Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Counting

Beth gets distracted while counting and has trouble coordinating counting during hands-on activities or while pointing due to motor planning issues. The simple, distraction-free classic Montessori toys (and some modern off-shoots) were great to build up her skills and fill in gaps. Many of the products are errorless or have easy, obvious placement for the manipulatives. This post highlights products we used to improved her counting (some of these fall under period 4 or higher in the book I am following, 1):

Tumble Down Box

Available From:

Purpose and advantages:

-Errorless counting: placement obvious and exact number of openings in each wood plate (1-10)

-Has a recessed number that child can trace with fingers as a pre-writing activity

-Good for working on coordinating expressive language counting with moving manipulatives (note I wrote previously about a unique problem my child had with emphasis…it is important to teach a child with prosody problems to emphasize

-Some children will love pulling the lever out and watching the pegs disappear, hearing them tumble down (although the noise was too much for Beth, I had to put a piece of foam in the lower portion to dampen the sound)

Tumble Down Box

Tumble Down Box

Spindle Boxes

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Although not errorless, the spindle boxes are a great simple beginning counting activity

-Gives a sense of number based on volume, which is rather unique for counting toys; includes a zero box for teaching none

-You just throw the rods into the box and they fall into place easily…reduces distraction caused by manipulating and perfecting placement of counters

-The numbers are very obvious and upright-good for kids who forget what they are counting up to or who have trouble with visual attention

-For kids who like to throw things, it can be motivating because you literally throw them into the wells

-For kids who like sounds, it has a pleasant sound when you throw the rods in the wells (although for a super sound stimmer, it may be distracting…they may not want to stop throwing them in and hyper-focus on the sound instead of the number they are counting to…yes, we struggled with that a bit)


Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box Set-Up

Spindle Box - Completed Acitivity

Spindle Box – Completed Acitivity

Number and Counter Match-Up Puzzle

Available from: Montessori suppliers, Ebay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:


-To teach kids to match number to number of counters (number sense)

-Distraction free red dots that are big enough to easily motor plan


-Hyper-focus on just matching the squiggled cuts can distract from the counting activity. We definitely had that problem and I had to encourage her to focus on the numbers and counters instead. Worksheets actually worked better for what this toy was trying to accomplish.

-Most K kids are only required to match 1-5 to groups of 1-5 in random format. Beyond 5, 10 frames or similar structured formats are used. I even had trouble matching the 6, 7, 8, 9 because of inconsistent formatting in this toy.

Because of the drawbacks above, I ended up laying out 1-5 and 10 for the counter portion, and encouraged her to guess the match:

Number Match-Up

Number Match-Up Puzzle

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Number Match-Up, 1-5 and 10

Montessori Cards and Counters

Available from: Montessori suppliers, eBay, Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Great beginning counting toy (but I suggest doing the errorless toys mentioned above first)

-Distraction free counters (same on front and back). Beth really has trouble with all the “cute” counters sets out there (apples, penguins, etc), because she obsessively orients them. So this simple counter set really worked to help her focus on the task of counting.

Montessori Wood Cards and Counters (With mats made from scrap material to help Beth know where to place the counters)

Montessori Wood Cards and Counters (With mats made from scrap material to help Beth know where to place the counters)

Montessori Hundred Board

Available from: Montessori suppliers, other versions from Amazon

Purposes and advantages:

-Great for working on expressive language while counting and number recognition. It can also be used to teach skip counting.

-Low distraction, grid helps guide placement


Don’t forget to also work on numbers in isolation.  Just because a child can create this whole board does not mean that he/she can read numbers in isolation. I was given that false sense of security until I realized I also had to work on scanning and reading individual numbers with Beth (discussed in this post  One activity that addresses this issue is to randomly remove some numbers from a completed hundred board and have the child work on scanning and replacing the missing tiles while speaking the numbers.

Montessori Hundred Board: We use little containers of 10 and take lots of breaks. It is a demanding activity!  Teaching her to point to the next square and predict rather than scan the available tiles was the turning point.

Montessori Hundred Board: We use little containers of 10 and take lots of breaks. It is a demanding activity! Teaching her to point to the next square and predict rather than scan the available tiles was the turning point.

Picture/ Number Sequencing Puzzles

Available from: Lakeshore Learning

Purposes and advantages:

-Like 1-10 or 1-20 on Montessori Hundred Board, but you create a picture, which is more engaging for some children (Beth did not seem to care for creating the picture though)




1-20 Monkey Puzzle (I put the 2 next to 12, 3 next to 13, and so on to help with scanning and impulsivity issues)

1-20 Monkey Puzzle (I put the 2 next to 12, 3 next to 13, and so on to help with scanning and impulsivity issues)

Next up for us will be place value. That will be a topic of another post!


