Monday, January 21, 2019

100 Simple Calm Down Strategies for Kids {Free Printable List Included!}

A huge free printable list of 100 calm down strategies for kids. These are simple strategies kids can use to calm down when angry, upset, frustrated, or overwhelmed. The free printable makes an excellent addition to a homemade calm down kit as well.

My son needs a lot of help self-regulating some days so we are constantly introducing him to new calm down techniques

We already make use of our visual calm down cards and the various DIY sensory hacks that I have made for him, but we still haven't pinpointed the exact sensory calming strategies that work best for him on a regular basis. Some days certain calm down strategies work, but fail to help the next day.

Thankfully this list of 100 calming strategies for kids is massive, so we certainly have lots of strategies left to try!

Free printable list of 100 calming strategies for kids

100 Simple Ways to Calm an Angry Child

This list of calm down techniques for kids covers a wide range of sensory inputs, from oral motor to proprioceptive. So whether you kid finds chewing calming or being squished calming, there is something for everyone on this list! They're perfect for home or school. No need to wonder how to calm down a kid when you have this huge list of sensory calming strategies for children handy!

  1. Blow bubbles
  2. Chew gum
  3. Chew on a chewy toy, necklace, or bracelet (see: DIY Chewelry Ideas & Best Chew Necklaces for Kids)
  4. Complete a puzzle
  5. Use a fidget
  6. Use a weighted lap cushion or weighted stuffed animal (see: 13 DIY Weighted Blanket Tutorials)
  7. Wear a weighted vest or pressure vest (see: 10 DIY Weighted Vest Tutorials)
  8. Stretch and fidget with a stretchy resistance band (see: Homemade Stretchy Resistance Bands Tutorial)
  9. Crawl through a sensory tunnel (see: Homemade Sensory Tunnel)
  10. Wear noise reducing ear muffs
  11. Suck on hard candies
  12. Diffuse essential oils such as lavender (see: Essential Oils for Autism)
  13. Use Rescue Remedy spray
  14. Listen to music
  15. Listen to audiobooks
  16. Do some yoga
  17. Lay or bounce on a ball
  18. Sing the ABCs forwards or backwards
  19. Build with blocks or LEGO
  20. Go for a run
  21. Swing (see: Homemade Sensory Swings)
  22. Pet a cat or dog
  23. Draw with chalk
  24. Go for a walk
  25. Go to a quiet place
  26. Paint a picture
  27. Do a maze, dot to dot, or word search
  28. Read a book
  29. Count slowly forwards or backwards
  30. Ask for a hug
  31. Take a drink of water
  32. Wrap up in a blanket (weighted or not)
  33. Invert head or hang upside down
  34. Close your eyes
  35. Hum or sing a song
  36. Do some deep breathing
  37. Go for a bike ride
  38. Draw a picture
  39. Play hopscotch (mix it up with Rocket Hopscotch)
  40. Jump on a trampoline (see: Trampoline Safety Hack)
  41. Climb a tree
  42. Play an instrument and make music
  43. Do a heavy work activity (see: 50 Heavy Work Activities for Kids)
  44. Use a calm down bottle
  45. Do animal walks
  46. Dance
  47. Skip
  48. Do a cartwheel
  49. Take a bubble bath
  50. Drink a smoothie through a straw
  51. Make silly faces in a mirror
  52. Drink a warm beverage
  53. Look at an hourglass, lava lamp, or aquarium
  54. Rip tissue paper (see: Tissue Paper Sensory Bin)
  55. Bend and twist pipe cleaners
  56. Have a snack
  57. Pop bubble wrap
  58. Play with play dough, slime, or silly putty
  59. Look at a photo album
  60. Blow a pinwheel
  61. Squeeze a stress ball (see: DIY Pokemon Stress Balls)
  62. Tightly hug or squeeze a pillow or toy
  63. Wear an eye mask
  64. Listen to nature sounds
  65. Spin a top
  66. Use a mini massager
  67. Climb into a body sock
  68. Make a craft
  69. Play a one player board game (we love Rush Hour for this!)
  70. Rub some scented lotion on
  71. Wear sunglasses
  72. Light a scented candle
  73. Journal
  74. Color a picture in a coloring book
  75. Play with shadow puppets
  76. Blow a feather
  77. Blow a pom pom around using a straw
  78. Take a bath with Epsom salts
  79. Ask for a break
  80. Push against a wall
  81. Play with a sensory bin (see: List of 130+ Sensory Bin Fillers)
  82. Crash into a crash pad (see: DIY No Sew Crash Mat Tutorial)
  83. Take a shower
  84. Suck on ice
  85. Do some joint compressions
  86. Brush hair and/or skin
  87. Blow bubbles in a cup of water
  88. Smell scratch and sniff stickers
  89. Turn off the lights
  90. Read with a flashlight
  91. Play I spy (check out our massive collection of I Spy Printables)
  92. Braid your hair
  93. Climb a ladder or rock wall
  94. Use positive affirmations
  95. Hug someone
  96. Doodle on paper, whiteboard, or similar
  97. Use visual calm down cards or posters (see: Free Printable Visual Calm Down Cards)
  98. Stretch
  99. Play with a pet
  100. Trace your hands with your finger
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Other Calm Down Ideas You'll Love

