Category Archives: Activities

For the Love of Toys

The Christmas that Nigel was two, he found the toy hiding place. Yes, early on that boy was probably skeptical about Santa.

I had been on the couch breast-feeding four-month-old Aidan, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Nigel coming out of my room with an odd look on his face. I somehow knew that he had found the toys in the closet. I stood up with Aidan still on my breast (I got very good at that) and walked down the hall to where Nigel was standing. He walked back into my room and stood in front of the now-open closet and said in a flat but certain voice, “Toys.” Much to my surprise, not only had he had spoken (which he rarely did then), but he had also not taken any of the toys out. They were still neatly stacked in the closet where I had put them.

“Yes, those are toys,” I said. “But those toys are for Christmas, and if you open them now, then you won’t have any toys for Christmas.” It was a shot in the dark. I was expecting a full-blown tantrum, mostly because I figured of course the two-year-old wants the toys! But also because I figured there would be no way that he could comprehend what I had said to him.

After I explained about the toys, I closed the closet door, and much to my shock, he just quietly followed me out of the room. I asked him if he would like to watch a Disney video, and he got on the couch with the utmost compliance. It was as if he understood what I had told him about the toys and accepted it! I was floored!

Toys are rather magical things. They can prompt an autistic two-year-old to talk, and they can motivate his behavior in anticipation of receiving them. For years, they also served as therapy objects, teaching him how to play, how to engage in social behavior, and eventually encouraging spontaneous speech.

I wrote this post today because I had noticed several incoming searches for toys for autistic teens. I think the rule of thumb with what would be appropriate is along the same lines as my advice for books for autistic teens: it depends on their cognitive level and individual interests. The difference with selecting toys is that it also depends on their level of emotional maturity. Nigel, for instance, is fairly high cognitively, however, his emotional maturity is a few years behind his peers. I think this is why, going into eighth grade, he still loves his stuffed animals and toys from his favorite movies (Jurassic Park dinosaurs and Thomas the Tank Engine).  He is really not into video games, but he’s always had an interest in science, so he has a microscope, telescope, chemistry set, and volcano model. He is also entertained by robots and remote controlled cars. And Lego. That has to be his all-time favorite toy. I don’t think he’ll ever outgrow it! He hasn’t outgrown looking in closets for toys, either. I’ve had to get really creative as the years have gone by.


Most writers love to read. After all, reading was what prompted us to want to be writers – we had read something we enjoyed so much that we decided to try our hand at it. Reading can evoke deep emotion and provide a wonderful escape. One of my favorite quotes (by Virginia Woolf) concerns the love of reading:

“I have sometimes dreamt that when the day of judgment dawns . . . the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say . . . when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.'”

And so I was understandably ecstatic when my son, diagnosed with autism at age three, began reading six months later. I soon learned that it was called hyperlexia and that supposedly he did not comprehend what he read. But a lot of it he did comprehend. He started off by putting his wooden letter blocks together to form words (“w-o-l-f” when he wanted to watch Disney’s Peter and the Wolf) and “w-a-l-m-a-r-t” when a trip to Wal-Mart was mentioned). He would read the words printed on his PECS cue cards and respond accordingly. Then he progressed to reading words that his teachers, therapists, and I would write for him when PECS was not enough (“First finish work. Then play outside,” and “First dinner. Then more Lion King.”) Soon I noticed him reading Dr. Seuss and Disney books on the couch, and he was reading in his mind because I saw his eyes move across the pages. He was four. By the time he was six years old he was tested to be reading at fifth grade level, yet his speech was still largely echolalic.

I was just glad he was reading. Now, Nigel reads National Geographic issues cover to cover. (I walked into my office one night to find him with several issues spread out all over the floor and asked what he was doing. His response: “I’m just hanging out reading Nat Geos.” I love how he came up with the abbreviation himself.) He reads truckloads of books on science, history, wars, different cultures, natural disasters – many types of non-fiction. Alas, very little fiction, which is my favorite.

The only fiction Nigel will read is a book that’s been turned into a movie (like Jumanji or The Secret of NIMH). He did read The Cricket in Times Square (if there’s a movie of that, he hasn’t seen it), but it had animals in it, and he loves animals. He wishes they could talk. (And clean out their own litter boxes.)

I wrote this post because I had noticed several incoming searches for “reading and autistic teens.”  What do they like to read? The bottom line is that it depends on the teen’s cognitive level and their individual interests. Some still like to read the books they read as young children for the comfort and familiarity they offer. Many autistic teens like books about animals, fiction or non-fiction. Some, like Nigel, love history, geography, and movies. Some might be more inclined towards math and computers. Some might even like to read instruction manuals or the backs of cereal boxes. If they’re reading, it’s all good.