(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

montessori book

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

Period Three

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug and funnel, difficult dressing (bows and laces), advanced braiding, tying a tie, simple cooking chores, ironing, making beds
  2. Sensorial- Geometric Cabinet exercises, constructive triangles, square of pythagoras, trinomial cube, fabrics, thermic bottles, baric tablets, presentation of bells
  3. Language- double letter sandpaper letters, advanced I spy, exercise 2 with all sandpaper letters
  4. Math- Number rod exercise 1
  5. Culture- all maps, places picture folders, past and present, stories about the past, air, water, magnetism, classifying animals, classification by leaf, parts of animals, parts of plants

Period Four

  1. Practical- responsibility for certain daily care of environment, helping and advising younger ones in a group
  2. Sensorial- Geometric cabinet exercises 9 and 10, thermic tablets, mystery bag, visual work with blindfolds, bell exercises 1-3, tasting cups, smelling boxes
  3. Language- movable alphabet, writing individual letters, writing families of letters, positioning letters on lines, sandpaper Capitals, box 1 and 2 of object boxes, action cards, reading folders exercise 1
  4. Math- number rods exercise 2, sandpaper numbers, number tablets, spindles, numbers and counters, memory play, limited bead material, number cards, function of the decimal system, fractions
  5. Culture- gravity, sound, optics, places artifacts



The Answer to the Category Problem

I have written about categories (also known as classes) long ago. For a fairly comprehensive list of categories, see here: What a pain categories have been for Beth. What a pain they have been for both of us!  Basically, teaching categories usually involves sorting activities, which is hard for Beth. We tried everything, including various apps (see this somewhat outdated post: and these hands-on approaches:





Montessori cards with mats,

Montessori cards with mats,

But after all the effort above, Beth still struggled. The answer finally came from the Montessori book I am using (David-Gettman, Basic Montessori, In it, after the children have explored the cards for a very long time and the categories and items within the categories have been fully discussed, the author suggested the children should sort the cards using overall category cards with general pictures of the categories including text. Specifically, he suggested the items within the category should be slipped underneath the main category card. But slipping things underneath a main card would be a nightmare for Beth. She likes to see the items, and messes with cards until they are lined up just so. But his suggestion changed my thinking. It is a great idea for kids like Beth who hyper focus on the details of each card to put the main category card as the focus. I had to remove the motor planning step of placing the sub cards under the main card, so I simply adapted the strategy by taping the category cards (category cards made from google images) to the tops of boxes:




The category item cards shown above were a combination of cards from the various kits I amassed and print outs from Montessori Print Shop ( During sorting, I have Beth read and speak to keep her focus. For example, Beth will say things like “the zebra lives at the zoo, the cow lives at the farm, the sheep goes with the farm” as she is sorting. There is no chance to hyper focus on the items within a category or mess with them trying to place and arrange them perfectly because she just drops the cards in the boxes and they quickly disappear. Of course this requires great familiarity with the categories to begin with, through natural exposure and reading books. For instance, we read zoo and farm books for 2 weeks before attempting the sorting and we have visited zoos and farms for years. That is the way it should be and, in my opinion, the category sorting should not be a tool to learn the categories. It should only be a tool to learn the subtle differences between known categories, to stop and make choices between categories, to firm up known categories, and/or to practice speech. Unfortunately in the day and age of drilling kids, the important “familiarity step” often gets bypassed and we go straight to sorting. As a parent who tried this approach for years, trust me when I say this is not the way to go. Especially for kids who already have trouble with sorting due to motor planning issues, crossing midline problems, visual scanning problems, and/or hyper focus on parts to exclusion of the whole.

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Color Box 2 and Beginner Dressing Frames

Color Box 2

The first two color boxes in Montessori are used for color matching and identification (1). Beth knew the colors in color box 1 well, so I started with color box 2, which contains the colors in color box 1 plus other colors. Beth knew most of the colors in color box 2 at the start of this work, but sometimes confused brown, gray, and black. As always, the problem wasn’t so much the overall goal, matching the colors and color identification, it was the building process used with the color tiles during the activity. The book I am following wanted Beth to randomize the color tiles and then build columns, as show in this video:

The problem was that Beth hates randomizing the color tiles and is driven to line the pairs up horizontally (I believe due to an autistic tendency and/or motor planning impairment and/or hyper focus on a part of the material instead of looking at the whole process).  I got a lot of comments after stating similar randomization and lining up issues with the pink tower in a previous post, and I think I was somewhat misunderstood in my intentions. I don’t care if Beth prefers lining things up and she can do that if she wants to most of the time (although she doesn’t choose to line things up unless I ask her to do these types of activities). The problem is Beth is so limited in the number of motor plans she makes, her tendency to line things up and continue initial motor plans is preventing her from experiencing new motor plans. I am trying to help her with her motor planning, so I believe it is worth encouraging her to create different patterns to expand her motor planning abilities. Also, Beth’s tendency to make a long line of the color tiles horizontally caused her to lose her place and make errors. So clearly her tendency to line the color tiles in one long line is at odds with accomplishing the goal of making color matches. Here we go again…I had to create another work around.

I took two approaches to having Beth make independent color matches.  In the first approach, I lined up half of the set in one long line, randomized the other matching half within the box, then had her match in a two-row format. She did this task easily. In this video I show her using this method and she demonstrated that she knows the colors in the color box (we did not have to do a full 3 stage language lesson, since she was already close to knowing all the colors and she quickly sorted out her confusion with brown, gray, and black):

In the second approach, I taped pieces of material in a two-column format to poster board (the same material I used to make her pink tower, brown stair, and red rod mats, so she knew she was supposed to build on that material). I still had to randomize the color tiles before she started, but this modified “strip mat” allowed her to create a series of color matches on her own in columns, which brought her closer to the original Montessori process. She was so stuck on continuing to make the first column that she would replace tiles at the bottom with new ones or try to crowd other tiles onto the mat at the bottom.  I prompted her to make the new column by pointing to the top and stated that the first column was “full” so she had to start a new one. Here is a video of her using the strip mat with color box 2 where she was able to motor plan the activity without prompting, and a close up of the strip mat layout:


With the strip mat, going from one column to the next still requires occasional prompting to start the next column. But she knows her colors well, can create color matches from the tiles, and seems to understand making columns, so we will move on and occasionally circle back to color box 2. The next step with color tiles is a complex one…using color box 3 to make a light to dark flower-shaped creation on the floor. Oh my.