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Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Help Reduce the Intensity and Frequency of Meltdowns

Tips for reducing the intensity and frequency of autism meltdowns.

Cue the tears. And the screams. And the sometimes violent thrashing.

Or the rocking back and forth while covering their ears.

Those are just a few things you might encounter during an autism meltdown. They're signs that the world is just too much right now for your child. They're simply overwhelmed and overstimulated.

Now, meltdowns are tough to witness as a parent and you sometimes feel helpless, but they are a million times harder for your child.

However, there are some things you can do to help reduce the intensity and frequency of these meltdowns. Tips that will help you spot an incoming meltdown before it actually does. And tips that will help your child build self-regulation and coping skills in an effort to make meltdowns less painful for them too.

Tips on how to help reduce the intensity and frequency of autism meltdowns

Autism Meltdown Tips: How to Reduce the Intensity and Frequency of Meltdowns

First of all, remind yourself that autism meltdowns are rarely about the little things. Although it probably feels that way some days.

It's important to remember that there is likely something else going on though. Some kind of slow build up that brought your child to the point of an autistic meltdown.

Do you remember my post about what is a meltdown? It's a good introduction to meltdowns vs. tantrums, in case you are new to the world of meltdowns.

Anyway, it was originally too long so it got broken down into two parts. Well, this post about reducing the intensity and frequency of autistic meltdowns is part II. In it, I share some tips that I hope you will find helpful!

Because, after all, it is is possible to find patterns and triggers. Things you can use to help spot potential meltdowns before they occur.

Tips on how to help reduce the intensity and frequency of autism meltdowns
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Signs That Your Early Reader May Have Hyperlexia

How to know if your early reader is hyperlexic, including a definition for what hyperlexia is and what the signs of hyperlexia are.

When J first started reading just before he turned two, I was shocked. He couldn't honestly be reading, could he?

So I started spelling random words before him and he would read them back to me time and time again.

I remember thinking, wow, this kid is really something special

And he is, but as he grew older and other issues started appearing, I started seeing a gap between his amazing ability to read and his speech.

I searched and searched, to no avail. I simply could not figure out what was going on.

Did he have sensory processing disorder?

Did he have autism?

Was he just gifted and really sensitive?

Years later I would learn that J has hyperlexia and it was exactly what I was looking for in my original searches.

So what is hyperlexia and its signs? And how is it different from early reading?

Signs of hyperlexia - how to tell if your early reader is hyperlexic

Hyperlexia or Early Reader?

Hyperlexia is a precocious self-taught ability to read at an early age, usually before the age of five, accompanied by intense fascinations with letters and numbers, as well as significant difficulties in oral language. So a child with hyperlexia usually has speech problems and difficulties with comprehension.

In contrast, an early reader develops normally and are considered neurotypical with no issues with speech and/or comprehension. These kids can be classified as hyperlexia type I, as proposed by Dr. Treffert. Although not everyone agrees on this classification system.

Signs of Hyperlexia

Here are some of the signs of hyperlexia, above and beyond the self-taught ability to read at an early age:

1. Intense fascinations with letters, numbers, maps, and logos

These fascinations can almost be OCD-like in nature. Often these kids don't want to play with anything other than whatever they are fascinated with. You can read more about these intense fascinations here.

