Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What can you do with a box? A contest.

This is a contest and you are invited to compete. I particularly hope that the students from UMD's Communication Sciences and Disorders Program will compete, but really, if you are reading this, you can enter this contest. The contest is an exercise in seeing what makes an interesting toy for the purpose of social interation and language intervention.

"What" I am often asked "is a good toy for a child with autism?" I wander through toys stores, hardware stores, office supply stores, and the Goodwill looking for good toys. I know um when I see um. But I do have to look because lots of toys are not very useful for this purpose. I went looking for some new toys, recently at Mall of America, in Minneapolis and I did not see much of interest in the toy stores. It is harder for me, though, because I am always looking for a toy that will both interest the child who has autism but also support communication--so it can't be such a good toy that the child forgets he or she has a play partner. I need a semi-interesting toy, not a compelling toy. I am liable to have to wrestle a compelling toy away from the child at the end of our play session and that is no fun.

What did I bring home from Mall of America? I brought home a black cardboard box. It had five beautiful tea cups in it, each about the size of a coffee mug minus the handle. I saw them and I wanted not only the cups, I wanted the box. I knew that this box would be an interesting toy because:

1) a box is a familiar object but it can contain many different things. It has the advantage of being both predictable and novel at the same time. Admittedly, some children with ASD will want to know what is in a box before they are interested in opening it, but for most the children I have known, seeing what is in the box is fun.

2) a box is basically a hole where you can put things so it is not just taking things out of a box that is fun, putting things into a box is also fun. Putting things into the right shaped hole is a familiar, and successful recipe for "interesting activity". Examples: mouths, inset puzzles, shape sorters, bathtub drains, cups, buckets, basket ball hoops, ice fishing, crochet, the hole in the ground where the golf ball disappears. Birth to death, people seem interested in activities that involve this basic activity of putting objects into a hole. I am not going to go any farther with this birth to death idea here, but you could.

3) this box had five holes in a row, equal in size, and mysteriously black. Symmetry is very interesting to the human eye and this box had a simple but interesting symmetry and it was an interesting color.

4) there is a lid to this box. It opens and shuts. Like a door--which is another familiar but interesting phenomenon. Things can go in and disappear when you put on the lid, and then re-appear when you take off the lid. Very early on we get interested in this situation where things disappear and then reappear and games that capitalize on this framework tend to be fun.
So, did I mention that I bought not one but three sets of tea cups? So, I actually have three boxes. But I am willing to give one away to you. Just send me your idea for how to use this box. Please include the following:

1) What would be your reason for using the box? One might want to call this a learning objective but I won't exclude you from the contest if you just state a reason.

2) What materials would you use? Something will have to added to this box to make it a good toy--what will you add?

3) How are you and the child going to interact with this box? What activity do you have in mind?

4) What else should I know if I want to use your idea?

Please send me your ideas in the comments section below or in an email to by the end of November. I will publish, in a future blog, all the ideas and with my set of three impartial judges (don't know who yet) I will pick a winner and that person will win the box. If you include an email address, I can even let you know that you won the box. And, if you live in the United States, I will send you the box. Otherwise, you will have to come to Duluth and pick it up.


Anonymous said...

I would use the box as a combination sensory/descriptive language/joint attention game.

Put a small desireable toy, such as Hot Wheel car, in the bottom of each hole. Cover each toy with a different tactile object, such as squishy ball/Koosh ball/hard plastic box/liquid filled shape/large pom-pom. Use the box lid to initially build in attention by rapping on it and saying "What's in here?" Wait for child to indicate you should remove the lid or to try to remove lid. If they don't, you remove the lid, rap on the box and again say "What's in here". Demonstrate lifting an object and finding a toy, then use the toy for a short time. Rap on the box again and say "which one?" while moving hand over choices. Have child indicate which one they want and say "Kadin wants squishy" and let him remove it. Allow child a short time to play with toy and then point for him to put it back and say "car in". Replace squishy and lid and start again. Encourage verbal or sign requesting, using descriptives, experiencing textures and increasing turn taking.