Beginning Dressing Frames

The book I am using said start with the “simple” dressing frames for period 1. The problem was that all of the dressing frames were hard for Beth at first. We ended up starting with the big button, velcro, snaps, and zipper frames because they seemed the most applicable to her life (big buttons and snaps on her rain coats, velcro on her shoes, a zipper on her jacket). I wasn’t super picky about technique, as tasks like these are hard enough for her as it is without demanding perfection. After a lot of demonstration, encouragement, and flat out begging her to keep trying, her hand use really took off after she mastered a few frames. Most notably, I noticed an improvement in pincer grasp and thumb use. I didn’t even have time to write this post before she had already mastered a few more frames and was well on her way to mastering 7 frames. Also, I was surprised how well the activities transferred to the real clothes on her body (with the exception of the snaps, because she figured out she could just press down with her thumb to snap the dressing frame snaps). Here is a video of Beth doing a few of the “simple” dressing frames:


(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

Beginning Math Adventures on the Spectrum

I remember a little over 2 years ago when I started homeschooling Beth, I couldn’t wait to jump in and start working on math. She liked numbers. She even liked counting. I loved math. I even had experience in my college days, where I worked as a math tutor for adults who had learning disabilities. How hard could it be?

Boy was I in for a surprise. Teaching Beth math was harder than teaching Beth to read (see my previous post on reading here: due to motor planning and visual scanning challenges and a puzzling prosody issue that sabotaged counting.

Rather than rehash the millions of things that failed, I am going to focus on what I finally figured out after endless hours of trial and error. This is not all-inclusive or it would be a very long post, but shown below are some of the methods and materials I used to help Beth achieve early math goals.

Counting and Number Recognition

I used a pocket chart for beginning counting because the numbers are bigger and easier to point to and are organized neatly in rows and the information is presented near eye level and vertically, which reduces the motor planning and visual scanning demand. After hours and hours of lightly touching her hand so that she would move over to the next number and coordinate counting with pointing and endlessly prompting her to find the beginning of the next row, this is where we are:

I would say the above is an exceptionally good clip. She usually makes the occasional coordination error moving from one number to the next or moving down to the next row, but for the most part she’s got it. So that means she knows her numbers 1-40, right?

Wrong. A few months ago I isolated the numbers using flashcards and realized she had a huge problem. She could not recognize numbers past 10 reliably. She tended to look at part of the number (e.g., would say “2” if she saw “12”) or had trouble visual scanning and reading a number from left to right (e.g., would say “21” if she saw “12”). In addition, we had some expressive language problems (or rigid stuck thinking problems?) with the teens, because she so wanted 11 and 12 to be “one-teen” and “two-teen.” Finally we had the problem if I worked on teens only or 20-29 only, for example, she would get stuck on what we just worked on and make a lot of expressive language errors. It was a mess. So while it looked as if she knew how to read numbers 1-40, she actually memorized the pattern on the pocket chart and was probably just looking at the last digit while she was reading off the numbers.

To address these issues, we used tactile cards (like sand paper cards, but softer texture and I had her trace the numbers and say the names out loud. Also we practiced with flash cards or by reading random numbers from the pocket chart, and I had her drag her finger from left to right, much as we do with reading, to help her visually scan the numbers from left to right. For Beth, it is best to work on many numbers at once (at the very least 1-30) to prevent stuck expressive language and to review often (we do at least a weekly review). We have made a lot of progress, but as you can see from this video she still gets tripped up sometimes:


Counting to a Specified Number

The kid just would not stop counting! I would say, “count to 4” and she would blow by 4 and continue on. I tried everything…holding stop signs, hand signals to stop, putting my finger on her lips, having her say “stop” or “shhhhh” after she reached the last number. Nothing worked…for YEARS. Then one day about a month ago I was so frustrated I started jumping up and down like a mad woman and being obnoxious about the way I counted. And…she stopped on the right number. It was miraculous. But why?

It turns out my kid has a prosody problem…she says all her numbers with the same tone and emphasis usually. Now try doing that yourself right now (no really reader, do this)…count to any number and try to keep your voice exactly the same even on the number you are supposed to stop at. It is hard to stop, isn’t it?  I think it is simply Beth cannot do naturally what most of us can do…inflect her voice on the number where she is supposed to stop counting. Here is a good example where I am holding up cards with numbers on it:

Now we are moving towards counting with counters and stopping. For years I thought she just wanted to fill out ten frames due to some sort of compulsion, but now we are making progress if we work on emphasizing the last number. Here is a video with a magnetic ten frame set  ( and although you cannot see it in the video, there were 10 counters on the table and she stopped counting on her own:


Number Ordering

We tried number ordering exercises with the pocket chart, but even that was too much visual scanning and motor planning for Beth. My friend introduced me to these Lakeshore Learning puzzles for sequencing numbers and letters ( ,, , I was skeptical Beth would be able to do it, but because the motor plan is so easy (all work is 2D, just slide the pieces into place), it was a success. It was nice to know that she can order numbers after all with the right accommodation. In case you are wondering if she is just making the picture…no she isn’t. She doesn’t even look at the picture until the end so it is more like a reward. Referring to a picture while putting pieces of a puzzle together is still very hard for her, even after doing puzzles with her for endless hours.