For instance, Kara shared in our hyperlexia support group that her son "began carrying a letter W magnet around with him everywhere around 18 months. It was his security item!" We had similar experiences as J would play and carry around letters everywhere he went. His security item was an English/Spanish ABC flashcards book that he carried everywhere (until it was beyond recognizable)!

2. Significant difficulties with verbal language

Kids with hyperlexia struggle with verbal language, both understanding it and speaking it themselves. Hyperlexic children struggle understanding "WH" questions and often appear to be selective listeners. They rarely initiate conversations, which was a huge telltale sign for us, and their speech is often echolalic in nature. They also struggle understanding abstract language and are literal thinkers. You can read more about the conversation skills of kids with hyperlexia here.

3. Develop normally, but regress around 18-24 months

Unfortunately for me, my memory is fuzzy around this time period because I was so pregnant with K at the time, but I do know that J's fascination with letters became evident around 19 months. I don't recall him really regressing, but after speaking with other families, they did notice a period of regression with their children during this time. For instance, Chelsey shared in our hyperlexia support group that her son "regressed at 18 months and lost all of his words, except for numbers, by 2 years of age."

4. Awkward social skills

Hyperlexic kids are awkward socially, which isn't surprising since most of these kids also receive an autism diagnosis alongside the hyperlexia label. J has always bonded better with adults instead of other kids and after discussions with other families, they have noticed a similar pattern with their kids. Their difficulties with verbal language likely contributes to the social skills difficulties, which I have definitely noticed with my son when he interacts with his classmates.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child May Have Hyperlexia

If you think your child may have hyperlexia, then start by reading everything you can about hyperlexia and ask for a referral to a speech pathologist and/or psychologist. Here are some other helpful resources that you may be interested in:

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This post is part of a monthly series called Parenting Children with Special Needs. This month's topic is recognizing signs and you can find the other posts regarding this topic below.

Seeing the Signs of Childhood Trauma | STEAM Powered Family

Signs of hyperlexia - how to tell if your early reader is hyperlexic
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Monday, January 14, 2019

Soap Foam Dough {Sensory Dough Recipe for Kids}

How to make soap foam dough - a fun homemade play dough alternative for kids! It's a great sensory dough recipe for kids of all ages.

We have created a new favorite sensory dough recipe: soap foam dough! 

This soap foam dough quickly became a favorite of my youngest son's. It is moldable like play dough, but snaps cleanly like silly putty. 

It is super simple to make, uses only two ingredients (or three if you want colored dough), and takes only a few minutes to prepare. 

It uses ingredients you likely already have on hand, requires no cooking, and is easy to clean up since it just melts when water is added to it. 

Intrigued yet? 

I know you are. 

How to make soap foam dough - a fun homemade play dough alternative for kids

What is Soap Foam Dough?

Soap foam dough grew out of my kids' love for soap foam sensory bins. It makes a lovely alternative to play dough and is way easier to make. Like I mentioned above, there's no cooking involved, like traditional play dough. There's also no weird ingredients that you might not have on hand (like cream of tartar).

It's just a simple homemade play dough alternative that's a fun sensory experience for kids.

Soap foam dough - easy two ingredient sensory dough recipe for kids using soap foam from And Next Comes L

My three year old wanted to make red, purple, and green dough. Isn't it lovely?

Soap foam dough - easy two ingredient sensory dough recipe for kids using soap foam from And Next Comes L

Soap foam dough recipe for kids from And Next Comes L

But what is really neat about soap foam dough is that it snaps cleanly like silly putty.

Soap foam dough recipe for kids from And Next Comes L

Since soap foam dough can snap in half like it does, it makes it the perfect sensory dough for exploring fractions. Or for stacking.

Sensory play idea for kids: soap foam dough recipe from And Next Comes L

Sensory play idea for kids: soap foam dough recipe from And Next Comes L

The dough looks even more pretty when the different colors are combined. The end result is a beautiful marbled dough.

Sensory play idea for kids: soap foam dough recipe from And Next Comes L

Sensory play idea for kids: soap foam dough recipe from And Next Comes L

Sensory play idea for kids: soap foam dough recipe from And Next Comes L

This dough cleans up really easily since it is made with soap, but before cleaning up, why not turn the soap foam dough into some colorful, messy oobleck. Simply add some water to the soap foam dough until it has an oobleck like texture (usually it's a 1:1 ratio of water and cornstarch).