I can elaborate on Monday,

Anonymous said...

I would put a dice in each slot with a picture of real objects. I would have the real objects placed outside of the box. Which ever number was rolled the child and the adult would count out each object and talk about what the object is used for and demonstrate how to use it. Example: straw,fork,napkin etc...

Tahirih said...

Here is L.H.'s idea about what to do with a box. She sent it to my email address but I thought it would be fun for everyone to read each others ideas. I also want to mention that this idea creates a "Route Game" which is a wonderful strategy for teaching language. See more about Route Games at:

A box can be so many things to so many different individuals. It can be a spaceship ready to take you to the moon, or a time machine taking you to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It can be a container for hope and dreams, or a keeper of secrets. It can be anything you imagine it to be, as long as you take the time to imagine it. For this specific box I was a little unsure of how to begin, than it came to me. Since we have the possibility of 3 boxes I will use each of them. Box A) For this box five items are needed each in separate cups covered in plastic wrap, to be set in the box. You will need 2 cups of flour, 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of hot water, 2 Tablespoons cooking oil, and 4 teaspoons cream of tartar. Box B) 5 different colors of “kid safe” food coloring containers, each with a matching color shape to be taped on the walls in the room. Box C) five different picture cards, or objects, each with a matching picture to be used in Box A.
Take the matching picture cards and tape them to the inside cover of Box A. You will also need a large bowl, a spoon and a plastic Ziploc bag (so they can take the surprise home). Place each box in a different corner of the room, and the bowl and spoon in the center of the room. Preferably on a sheet that can be washed or thrown away. The child will be instructed to open box C and pick a card/object. She/he is to then find the matching card in Box A and remove the cup that is under that picture. They then need to pour the object from the cup into the bowl. Repeat these steps till box A and C are empty. Once everything is in the bowl the two of you will need to stir, and use your hands to mix this surprise. After the contents of the bowl are mixed the child will then need to pick a shape/color to add to the bowl. They will need to grab the color/shape off the wall and then find that color in Box B. (to make activity longer you could only have 1 color in Box B and the child would have to search for the right color/shape). Once the color is added, mix again.
Congratulations you have just made play dough!! When your session is complete put the play dough in the Ziploc bag to be enjoyed at home!!

Tahirih said...

Lindsey suggested:
My reason for using the boxes would be to provide therapy in three different areas. I picked activities that I feel would be beneficial for kids with ASD. There are endless possibilities for what could be done with the boxes, but these are three that I think would be worth a try! The first box is for using descriptive words, the second is for exploring textures, and the third is to use pictures for each activity. I would use each box for a different activity. The first could be filled with sensory items, such as squishy balls, cotton balls, uncooked rice, etc. The child could put their hand into each one and describe what they feel. If the child is unable to describe, the adult could say words that describe what is being felt such as “It’s squishy” or “It’s soft.” Another box could have five small containers with food in each. Children who are very sensory could touch, squish, or even taste each one in order to help them become more accustomed to different textures. After playing with the first two boxes, the third could be hard to open. The child will probably want to know what’s inside, so they will have to say “Help me please” or make it known somehow that they want it open. This is a way to teach them to request, and to know that they have to use verbal or non-verbal language in order to make their request known. This third box could contain a picture in each section. Each picture is of something in the room that can be played with. These can include a swing, bean bag chair, cd player, etc. The child can pull out one picture at a time, bring the picture to that station, and then play with the adult using each of these activities. Either use my ideas or tailor them to meet your own goals, but this is a start to help get everyone thinking!

Tahirih said...

Katie suggested:
Here's my idea:

This empty box you possess could be used in many ways, but here was my first thought, so I'll share it.