I am not familiar with the research supporting the need for it, but completing patterns is a common goal on IEPs. I guess it is some indicator of logic ability. Beth failed the patterning portion of the IQ testing for K, because the tester wanted Beth to pattern on a blank piece of paper (she needs at least boxes drawn in for placement), Beth wasn’t interested in the materials, and expressive language issues got in the way.

I have found that she absolutely must have boxes on paper or containers for placement and using very familiar favorite items that she has heard receptively in videos many times is helpful. It is crucial for her to say the items out load and to point to keep her focus and to keep track of where she is. It also helps Beth focus if she is guided to build the initial pattern. It is still hard for her, but it is possible with these accommodations. With more effort, I have been able to get her to pattern non-preferred things like colors and shapes, but getting that expressive language out is a lot harder for her. This Lakeshore Learning Patterning Tray works great ( for patterning manipulatives. I put her patterning tray on her slant board, which helps ease the visual scanning demand and helps with visual attention. In the videos below I used party confetti with her favorite Sesame Street characters and Halloween erasers from the dollar stores (she has a favorite Halloween video with ghost, bat, witch, pumpkin, etc so those words are easy for her). The erasers are great because they are thick and easier to pick up.  These videos show us working through AB patterning, ABC patterning, and missing items within a pattern:


Worksheets (Finally!)

This past summer we moved away from manipulatives and tried the first chapter of Go Math. Go Math is an example of curriculum that has a very nice layout for kids like Beth…not a lot on a page, clear boundaries between sections, and ten frame boxes for counting.  Accommodations would still need to be made if this program was used due to Beth’s language and motor planning/visual scanning challenges. For example, the word problems are too hard for her due to language issues, she would need magnetic counters because she uses a slant board and the counters were sliding everywhere, she would need to circle things rather than fill in or draw squares, she would need to use plain counter blocks instead of snap together blocks, sometimes I have to block off certain sections of the worksheets to help her focus, and I often use a sweeping motion over choices to help her visually scan. Counting with her finger by pointing and then picking up the pencil to write in numbers was a motor planning nightmare. So I prompted her to not put down the pencil and circle items to count them instead. When she writes numbers I try to give her a pass on writing…if it is legible at all I accept it because she tends to get frustrated with handwriting corrections. Here is a clip of a Go Math page:









Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #3: The Cooking Lesson

In a previous post (, I wrote about the book Language Lessons for Little Ones, Volume 1 by Sandi Queen ( In the book, we were instructed to do a picture study and discuss this copy of a painting:

William Bouguereau, Le Gouter

William Bouguereau, “Le Gouter”

Here is an excerpt of our discussion of the above picture (we also discussed what she was wearing, if the girl had long or short hair, boy vs. girl, what she saw behind the girl, pulled out a globe and found France, etc.):

Me: “What is the little girl holding?”

Beth: “A Bowl”

Me: I decided to roll with it, since she was having trouble getting the words out at the time, and I didn’t want to discourage her. A bowl it was. “What is in the bowl?”

Beth: Silence

Me: “Well, she has a spoon in the bowl.  Hmmm…What do you think she poured into the bowl?”

Beth: “Flour!”

Me: “What will the girl cook? Vegetables?”

Beth: Silence

Me: “What do you think she will cook in the oven?”

Beth: “Cookies!”

Beth’s answers are consistent with her experiences. Starting from when Beth was around 2.5 years old, she would insist “Want Flour! Want Flour!” and we would give her a bowl of flour to play with on the floor of the kitchen.  It was a freaking mess, but it was like an edible sand to her.  And since she ate sand, it was a good alternative for that type of sensory play. Now, at 5 years old, Beth has progressed to only using flour during cooking, but she still takes swipes and eats some. When we cook with flour, the thing we bake most often is cookies.

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Cooking is wonderful natural occupational therapy, and we have been doing it for years. I want to expand off the picture study with a cooking experience, so I go to the pantry and find some Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cake and Cookie Mix. Then I remember one of Beth’s favorite Maisy the mouse books, Maisy Makes Gingerbread ( And soon we are on our way to a whole day lesson in baking and working together in the kitchen.

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Maisy Makes Gingerbread

Maisy Makes Gingerbread is a great process-oriented book for young children.  Maisy is shown in her kitchen getting ready to cook, getting out the ingredients, mixing, cutting the cookies out, putting them in the oven, cleaning up, and, finally, eating them with friends. We read the book together and start to make the gingerbread cookies.

First Beth cuts open the bag of mix (I hold it for her), helps me measure and add the ingredients (just the mix, water, and butter), and she helps me stir it all up to make the dough.

Mixing the Gingerbread Dough

Mixing the Gingerbread Dough, Contemplating When to Stuff the Dough in Her Mouth

Next, we coat the dough with flour (Beth takes a few swipes) and roll it out.  This was the first time Beth did a majority of the rolling on her own. We just roll directly on a clean counter and we usually make a hug mess that I ignore until the end. What is important is to keep the process flow going so that Beth can connect the pieces of the process together.

Rolling the Gingerbread Dough

Rolling With It

Now it is time for cutting little gingerbread men. It is at this point that Beth can’t help herself, and eats some of the dough. The good thing about the Betty Crocker Cake and Cookie Mix recipe is it has no eggs, so sampling is not a worry. It has taken her years, but now Beth can push the cookie cutter in the dough, wiggle to loosen the dough from the surface, pull the cutter up, and poke the dough out of the cookie cutter. Transferring the cookies onto the cookie sheet is still a big challenge, but we will get there.