Messy sensory activity for kids with oobleck from And Next Comes L

Ready to make soap foam dough? Find out how to make this sensory dough below.

How to Make Soap Foam Dough - A Fun Sensory Dough for Kids!

This soap foam dough is just one of the beautiful activities you can find in my book Pop! Squirt! Splash!, but to give you a little taste of what you will find in the book, I will show you how to make this beautiful dough.

To make soap foam dough, you will need:

To make soap foam dough, combine the foaming hand soap with the liquid watercolors in a bowl. I actually make my own foaming hand soap with castile soap. Slowly add the cornstarch. Mix and knead the dough until it is smooth. You may need to sprinkle up to 1/2 tbsp more cornstarch into the dough or add extra soap if needed. It should not be sticky and the dough should snap in half when you put pressure on the ball of dough. Here's a video tutorial for making the dough:

Other Sensory Dough Recipes to Try

Love this activity? Well, you can find it and many more wonderful hands-on activities for kids in the brand new book Pop! Squirt! Splash! Hands-on Activities for Kids Using Soap, Water, & Bubbles! Or take a peek at these other fabulous activities:

Soap Shaving Bookmark from Sugar Aunts
Water Play: Sorting Land & Water Animals from Still Playing School
Floating Soap Boats from Fireflies & Mudpies
Gross Motor Color Mixing from House of Burke
Soap Cloud Painting from Mamas Like Me

Pop! Squirt! Splash! available as print, kindle, or eBook from And Next Comes L

How to make soap foam dough - a fun homemade play dough alternative for kids
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Friday, January 11, 2019

How to Advocate for Your Child When No One's Heard of the Diagnosis

Tips on how to advocate for your child when your child has an unfamiliar diagnosis because, after all, what is hyperlexia?

Advocating for a child's special needs is easily one of the most exhausting parts about being a parent. But, it is even more complicated when no one has heard of the diagnosis or, on the off chance that they have, know so little about it that I have to spend extra time educating them on the diagnosis itself before I can even begin to discuss what that diagnosis means for my child and his needs. Or they just don't want to consider the impact of this diagnosis if the child has other diagnoses.

So you can see why advocating for my child's needs is one of the most frustrating and exhausting parts about raising a child with hyperlexia.

A typical exchange goes something like this...

My child has hyperlexia.

 - Oh, what's hyperlexia?


But I get it. I really do because up until late 2014, I had never heard of it either. However, the lack of awareness and thus, knowledge of hyperlexia makes it that much trickier to get my son's needs met at school or by a speech therapist or by any other professional that he comes in contact with.

So how do you advocate for your child when no one has heard of the diagnosis?

These tips that I'm going to share aren't just relevant to the diagnosis of hyperlexia (which I remind you, there is no official diagnosis for it). These tips can be used for other rare diagnoses that your child may have.

Advocacy tips for hyperlexia families

Tips for Advocating for Your Child When No One's Heard of the Diagnosis

1. Educate yourself. 

Make sure that you stay up to date with all the latest research and information regarding the particular diagnosis. The more you know about the particular syndrome, condition, label, diagnosis, or whatever you want to call it, the better. Read up on the strategies that work. Connect with other parents to find out what is working or isn't working for their children (you can join my Hyperlexia + Autism Support Group here). Keep a journal of what does and does not work for your child.


2. Supply teachers and professionals with cheat sheets. 

One of my favorite ways to educate the professionals involved in my child's life is to hand them the information that they need. You can even highlight the most important parts to make it easily digestible for busy teachers and professionals. Here are my favorites to give to J's teachers:

3. Write a letter explaining your child's diagnosis and traits specific to him/her. 

When J started grade one, the teacher encouraged all parents to write a short letter or email about their child, including their strengths and weaknesses. Pretty sure she was expecting a short paragraph with about 4-5 sentences. I practically sent her a novel! But, I think she appreciated it! So even if your teacher doesn't request this kind of letter upfront, I think it's a great habit to get into. It's a great way to introduce your child's complex needs and abilities to them. After all, they will be spending a lot of time with your child over the school year.

