Because 99% of the stuff in a toy store isn’t really made with the learning needs of autistic children in mind (not likely gonna see “For reading levels 6 and up and speech levels 1 and up!” on a toy) and because there’s no telling what the J-Man will play with and what he won’t, I’ve started making ‘folder games’.
These are just very cheap learning games made from manila folders, velcro dots, and other stuff that you can for the most part find around the house, or for almost no cost at the store. And when you’re done with them, you can just fold them up and slide them on a shelf.
The ones I’ve made lately center on matching words with objects (e.g. a square of one color, then he puts the word under it – or vice-versa) with some number and letter matching thrown in too. This seems like a big leap in mental effort for him, so his attention span is lower. But that’s just how he normally is with newer challenges, so it’s nothing unusual. He perseveres and soon amazes us with the things he can learn.
So I’d like to show you three examples of these folder games. I think the entire cost for these three activities took less than $2 out of the supply budget plus the time it took us to make them. And as a bonus, the folders themselves are reusable for countless other activities I haven’t finished yet.
This is just a manila folder with eight velcro dots stuck in it – four for the color squares, which are made from construction paper – and four for the label strips, which I printed off my computer as sheets of about 20 words each and then cut them out. All of these things are laminated with matching velcro dots on the back so they’ll stick to the folder.
The good thing about doing it this way is that you can swap out as many colors as you want and rearrange them in any order you want to avoid your kid memorizing it rather than learning it. You can reuse the folder for other labeling activities as well, like pictures of farm animals or people or whatever.
I’ve also been working on helping him identify numbers better, or at least communicating better what the number is because the starting sounds of most numbers are hard for him. Since he’s trying to read everything in the house, we’re trying out matching the word of the number with the numeral, though we’re still in the early stages with this.
This is a manila folder with library card pockets stuck in it. It’s just those pockets they put in the back of library books to slide the due date card in. These are kind of hard to find now, but I got them at a teacher supply store. They’re about 10-20 cents each if you buy a bunch. I got 8 pockets to fit in the folder (using their handy self-adhesive) and put velcro dots on each of them. You can use fewer pockets of course. I figured if I only wanted to do an activity with 3-4 choices, I just wouldn’t use the other pockets for that round.
I printed squares with the number words, laminated them, and put the matching velcro dots on them. Note the theme – buy lots of velcro dots! I just wrote the numerals on index cards, which he can then take, match with the word, and slide the card into the pocket. That sliding the card in gets him a little motor planning/OT work in there too! This whole activity is still hard for him, but we got as far as him placing a couple of the numerals on top of the correct pockets, so that’s a good start.
Because everything is removable, I can mix, match, and move around whatever I put in there, again so he can’t just memorize the game.
Letters are his stronger suit, so we’ve been doing some work on helping him recognize lowercase letters. He does this pretty well considering we’ve only started working on this, but there are some that stump him. A lowercase ‘L’ (usually just written as a vertical line) has him totally baffled, but that’s understandable of course. We figured, he’s got capitals down, let’s push him!
Note – this is the exact same manila folder used with the numbers activity above. If you plan out your activities, you can get multiple uses out of one folder.
Here I made the capital letter squares just like I did the number words above. Similarly, I wrote the lowercase letters on the index cards. The idea is to match lowercase with uppercase and slide the card in the pocket. As before, because everything is removable, I can mix and match letters and the order I put them in.
As I think about it, I wonder whether doing it the other way around would be better. In other words, print lowercase letters to put on the front of the pockets and use capital letters on the index cards. Hmmm. Might have to play around with that.
We also learned from his sight word cards that certain letter combinations when printed (like ‘tr’) show up really close together, and it seems like he’s thinking about them together as one letter, which really confuses him since it obviously isn’t. He takes a stab at it though, which is always nice to see. BTW – it sounds like he thinks ‘tr’ is ‘f’. If you look at them, that’s a really good guess on his part!
The tedious thing about making your own activities like this is laminating everything. Technically you don’t have to, but if you don’t, you’ll be remaking the pieces of the activity frequently, especially if your child is rough on paper. If they’re not, using heavy card stock paper might suffice.
You can get a fairly inexpensive laminator at Target for $25 and the sheets are about $7 for 25. One sheet is about 8.5″ x 11″ so you can laminate about five cards or countless word strips with just one. The laminator is effective but slow. I tend to keep a cup of coffee nearby for while I wait.
Pretty quickly, you’ll realize this is way cheaper than buying flash cards over and over or finding little bits of paper scattered all over your house. But then you have to cut out everything that’s laminated, which is even more tedious to me, though Mary doesn’t seem to mind.
If you’re willing to put forth some of this tedious effort, you can make all sorts of stuff for practically no money. We have plans in the works to produce a series to show you how to do this in more detail, give you some ideas for what else to make, and explain the reasoning behind the activities. I’ll probably need to break out the video camera. Yikes!
Happy folder making!