Cookie Cutter Pressing

Push, Wiggle, Up, Poke

The finished product (frost if desired):

Some Heads and Limbs Were Lost Due to Beth's Sampling of the Dough

A Lot of Missing Heads and Limbs, But That’s Okay!

Although Beth likes the dough, the cookies are not as appealing. So, she just has frosting instead, which is a favorite treat of hers (we call it a cupcake without the frosting):

Forget the Cookies, I Just Want Frosting!

Forget the Cookies, I Just Want Frosting!

Maisy Makes Lemonade

As Beth is downing her frosting, I start thinking about other Maisy books that are processed-oriented, such as Maisy Makes Lemonade (  I thought it would be a great drink to make on the hot summer day, and a good way to wash down the cookies (or frosting).

Maisy Makes Lemonade

Maisy Makes Lemonade

Like Maisy Makes Gingerbread, Maisy Makes Lemonade is a great process-oriented book. Maisy is shown being hot in summer, drinking all her lemonade and needed more, getting lemons from a tree, squeezing them with a friend, adding the other ingredients, and then drinking it with a friend.

I grab a recipe off the web ( and we head to the store to pick up organic lemons and a cheap hand juicer ( Shopping is a lesson in and of itself, and we have had a long history with it (  I am happy to report she is now doing outstanding in stores and no longer needs the vest, lots of edibles, or an electronic grocery list.  She seems to love shopping now!

We read Maisy Makes Lemonade and set up to make our own:

On No, What are We Doing Now?

On No, What are We Doing Now?

Beth helps with the measuring and pouring, and samples the sugar and lemons.

Beth Eats Many Unusual Things, Including Lemons

Licking Lemons (Yes, the Inside of the Lemon)

The juicer is hard for her to use on her own, but we will work up to that.

Time to clean up the huge mess in the kitchen. I would have read Maisy Cleans Up ( before we clean together, but it didn’t quite fit our kind of cleaning since it mentions using a vacuum (which terrifies Beth), mopping the floor (which I try to avoid whenever possible), and washing windows (which would be pointless, since all the double pane windows in our condo have broken seals and an opaque film between them, plus we have Beth’s bedroom window covered with foam insulation to block out street noise and light).

Grocery Store Phases

Grocery shopping and autism do not go well together. Sensory, communication, and self-regulation issues when combined with a trip to an overstimulating store results in one of the most difficult outings parents and their children with autism face.

We have had our ups and downs with grocery shopping, and the down times included truncated lists and abandoned shopping carts. Beth is 5 and we still have to work very hard, but thankfully grocery shopping is currently tolerable. Beth has progressed so much we are using it as a growth experience now, rather than just a mere exercise in survival. I thought I would take the time to share our story, and the phases we have gone through. If you are struggling with grocery shopping on the spectrum, maybe this post will give you hope and/or some new strategies to try.

Phase 1: Screaming Baby

Beth was a fussy baby from 2 weeks on. Her scream in a store would cause people to look in concern and ask if she was okay. I think my husband and visiting family members did most of the grocery shopping in the first few months (maybe even the first year) of Beth’s life.  I was so sleep deprived due to Beth’s poor sleeping and her constant begging for breast milk as she tried to sooth her hyped up nervous system, I can remember very little of grocery shopping with her as an infant. This picture sums up what I was dealing with…

A Very Pissed Off Infant Beth (Complete with Middle Finger)

A Very Pissed Off Infant Beth (Complete with Middle Finger)

Phase 2: Toddler Tango in the Shopping Aisles

When Beth was a toddler we could take her grocery shopping, but it wasn’t easy. She was fussy and wanted to be held a lot.

Hind sight is 20/20, so it all makes sense now. Beth had weak core muscles, low tone, and little body awareness, which made sitting difficult. Also, she was at the tail end of normal when she started to walk and she took a very long time to walk without falling or tiring out. All of this led to frustration for her. She wanted to move herself and sit, but couldn’t. Her physical issues made sitting in the shopping cart difficult and walking while hanging onto the cart impossible. Plus she probably had unrecognized sensory issues. During this phase my husband and I took turns holding Beth and bouncing her in a funny dance-like fashion to keep her calm. It led to strong arms and sore backs, and also helped us survive the shopping trip.

grocery shopping toddler

Toddler Beth, Hanging onto the Shopping Cart

Phase 3: Preschooler Riding in the Shopping Cart: Bribery, Convergence Method, and Other Survival Techniques

And right about the time Beth got the hang of sitting in the cart, the sensory stuff and Beth’s demand for independence really kicked in. This was the toughest phase.

There were screams, tantrums, and a few meltdowns. There were a few episodes where I was bit, kicked, hit, and scratched while she was riding in the shopping cart. I think everything bothered her (lights, sounds of the refrigeration units, the radio, strangers coming up to her, and on and on). If Beth needed something (potty, food, drink), since she was already overwhelmed in the store, her language went down to almost zero and she could not request things. Also, I believe she became more aware of her surroundings and saw things she wanted (snack, toy, etc.), but was so overwhelmed she could not gesture or verbally indicate what she wanted.  So instead, she just lashed out in frustration.