4. Educate those around you. 

The only reason why it's difficult to advocate for a diagnosis no one's hear of is simply because, well, no one has heard of it. The only way for it to become a known diagnosis is to talk, share, and educate those around you. Explain hyperlexia (or whatever your relevant unknown diagnosis is) to those around you. You'd be surprised at how well word of mouth works!

For instance, my blog is obviously my platform for spreading awareness about hyperlexia and I have a friend who is a special education teacher at a school nearby. She passed my blog along to the parents of a little boy fitting the hyperlexic criteria. Then when our children were paired in a program some time later through Autism Services, the mom asked if I happened to be the mom behind this blog. She told me how wonderful it was to read about my son's hyperlexia because it was like reading about her very own son.

5. Don't let other diagnoses overshadow any others.

One thing that we have encountered is professionals practically ignoring J's hyperlexic label. They try to work with him based off of his autism label alone instead of considering what his hyperlexia might offer in terms of therapy. I believe that his hyperlexia diagnosis is just as important in the therapeutic process as his autism one, so to disregard that, is to disregard his overall being. Progress will never happen if you cannot tap into his strengths.

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Conversation Skills in Kids with Hyperlexia

Tips on how to help a child with hyperlexia improve their communication and conversation skills.

Carrying a conversation with my son with hyperlexia is often short and sweet or, for a long time, it was nearly non-existent. Filled with speech errors, pronoun reversals, and echolalia, the conversational skills of kids with hyperlexia can be a bit awkward at times. 

So I'm going to give you the low-down on what their speech skills look like during conversation... 

I'm also sharing 10+ tips for improving conversation skills in kids with hyperlexia.

Hyperlexia teaching strategies that will help improve conversation skills in hyperlexic kids

What Conversation in Hyperlexia Looks Like

One of the biggest red flags for me when J was younger was the lack of conversation. 

When he was almost four and K was almost two, I could hold a better back and forth exchange with K than I could with J. And when I could get a little bit of a conversation going with J, it was echolalic in nature and usually ended quickly.

It was frustrating to know that my son who could read and spell practically anything could struggle with his oral language so much. I kept wondering why the huge disconnect? Once I learned about hyperlexia, though, then it all made sense.

Keep in mind though there seems to be a lot of variance in the conversation skills of kids with hyperlexia, much like how autism is a spectrum. 

However, here are some typical features of a hyperlexic child's speech and communication skills:

  • Difficulty answering WH- questions
  • Lots of echolalia (i.e., echoes language from previous conversations, movies, games, books, etc. without modifying it appropriately)
  • Pronoun reversals
  • Problems with voice control like volume, tone, and intonation
  • Difficulty with idioms, metaphors, and other figures of speech 
  • Trouble making inferences
  • Listen selectively
You can see why carrying on a conversation with a hyperlexic child would be difficult when there are all of these issues in their language skills.

Another Possible Unique Characteristic of Hyperlexic Conversational Skills?

Now, J is obviously the only hyperlexic child that I have personally known and/or spoken with, so I wanted to include a separate section dedicated specifically to his speech skills.

I'm not entirely sure whether this unique characteristic is specific to hyperlexia or if it is specific to him, but it is definitely worth pointing out in case it is a hyperlexic trait (and research just hasn't mentioned it yet).

One of the most recurring "issues" (I use the word issues loosely here) that we deal with is J's canned response of "I don't know." Whenever J is asked a WH- question, he automatically responds with, "I don't know."

Most people assume he genuinely does not know the answer, but that's incorrect most of the time. I have to frequently remind all the teachers, family friends, and professionals in our life that J struggles with WH- questions and as a result, requires extra time to process the question.

So when he answers immediately with "I don't know," it's not that he doesn't know the answer. It's just that he needs a few extra seconds to process and comprehend what he was asked. So if you wait a few seconds after he responds with his canned response, then he does answer almost always with an appropriate response. His canned response is his way of buying himself some time to process the question.

We are currently working on encouraging him to say phrases such as "let me think about that" or "give me a second to think" instead of his normal "I don't know" response to avoid the confusion during conversation with others.

But until then, please give him those few extra seconds that he needs.

