of chemical elements when we got his family a 1000 piece puzzle of the chemical element table. I found about three pieces but I conversed with him on the topic of chemistry for hours and we both learned a lot. If you want a family puzzle time, it may be important to insist from the beginning that no one person is doing the puzzle alone. I mean, I don't mind if other people do a puzzle without me but don't let your child with autism do the puzzle alone if you want it to be a family activity.
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Drawing and Painting, Cutting and Gluing Together
The experience of co-creating an art or craft project is challenging for many children with ASD. But understanding what the challenges are and then drawing children into arts and crafts allows children with ASD access to rich social and cultural experiences. When two or more people embark upon making something, it is generally a somewhat unstructured, unpredictable, noisy, and messy enterprise. In many cases, the end product is hard for a child with autism to picture so they don't know why they should be involved.
Adults can lessen the challenge by working to organize the maker process more than typically happens in a home or a classroom project. Supports include: Providing a picture of what the end product is going to be. Watching a YouTube video of a similar art project being completed. Providing a visual and then checking off steps as they are completed. Giving the child with ASD a specific task that he or she is likely to enjoy.
Parents and teachers should know that learning how to be a fully functioning member of a cooperative group completing a project together is often a many year long process. But solutions to every barrier to a child participating can be provided. And the payoff is related to this: adults with autism often end up with all the skills of employment needed save the ability to work cooperatively with others. It won't matter how long it took the child to learn the skills of cooperation if that child ends up with these skills.
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A Great Maker Activity is creating Paper Bag Masks and naming the Characters: Happy, Sad, Scared, Angry or Mad, Surprised, and OK.
I recommend adding OK to the basic five emotions because the most common emotional state is OK. You could also label this emotion Calm. It is nice to have a name for this. When adults support children trying to regulate away from extreme states, the state that the child is trying to get back to is OK/Calm.
If you are making masks with children who understand basic emotion words and are learning how to talk about more complex states of emotion, you might want to make masks for emotions like Frustrated, Worried, Excited, Pleased, Proud, Calm, Jealous, Silly, Disappointed. I hope you are a better illustrator than I am if you take this project on. However, there are line drawings to copy online that can be helpful. I would do my best with this. I have not made these paper bag masks with children but have used Halloween Type Masks to help children pretend play emotions.