I PCA for a boy who has autism, he is ten and practically non-verbal;
speaking only when prompted to and even then the content is extremely
limited. Although he's not in speech therapy and my purpose working with him does not revolve around speech; I often think about him and what kinds of things he enjoys that maybe JUST MAYBE will draw out some language. So, I would get things that are fun to touch. For example rice, uncooked beans, maybe place a bag in one of the box sections so you can use water too (without ruining the precious box!), a bunch of small squishy (koosh) balls to fill a section, and for the fifth cubbie, perhaps small bouncy balls. This alone could be used to talk to the child about opening the box, feeling the different items,
describing them, directing the child to feel certain ones to assess or work on following directions, not opening the box until the child directs or asks you to in some way. Furthermore, the items, being extremely sensory, might be pleasing to certian kids with autism. To
take the activity a step further, you could hide smaller items or
picture cards (target words) within the fun things to touch in the boxes (or at the bottom) to search for. When an item is found you can name, discuss, play with etc. Now, one thing to be sure to do is to switch the items around so the child doesn't always know what's hidden in the rice or what's hiding in the bean cubbie. So yeah, this idea could be expanded on to accomplish many great things!!! The other
reason I like it, is because it can be sensory, and although my
experience with kids with autism is limited, I do know sensory can be a good thing!

Best of luck with your box adventure!!! And enjoy the teacups...

Anonymous said...

Hi, My names Rachel and I'm a 1st year grad student at UMD, soooo here are my many ideas.

1. I would use the box for speech therapy.

2. and 3.

a) I would fill each small box with a different material (rice, sand,
etc.) and for increasing mean length of utterance (MLU) I would hide
"words" (on paper, or objects) in each box and have the client reach
in and pull out a word from each box and make a sentence using all the
words. This would work on MLU and tactile stimulus.

b)I could use it as a treasure chest too. As a reward system. Maybe as a time keeper. After every activity they get to pick a prize from the small boxes that are filled with sand. I could have a theme (pirates, ocean, etc.).

c) I could also use it for a fluency client by explaining slow and smooth as the same feeling as putting your hand in the sand and
pulling it out. I could put something a little roughter in a different smaller box (I can't think of anything off hand) and explain that "rough and bumpy" feels like putting your hand in that box. Then have some other rough and smooth things in the other small boxes and have
the client identify whether the things in each box are rough or
smooth. I would use it through the session to explain how the clients
speech was during an acitivity.

d) I could even use it with a TBI client or adult client for memory
building. Have the client put objects in the box at the beginning of the session ask them to remember it a set amount of time. Close the lid and after the time go back and open it and take the objects out.

e)I could also use it to work on placement concepts, "put the object
in the box", "put the object inside the box". Also multi step
directions, "put the object in the first small box, close the lid and
put the other object next to the box."

4. My ideas are for speech clients, but the reward system could work with any type of client. I like the idea of mult tactile uses with
this box:O)

Rachel M.

Tahirih said...

Here is Holly's Suggestion:

Here is my idea for the box question-

1)I would use the box to explore language skills of the client. Using directions, requests, and questions to work on their receptive language skills.

2) Materials that I would use would be a blindfold, cottonballs, sand, playdough, and wood.

3) I would try blindfolding the child, and then asking them to do
certain tasks. They would have to reach into the box, and each
section would contain a different material. I would tell them to pick it up and feel it. Then I would ask them to guess what it is. Next, I would describe one of the materials, without naming it, and ask them to pick that material up and put it in a different section of the box.

I would use terms like "to the left of," "on top of," and
"underneath" to elicit some receptive language.

4) This activity could be done with expressive language as well, the directions would have to be changed around though.

I hope you like this idea!

UMD CSD Student Intern

Anonymous said...