Tips for Improving Conversation Skills in Kids with Hyperlexia

**Please keep in mind that I am not a speech therapist. These tips and ideas are ones that we have had personal success with and/or I have learned about through my research on hyperlexia.**

1. Give them time to respond.

First and foremost, give your kids a chance to respond! Remember that WH- questions are particularly challenging for hyperlexic kids, so they may need the extra time to process what you were asking. 

2. Use cloze statements and open-ended statements instead of WH- questions.

You're more likely to get a conversation going with a hyperlexic child if you rephrase your WH- questions as a statement where they can easily fill in the blanks. 

For example, instead of asking, "What did you do at school today?", I could say, "Tell me three things you did at school today." It's way more effective! You can use these free printables to practice basic questions and prompts:

3. Use speech scripts to model conversation skills.

Kids with hyperlexia have to be taught social and speech skills very specifically. So if you want them to be a good conversationalist, then you'll need to teach them exactly what to say when someone asks them a question. You can write your own speech scripts for practically any situation. 

For instance, today we set up a lemonade stand with my boys. Before we set up, we reviewed common questions and answers that they may encounter and practiced them. We practiced things such as:

  • "How much does a glass of lemonade cost?" - "It costs $1."
  • "How are you going to spend the money that you make?" - "I'm going to buy Pokemon cards (or whatever they intend to do with the money).
  • "I would like one cup of lemonade and one rice krispie square. How much would that cost?" - "That would cost $2.50."
  • etc.
4. Practice knock-knock jokes.

This one may seem a bit unusual, but if you think about it, knock-knock jokes follow a predictable pattern and require two people interacting back and forth in order to make the joke work successfully. So even if the jokes are formulaic in nature, these kids learn to exchange words back and forth and even practice WH- questions, two skills important in having an actual conversation with another person.

5. Read books that use speech bubbles.

I've discussed this topic before, specifically as it pertains to comprehension, but books such as Elephant & Piggie books visually displays a conversation. Kids with hyperlexia can see how pronouns are modified between person to person and how to answer WH- questions appropriately, among many other things.

Read these types of books out loud together with each person taking the role of another person.

Alternatively, you could read play scripts together with older children as it would have the similar effect of teaching the back and forth nature of conversation.

6. Use an interesting tone while speaking or even sing the questions.

Kids with hyperlexia appear to listen selectively, so sometimes you need to get their attention first before you dive into conversation.

Plus, kids with hyperlexia tend to listen to the tone of your voice over the actual content of your speech.

You could try whispering in their ear, singing really loud or goofy, or even talking with a song-like, high-pitched voice. Sometimes even singing the question helps tremendously!

7. Write it out!

It's no secret that these kids can read and love to read, so use that to your benefit. While asking your questions verbally, write them on a white board or chalkboard or piece of paper. That way the kids can read and hear what you are asking.

8. Expand on what the child says.

Always reinforce what your child does say in response to your questions, even if it's echolalic in nature. So if I ask, "What do you want for lunch today?" and they respond with "Sandwich", I can expand on that by saying, "Sandwiches are my favorite things to eat for lunch. Let's find some bread. Where can we find some bread for our sandwiches?"

If they respond with an echolalic phrase, then you can say, "Oh I remember that that is from the [insert title of book or movie that it comes from here]. But when I ask about what you want for lunch, you can say, 'I want to eat _____ for lunch.'"

9. Teach body language and eye contact directly.

Body language, positioning, and eye contact are all important things involved in conversations with others. However, you have to teach this skills to hyperlexic kids in a concrete and direct ways.

For example, if you want your child to make eye contact with you while having a conversation, then use visual cues to make this happen. I sometimes like to hold up a set of fingers by my eyes and ask, "How many fingers am I holding up?" That always gets J's attention and makes him look at my face, even if it's for a couple of seconds. Alternatively, you could hold up written statements by your face for your child to read out loud during conversation practice.

Also, get down to their level so that they can see your eyes. It also shows that you are interested in listening to what they have to say.

10. Avoid using idioms or metaphors while speaking.

You can read more about how to teach idioms and metaphors to kids with autism or hyperlexia here, but I do want to touch on this topic briefly here as well.

Figures of speech are difficult for hyperlexic kids because of their literal thinking. So avoid saying cliches, idioms, or metaphors during conversation until you can teach them exactly what they mean.