This period called for numerous strategies to make shopping tolerable for Beth (and for us), and we tried all of the following at some point:

  • Asked the manager to turn down the radio
  • Oral Supports/Rewards: chewy tubes, lollypops, mints, snacks from the shopping aisles, a cookie as a reward from the store bakery [Giant Food Stores gives out a cookie for free at the bakery, and we usually end our shopping trip with a cookie there.  It is also a great opportunity for Beth to practice saying “thank you” while getting her reward.]
  • Sticker as a reward from the cashier (another good opportunity to practice saying “thank you”)
  • Fidgets and stickers to occupy Beth in the shopping cart
  • Visual schedules and saying over and over “first we shop, then we get in the car” 
  • Convergence method: I took one cart and Beth and I started on one side of the store, my husband took another cart and started on the other side of the store, and we converged somewhere in the store.  I focused on Beth’s shopping skills/tolerance and we got as far as we could, while my husband focused on getting the shopping done as quickly as possible.
  • When things were really tough, my husband did the bulk of the shopping on the weekends and Beth and I did smaller shopping trips during the week to practice shopping skills/tolerance.
grocery shopping 2.75

Beth Sitting in the Shopping Cart and Calming Herself with a Sensory Toy

My one regret is that I did not try a weighted vest during this tough phase.  Beth tried a compression vest in therapy and totally freaked out, so I stayed away from them.  But she never tried a simple weighted vest.  A friend of mine uses a weighted vest for her son while shopping and has great success. I bought Beth a weighted vest recently and to date we have only tried it once in a store that she used to find distressing, and she did great and was not stressed at all. Time will tell if I think it is effective for Beth, but anything is worth a shot when it comes to shopping and autism.

Weighted Vests (

Weighted Vests (Supplier is Fun and Function, Available on Amazon)

Phase 4: Preschool Driver

At about 4 or so, Beth’s sensory stuff started to calm down some and Beth fell in love with pretend driving in the cars that had shopping carts attached to the back of them.  She pretended to drive in the car for a few aisles until she got bored and crawled out, and then I put her in cart seat for the rest of the trip.

grocery shopping car

Beth in the Driver’s Seat

One day, as Beth exited the pretend car and I tried to get her into the cart seat, she locked her legs and refused to go into the seat. I spent most of that shopping trip retrieving her as she ran away from the cart. In an effort to get her to stay with me, I told her repeatedly to hold onto the bar of the cart and push. It took a few trips, but soon she got the the hang of it and decided she loved pushing the cart. Shopping trips became a whole lot easier (and slower). Some people say heavy work like pushing a shopping cart is helpful to anxious kiddos. I am not sure that is the reason she liked it, but thank God it worked out so we could still shop.

Beth Pushing the Shopping Cart

Beth Pushing the Shopping Cart (This is a Recent Picture, Where She is Wearing the Weighted Vest)

Phase 5: Kiddo Gets a Shopping List

Beth is 5 now and can usually tolerate a full grocery shopping trip on the weekend.  We still use oral rewards, such as the cookie at the bakery. When Beth runs out of her groceries during the week, we do a small trip with a shopping list* I make for her on the iPad app Choiceworks ( I am showing her how to recognize items on a list and retrieve them from the shelves.  If it is a good day, she will help me load the food onto the belt, swipe the credit card, and unload some things from the car. Slowly we are inching towards Beth helping me with the shopping and becoming more independent. Here is an example of Beth’s Choiceworks grocery list and a video of her getting an item from the shelf and checking it off:

grocery shopping list


*I make the shopping list by saving each image I find through a search of the item on Google Images (or occasionally I cannot find a good image on Google Images, so I will take a picture of the item with the iPad camera). I save a Google image onto the iPad by pressing the image and holding my finger on it until a window pops up and asks if I would like to save the image. After saving an image, I type in the written label and then record my voice saying the item.

What to Do When Easy Turn-Taking Games Are Not Easy Enough

My daughter Beth has multiple developmental issues that interfere with her ability to play easy turn-taking games (e.g., difficulty focusing on tasks, language delay, motor planning challenges, fine motor delays, and core strength issues that make sitting difficult) .  I have attempted turn-taking games on and off starting at age 3, shortly after Beth’s autism diagnosis.  I just recently figured out how to play games with her and she is nearly 5. The key to our success was to think outside the box and modify rules, and sometimes the game itself, to fit Beth. Below is a list of the lessons I have learned on the road to playing games, with examples of the games we use (or do not use and put in the “game reject” closet) and how we modified them. Please visit these Pinterest boards for my lists of easy turn-taking games and supplies for making your own games ( and  Also, I welcome input on games and game modifications on my Facebook page (

1. No Sitting Required

Beth has trouble sitting still or sitting down to do anything, so making her sit on the floor or in a chair to play a game leads to instant frustration.   So I let her stand and I sit beside her while we play games.  Sometimes she rests her foot on a little chair behind her, sometimes she jumps or rocks at the table, and occasionally she does a lap around the house and comes back to the game.  I set out several games so that we can do one quick game after another and so that Beth can choose from the games.  Here is our game table set-up:

Game Table

Game Table

2.  Shop at Thrift Stores and Ebay, and Never Get Rid of a Game

I have found some excellent deals at thrift stores or on Ebay.   I have used the pieces from some second hand games for modifications to other games I own.  I never throw anything out or give a game away, even if it seems like a complete reject.  I may think of some way to use the game or its pieces later, so I put it in the “game reject” closet.  Example of an easy turn-taking game from a thrift store:

Maisy Game (

This is a wonderful matching game and I paid $2.50 for it.  I just tilt the spinner to help it land appropriately to avoid missed turns, otherwise it is perfect.  Beth loves this game because we have read Maisy books since she was very young.