If I was looking for toys or activities for a client with a language delay and came across this box, I could think of the a an idea to use with a child. First, if we were working on adjectives (i.e. soft, rough, hard) it would work well identifying these words through tactile cues. Each slot in that box would contain an object with different textures. The child would go through each slot and identify the texture by using an adjective. Once the child has gone through all the slots, he/she would move onto the next black box that had describeable objects in them. The child could then use the adjectives to describe the object..."the lego is hard", "the sand is rough". For increasing difficulty, a 3rd box could contain cards with more adjectives on them such as size. A bigger phrase would need to be formed, "the small lego is hard". This is the first idea that popped into my head!

Sara C.

Anonymous said...

I would use this box for a client with a language disorder. Make sure you have toys that the child is interested in, and preferably one that requires more than one piece to make it work. For example, a spinner with spinner heads and the base you need to make them spin. I would also have objects that the client does not like. Put these objects randomly in each hole of the box and close the door. For them to see what is inside, they would need to request it to be opened. Only open it to the first hole. Maybe it has a spinner or maybe it is something they don’t enjoy. They can either take the toy, or decline it. If it is the spinner which they enjoy, they will probably take it. But, since it needs the base for it to work, you need to keep going. Therefore, the child needs to request the door to be opened further. Let’s say now there is a toy they don’t like. You can try to give it to them until they say “no thanks” or whatever goal is being worked on with that child. It may just be a push of the hand, or it could be a full length “no thanks, I do not like that toy,” it depends on the severity of the language disorder and the particular client. Keep going until you get to the end and/or find all the pieces required to make the toy work. This activity allows for the client to request, express wants, needs, likes, dislikes all in one.

Tracy, CSD Senior, Student Intern

Tahirih said...

J.R. suggested:

I would use the box as more of a reward to an activity rather than
within the activity itself. Curiousity is a driving force for
individuals young and old, but I would likely use this box on
children, perhaps with language difficulties or ASD.

Inside of the different compartments of the box, I would put in
objects that I know my client would enjoy or maybe even a game that
they would like to play as a reward. With my current client, we
follow a very structured therapy schedule because it keeps my client
on course with the activities that we need to complete in a session.
I would explain to my client that before he/she can look and see what
is in the box, we have to complete activities (a), (b), and (c).

Although I'm sure that there would be questions about the box during
the session, focus would need to continue to be on the therapy
activities before exploration of the "mysterious black box" could
begin =)


UMD CSD Senior

Tahirih said...

J.S. suggested:
My idea for the box would be to make a sensory game out of it. I would use different sensory objects (sensory balls, cloths with different textures, or any object with different textures). I would put one object in each slot and open the lid one slot at a time. I would have the child reach into the box and take the object out and say "I feel....(whatever the object feels like to them). Before they could open the next slot the child would be instructed to place the object back into the orginal slot.

This could also be used with different emotion cards. The idea would be the same except when the card is pulled out, the child would say "I feel (and the emotion on the card). (Depending on communication abilities they could also add when they feel that emotion).


Tahirih said...

Crystal's idea is:


I am a CSD Senior at UMD. This summer I worked as a nanny and PCA for a pre-teen with Autism. The best suggestion I could come up with for the box is to either use it like a farm and put an animal in each "cage" or to put a type of person in each part of the box like a firefighter, teacher, peer, etc. Then you could use this to have the person utilize social skills, maintaining a topic, or transitions by talking to each person or animal and having appropriate conversations
with each one. The speech pathologist would role play for the animal or person that comes out of the box.

CSD Senior

Anonymous said...

I am a CSD senior and here is my idea:

If you have a child who has preposition problems, you could have different toys beside, on top, in, under etc. that the child would have to describe where they are before they play with them. You could also make it a game where the child could have a play animal or pooh,and tell them "pooh wants to go into the box, out of the box" etc. to follow directions. The toys could even be hidden under different
colored cups in the different sections of the cups and the child could work on more directions/prepositions where the clinician can say "pooh
is under the yellow cup in the box, where is pooh"?

If the child is working on following 3, 4, 5-step directions, they could do an activity that forced them to get each object out of the sections in a row within the box before they could go on. Such as if you were making something to eat, they could have crackers in the first hole, peanut butter in the second, etc.