One of our favorite ways to practice idioms and metaphors is with this simple book called It's Raining Cats and Dogs: An Autism Spectrum Guide to the Confusing World of Idioms, Metaphors and Everyday Expressions. It is a wonderful visual book!

11. Use social stories to teach the hidden rules of conversations

Finally, use social stories about conversations. Social stories are a wonderful tool for explaining and teaching all those weird hidden rules of conversation that you and I take for granted, but are tricky for our little hyperlexic learners. You can find out how to write a social story or check out these free social stories.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Intense Fascinations of Hyperlexia & How to Use Them to Help the Hyperlexic Child

Hyperlexic kids often have intense fascinations, usually with letters. Let's look at how to use these fascinations to help a child with hyperlexia.

As I continue to dive deeper into the ABCs of hyperlexia series, I am amazed and surprised by how many subtle characteristics of hyperlexia other parents can relate to, the characteristics that you likely won't find on a hyperlexia fact sheet. For instance, I recently mentioned how my son J gives a canned response of "I don't know" when answering a WH question in this conversation skills post and it turns out it might be kind of common with these kids. Many parents in my support group told me that their hyperlexic children do it too! How interesting!

I remember when I first blogged about my son's hyperlexia that a huge hyperlexia advocate, Dr. Treffert, reached out to me and told me how valuable it was to listen to parents of hyperlexic children because we are the experts. At the time, I hardly felt like an expert on anything, but I can see what he means. Us parents of hyperlexic children have a wealth of information to share about what day-to-day life with hyperlexia looks like. So in preparation for this post, I reached out to fellow hyperlexic parents to find out more about what their kids are fasincated by.

It's no secret that kids with hyperlexia have an intense fascination with letters, numbers, logos, maps, or visual patterns. 

But what do those fascinations look like in daily life? 

And what do those fascinations turn into? 

And what other things do these kids become fascinated with?

Kids with hyperlexia have intense fascinations with letters, numbers, maps, logos, and more! Find out how to use these fascinations to help the hyperlexic child learn new skills

The Intense Fascinations of Kids with Hyperlexia

I think for most parents of hyperlexic children the first thing they notice is the intense fascination with letters. These kids look for them everywhere, point them out everywhere, play with alphabet toys constantly, and turn practically every object possible into a letter. 

Here are some examples of how this fascination with letters plays out in day-to-day life:

  • Looking at license plates and reading and/or tracing the letters and numbers on the plates
  • Watching all of the credits at the end of a movie
  • Enjoying movie credits more so than the actual movie itself
  • Playing with alphabet magnets constantly and arranging them into alphabetical order or writing words
  • Singing ABCs both forwards and backwards
  • Preferring to watch TV and movies with the closed captions or subtitles turned on
  • Reading signs around the neighborhood and/or tracing the letters on the signs if within reach
  • Making letters out of any material possible such as crayons, cars, rocks, sticks, etc.
  • Fonts - J loves to write in fun fonts, trace his fingers over fancy lettering, and even taught himself cursive handwriting in less than 20 minutes last summer.
  • Learning other languages (most often self-taught) - Russian is a popular language of choice among hyperlexics!
Numbers quickly became the next fascination for my son with hyperlexia, but he also has hypernumeracy so obviously his fascination is really intense. And trust me, it is some days, but definitely not as intense as it was when he was about three years old!

Here's how this intense fascination with numbers can look in these kids:

  • Calendar and important dates, such as holidays and birthdays - In fact, J usually reminds me of birthdays so I don't ever miss them!
  • Time and clocks, including learning to tell the time at an early age
  • Temperature and thermostats
  • Calculators - We never left the house for years without a calculator or two in our hands!
  • Page numbers and table of contents - J never asks about the title of book. He always wants to know how many chapters and how many pages the book has!
  • Speed signs
  • Nutrition labels - J loves looking at how many grams or calories food provides.
  • Scores and timers at sporting events
  • Large numbers like zillions, trillions, and all the way up to a googol
  • Counting to large numbers over and over
  • Counting backwards
  • Skip counting, forwards and backwards, at an early age
  • Money
  • Watching movies or TV with timers showing - J used to refer to movies that he wanted to watch by their total length in hours, minutes, and seconds versus saying the title of the movie.
  • Roman numerals
  • Dot-to-dots
  • Tally marks
Another fascination common in kids with hyperlexia is with maps and geography. These kids love to learn about countries, capitals, and more! I suspect my younger brother could be hyperlexic and in addition to him reading at a super early age, he knew some of the most ridiculous facts and information about every single country in the world when he was little. Here are some of the topics that kids with hyperlexia often get fascinated with:

  • States/provinces and capitals
  • World capitals
  • Studying and reading atlases
Kids with hyperlexia also love to doodle. Like all the time. I've shared some of our favorite doodling materials before, but J's favorites have always been drawing with chalk, drawing on his Magna-Doodle, and doodling non-stop on paper. And actually, letting these kids doodle is a wonderful strategy to implement at home and/or in the classroom.