Maisy Game

Maisy Game

3. Circumvent Fine Motor and Motor Planning Obstacles

I try to remove or lessen fine motor challenges and motor planning obstacles so that we can just focus on the game itself.  Examples of game modifications I have made to circumvent fine motor and motor planning issues:

Preschool Lotto Game (

Lotto is an easy matching game. But the instructions say to put the cards face down on a table, have the players take turns to turn one card over, and if he/she does not have the card on their board then turn the card back over and return the card to the table.  All that turning over and handling small cards on a flat surface was too difficult for Beth. Another problem was she would drag her hands across the board during play and slide the cards around the board by accident.

Modifications:  I used a paper bag to draw the cards out of the bag instead of putting them on a table.  At first we just started with her playing alone with 1 board so she did not have to return cards to the bag and miss turns.  Now we can play together and she enjoys throwing them back into the bag.  Also, I used puffy paint ( to create boarders to keep the cards in place on the game boards.

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Lotto Boards With Puffy Paint Boarders, Pieces Drawn From Paper Bag

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (

Beth giggled when she saw the bird and pig heads, so I knew I had to make this game work for her.  She already understood the game because she plays Angry Birds on the iPad (or attempts to, often the bird gets shot the wrong way!).  The catapult in the real game is excellent…easy to load and easy to pull back.  I do the building, but even knocking it down has its challenges for Beth. She can’t work the catapult on her own by holding with one hand and pulling back with the other.  She can’t aim with the catapult by moving it or adjusting the amount she pulls it back.

Modifications:  I added a backer board (a train table mat) to increase the chances that Beth knocks something down every time (no aim required, since it bounces of the backboard and she seems to pull it back all the way every time so I can fix the catapult in one spot).  I also taped down the catapult so that she only needs to use one hand.


Angry Birds Game with Backer Board and Taped Down Catapult

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to fine motor issues:

4. Avoid or Alter Overwhelming Sounds

When I first started playing games with Beth, she was afraid of everything, so her specific fears of sounds that games made was not clear.  But now her fears are more obvious, because she winces and/or scrunches up her face, then disengages.  If I see signs that sound is problem, I alter the game’s sound and try again.  If I can’t get it to work after a couple of tries, I just put the thing in the “game reject” closet.  Examples of games where I altered sound:

Red Rover (

Beth thinks Red Rover is adorable and she wants to play with him, so that is a big plus!  I like that there are two levels of play (easy level- the dog just requests that you feed him different colors of bones; advanced level-  the dog requests colors, shapes, and numbers). But it is hard for Beth to align and push the bones in his mouth, so I help her.  The dog uses too much language, so I have to repeat the key item he is requesting.  But the near deal breaker was that the loudness of Red Rover’s voice stops her dead in her tracks and she can do little else but listen to the recording.

Modification: I simply taped the speaker in the back, and now it doesn’t overwhelm her anymore.

Red Rover

Red Rover

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Red Rover, Speaker Taped

Angry Birds (Knock on Wood) (

I mentioned some of the modifications to this game above, but sound is also an issue.  The sound of plastic pieces crashing to the table and into each other scare Beth.

Modification:  I put a piece of cardboard underneath to dampen the sound and I cut and sanded a square pine rod to make a quieter version.


Angry Birds, Plastic Replaced with Wood and Cardboard Underneath

Pop-Up Pirate  (

This is a very easy and fast moving turn-taking game where you plunge swords into a barrel until the pirate pops up (sort of sick!). It is a bit difficult for Beth to insert the swords due to fine motor issues, but I tilt the barrel to help her see the hole and that helps.  The biggest issue is the loud  and sudden spring-type mechanical sound when the pirate pops out, followed by the loud sound of the pirate hitting the table.

Modification:  I hold my hand above the pirate’s head and catch him, which eliminates the noise when he hits the table, which helps some. The jury is still out on this game.  I will continue to give Beth game choices and if she stops choosing it, I will assume the noise is too much and put it away.

Pop-Up Pirate

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to noise: Lucky Ducks. Take my advice, if you have a sound-sensitive kid, don’t buy this game.  Even if you buy an old version and disable the incessant and loud quacking by taking out a battery, the motor that makes the ducks move around and around is too loud.  Turn everything off and you still have to deal with matching the bottom of the duck to a card, which involves turning the duck over, then turning him back over so that the match is hidden again. (

5. Stack the Deck & Avoid Missed Turns

I often use “stack the deck” (i.e. ensure that game cards or pieces are ordered so that there is always a play) or take other measures to avoid missed turns.  It makes the game move faster and avoids confusion.  Examples of games where I altered games to avoid missed turns:

Candyland Castle (

This was the best beginning turn-taking game for Beth.  It has action (pull the lever to shoot game piece out), but no loud noise. It is super simple and quick.  The game cards have a recessed areas to hold game pieces which is a plus.  But the instructions say to load all the pieces, take turns ejecting them out, and if there is no match put the piece back in.  The game can get long if you have to keep putting the pieces back and putting the pieces back disrupts the turn taking and flow.

Modification:  Stack the deck!  I take two cards (one for me, one for Beth) and load them up with pieces, then put pieces from each card in an alternating fashion into the castle to load it.  That way, when the lever is pulled, we take turns and there is always a match for each of our cards.