Hope this helps!

Tahirih said...

What can you do with a box?

Here is my idea. From Amanda a student intern at UMD.

1.) My reason for using the box during an activity would be to
increase expressive langauge abilities. A learning objective could be, Client will with a model use ryming during one activity. I would use the box during an activity to use it as a "play" activityduring aryme. The rhyme in this activity would be Humpty Dumpty.

2.) Materials I would use consist of, the box, 4 characters needed to
put work on thr ryme Humpty Dumpty. I would have an egg for Humpty Dumpty in one box, a horse in another box, and 2 people in each of the last 2 boxes. I would put fake trees on top of the box along with a stripe of paper that looked like bricks so the box could be the "wall"
in the rhyme.
3.) The activity in mind is to learn and go over the nusery ryme
Humpty Dumpty. I would start by explaining the nusery ryme, we would read it together-for comprehension. Next, the client would use ryme to open the box as he/she got to the character in the ryme and place each one on top of the "wall" (or box). At the end of the ryme, Humpty Dumpty can fall off the "wall".

Tahirih said...

Kristine suggested:

1) This box could be used for many different objectives!

2 and 3)
a. The box could be used to work on prepositions. You would need an
object, preferrably a toy person or animal and have the client place
it in/under/on/beside/etc the box. You could also have the client describe where the object is in relation to the box. If multiple objects where used, the client could work on prepositions in relation to both the box and other objects.

b. It could be used as motivation to prompt the client to initiate
conversation if they are curious about the box or to request what is
in the box. MLU could be worked on in addition, not accepting a
request until it is a phrase or complete sentence.

c. The box could be used for sorting/categorizing. You could have a bunch of objects, some with similar characteristics and some with different and have the client sort them into the different
compartments explaining why they belong or don't belong together. You could also start with the objects already sorted into the compartments and have the client explain why each group belongs together depending on the level of the client.

d. It could be used as a reward system. After each activity or
session, the client could pick a prize from the box or get to see
whats inside the box.

e. Each compartment could contain a piece to a toy or game that is
enjoyable to the client. In order to play with the game/toy the
client will need to request each object specifically or request to get an object from each compartment. You could have the client describe
which compartment they want an object from next. This could also be used like (d) as a reward system and they could get one piece each time an activity is finished or every so many minutes or correct responses.

f. It could be used with sensory substances (rice, water, beans, sand, pudding?) The client could be asked to describe the substance they feel. However it would depend on the client, with some autistic children the sensory input would make the box too interesting!


Tahirih said...

Chelsea suggested:

Hello, here is my idea for the box.

I would use this box to work on expressive and receptive language
abilities. For example I would have different objects in the
different secions in the box. The sections of the box would be color
coded. One would be green, one pink, one blue, etc. I would have
animals in one, food in one, people in one etc. I would also have a spinner (like for a game) that has the colors matching the color coded sections. I would also have a bunch of toys outside of the box that match the different categories of the box. The child would spin the spinner and match the color that the spinner lands on with the color coded section of the box. Then I would see if the child could pick out the object that matches the other objects in that section of the box. I would model, "the zebra is going IN the box". The child and I could take turns doing this. This type of activity would get at a number of different skilly such as turn-taking, categories, concepts,

I hope you like this idea!

Thank you,

Chelsea, UMD CSD Intern

Tahirih said...

Susan's response:

My idea for the box

I would use fabric to cover the openings to the box. The fabric would have slits in it so the child would be able to stick their hand in the hole without seeing what was in the compartment. Each section would contain a different object that would depend on the child's likes and dislikes. Ideas of objects would be: a toy care, bouncy ball, plastic
jewelery, stress ball, sucker, etc. The child would be expected to describe the item to the clinician. If they were able to use tactile cues to determine and name the item it was theirs to keep as a reward.

Susan, UMD CSD intern