The periodic table is also extremely appealing to kids with hyperlexia. Why wouldn't it be with all of those letters and numbers all over it?!

Another fascination of kids with hyperlexia is space and planets. J absolutely loved learning everything he could about planets and space from about age 5 to 6. He would create constellations and planets out of random objects. He particularly loved labeling how hot or cold each planet is with their temperatures.

I also polled other parents of hyperlexic children in my Facebook support group about their children's intense fascinations and here were a few other topics that came up:

  • Mazes
  • Checklists
  • Flashcards
  • Polygons and shapes in general
  • Building signs
  • Logos
  • Atoms
  • Human body parts
  • Encyclopedia type books
  • Traffic lights
  • Famous people like presidents or composers
  • Fruits and vegetables - Chelsey shared how her son possesses "an encyclopedic memory of each and every one from around the world. He still likes to carry fruit everywhere and will often sneak it in to bed so he can cuddle it throughout the night."
  • Warning signs and stickers - Sandra shared how her hyperlexic child loves "warning signs (wet floor!) and warning stickers, like the ones on the car's sun visor containing the air bag warning."

How to Use These Fascinations to Help Kids with Hyperlexia

Sometimes it seems these kids can get stuck on one topic for a long time and I know how tiresome it can be to hear about the same things over and over again. Trust me, there are days when I cringe a bit when I hear J say, "I have a math question for you!" because I hear it approximately eleven billion times per day.

Or how he lives and breathes all things traffic light related.

But here's the thing...I will never ever try to discourage his fascinations. They are the key to engaging and connecting with him. 

I have already talked about how important obsessions in autism are for that reason.

So how does that translate into everyday life?

Well, here are a few things that I have done using J's fascinations:

  1. To encourage him to eat his lunch at school, I use a lunch box with a chalkboard in it. He can feel free to doodle if he likes, but I use it as a checklist of his lunch. I always write the menu down for him in order of importance. He always eats the food in the order it is presented in the checklist. Then he checks off the item once he finishes eating it.
  2. J goes through periods of time where he is absolutely terrified of bath time. We don't know what triggers it, but I have solved our bath time troubles (at least for now!) by handing him a translucent ruler and telling him to measure the bath water. Once it reaches the desired measurement, then I shut the water off. So we don't have bath time at our house we have 5 inch baths or 3 inch baths.
  3. We used J's love of numbers and winning games to encourage him to try something new such as sitting in a new chair at mealtimes.
  4. I ask my son hard math questions to connect with him and engage him with others when his body and mind become disorganized.
  5. To encourage my son to tell me about his school days, I ask him to list three things he did during the day instead of asking him a WH question. He loves lists so much that he is always motivated by them!
  6. Read books and come up with activities based around their fascinations. For instance, to tap into J's fascination with traffic lights, we do traffic light activities such as this suncatcher craft.
  7. When J started kindergarten, he still struggled with getting dressed by himself. Not because he didn't know how, but because he would not be motivated to do it. So I fixed that issue by timing him. I challenge him to try to put his socks on in less than 15 seconds or his shirt on in less than 30 seconds. Works awesome! And works great for almost anything he resists wanting to try. A point system also works well! I like to give him random points for trying new things and new foods. 
The bottom line is this...use their fascinations to encourage exploration of new topics or to work on new skills.

Use these fascinations and interests to develop social skills or speech or any other area that they may be struggling with.

Use their unique ability to their advantage.

And always embrace their quirkiness. Our kids are incredible!

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Kids with hyperlexia have intense fascinations with letters, numbers, maps, logos, and more! Find out how to use these fascinations to help the hyperlexic child learn new skills
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