Candyland Castle

Zingo (

Zingo is a step up from Candyland Castle (mentioned directly above). It is good for working on language and has a great sliding game piece dispenser. But the game can get really long if you keep returning unplayable pieces.  The game board has no recessed areas for the pieces, so they may slide around too much.

Modification:  Stack the deck! The game dispenser spits out two game pieces at a time. I put the game pieces for my daughter’s card on one side of the dispenser, and mine on the other.  I either quickly get my piece to avoid confusion or work on the fact that Beth doesn’t have the piece, so she should give it to me.  The puffy paint mentioned in the lotto board section above can be used to make boarders around each square to keep the pieces from sliding around if needed.


Hi Ho Cherry O ( and

A spinner and removing cherries is a great way to work on counting. But the game board was too cluttered and Beth kept putting her cherries in other buckets and taking the cherries from my tree and other buckets.  The spinner has some confusing parts that lead to missed turns (e.g., bird flying off with a cherry, spilled bucket) and it was visually confusing.

Modification:  I used pieces from two games I owned (see links above), and made a version with separate trees, separate buckets, and a portable spinner.  I mounted my child’s tree on a box with a hole in it so the cherries would not slide around.  I took apart the spinner (it pulls it apart and snaps back together easily), modified it with paper covered with clear contact paper, and put only large numbers on the spinner to avoid missed turns.  At the end of the game, I tilt the spinner to get the exact number of cherries left on the tree.  The portable spinner is great for controlling the game, because after Beth’s turn, I can hold the spinner above her tree so that she stops taking off cherries and I can take my turn. I taped Beth’s tree and bucket down so it did not move during play.

Hi Ho Cherry O

Hi Ho Cherry O

Game currently in our “game reject” closet due to visual clutter: I Spy Games. These games are a visual clutter nightmare for my child!  Also, traditional board games (Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, etc).  Many newer versions are more cluttered than the classic versions for some reason.  The Lauri Toys Peggy Back Game is an easier option I plan to try:

6. Make Desired Placement of Game Pieces Obvious

My child needs to know EXACTLY where to put things during a game, or frustration ensues.  Here are some sample modifications to games to address the placement issue:

Memory Games.  When all attempts to do memory games in the real word failed, the iPad taught Beth how to play them (it took many months, but slowly, she got the concept).  But even after mastering memory games on the iPad, playing them in the real world initially failed.  Then I realized because of Beth’s need to know exactly where things go, I needed a holder to keep the game pieces in place during play and bowls for our matches.  I used foam board ( and cut out openings, then taped the foam board to the game table (the picture below shows 8 openings and I will cut out the top 4 tracings later to expand the game).  We use thick wooden tiles to help with fine motor issues (there are many sets available, here is one –

Memory Game (foam board with cut-outs to hold tiles and bowls to hold matches)

Memory Game (Foam Board with Cut-Outs to Hold Tiles in Place During Play and Bowls to Hold Matches)

Honey Bee Tree (

This is a very easy game…just take turn pulling out the leaves and collect the bees.  This is basically the game Kerplunk and there are other versions out there with monkeys and marbles, but my kid likes bees.  But it takes forever to set up, so do it before your child even approaches it!  Where do you put the bees and leaves?  This was a huge problem for Beth.  I kept trying to show her how to put them in piles, but that confused her.

Modification:  I use a tall cup for our leaves that we pull out, and we each get a short cup for our bees.  At the end we work on which cup has more by sight instead of counting them all.

Honey Bee Tree

Honey Bee Tree

7. Make Your Own Games

Here are some home-made games I have made:

Eraser Lotto Game

I go to the dollar store and buy seasonal erasers to make lotto games. I copy them on my color copier to make lotto cards (cover the cards with clear contact paper).  I hide the erasers in my daughter’s lima bean sensory bin and we take turns drawing them out to place them on the cards.  I keep note of where I place the pieces in the bin, so that I can “find” the same pieces that she finds so she doesn’t draw a repeat piece.  This is the Valentine’s Day version of the game:

Eraser Lotto Game

Eraser Lotto Game

You can also make lotto cards by copying pieces of a matching game, which are abundant at thrift stores.

Feed the Animals Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word feed the animals activity (, which we are now using as a feed the animals game. I went to a teacher’s supply store and bought a spinner, took the spinner apart, copied the feed the animal food, cut out the food, put the food pieces on the spinner, covered with clear contact paper, and put the spinner back together.  We take turns spinning to feed the animals.  I tilt the spinner to avoid missed turns so that we never land on a food that has already been fed.

Feed the Animals

Feed the Animals

First Words Game

I previously posted about my iPad to real word beginning words activity (  This activity was easy to convert to a game by putting the letter tiles in a bag and taking turns to draw letters.

First Words Game

First Words Game

Simple Path Games

I found many theme-based simple path games in the book More Than Counting ( In the example below, Beth and I take turns rolling a die to see who can get her acorn to a squirrel first. A large die is helpful because she can touch the dots while counting. We roll our wooden die into a plastic box to dampen the noise.

Short Path "Race" Game (custom die 1-3, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom)

Short Path “Race” Game (large wooden 1-6 die where I used self-stick foam to cover each side and put dots on each face with a permanent marker to make a 1-3 die, game pieces are acorns sanded flat on the bottom, squirrel stickers at end)

Short Path "Race" Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)

Short Path “Race” Game (Close Up of Acorn Game Piece)