As the Dad of an autistic son, I will always remember taking him to public school for the first time.

Over the preceding year, therapists had been coming to our house through early intervention. But now that my son was three the school district needed to evaluate him to see what types of services he qualified for.

You can imagine what a bittersweet feeling it is to have your child tested… so you can find out what’s “wrong” with them. On the one hand, I was happy that my child will be getting some extra help. On the other hand, it’s also a very real reminder of the developmental delays my son will face.

So there we were walking into the evaluation room. I expected a sterile, intimidating classroom. What I was amazed to find was a room full of…

Toys!

Everywhere I (and my importantly, my son) looked, there were toys!

As the evaluation began, the occupational therapist showed us how a toy ice cream cone could help develop my son’s arm and finger strength. By gripping the ice cream cone and pushing on the colorful scoops, he would be developing the same muscles that would help him hold a pencil or use utensils.

It was like an epiphany. I thought “What a great idea. I can help my son by playing with toys and games.”

It’s not that educational toys were a new concept.  We had plenty of toys at home to help teach numbers and letters.  It was just at that moment, I felt like I had found a new way to connect with my son.

As the session went on, I asked our therapists: “What can I do in 15 minutes?”

It’s not that I only planned to spend 15 minutes with my son, but I would be thankful if I could get 15 quality minutes. You see, even beyond the challenge of finding quality time to spend with him outside of work and the daily grind, my son’s attention span was so short that he would only focus on a task for a few minutes before looking for something new. If you insisted on sticking with a non-preferred activity, he would take your hand and politely escort you to the nearest exit, so he could be left alone.

So, when I do get dedicated attention from my son, I want it to be quality time. I want to feel good about helping him work on skill development and I want him to have fun and remember play time with dad the way I’m going to remember it… as something that’s incredibly special.

From that point on, I started shopping for games and toys at teacher stores. I would hunt for gifts that incorporated motor skills or appealed to his love of words and language.

I used his alphabet center pocket chart to sort letters and identify words because, even though he cannot speak the words, he can identify and use written words to communicate. He wound up loving the activities… and it allowed us to spend even more quality time together.

A few years later, I got the opportunity to come work at Learning Resources. It was a no-brainer! I had personally experienced the difference that educational toys can make for a child.

Now, I have the opportunity to help get learning toys into the hands of kids, teachers, therapists, and parents who can be benefit from them the most. That’s what I call job satisfaction.

 

Learning is Where We Play: