When we first began the journey of correctly diagnosing Cooper, the possibility that he was a child on the autism spectrum was very real, so I began researching the best ways for me as his mom to help him learn.

I soon discovered that children with autism and special needs in general respond best to structure and repetition.

I also learned that I needed to stop trying to account for Cooper's chronological age, instead focusing on teaching him on the level of his mental age.

In other words, Coop, who was diagnosed as being about 18 months behind other children his age, needed to learn on the level of a 3 year old instead of a near-five year old.

I also learned about buying teachable toys and how they could help him develop in the areas he was behind in. Here's a few things to keep in mind when buying "teachable toys."

Teaching "How" the World Works

One of the first things young children and toddlers need to learn is an understanding of the way the world works.

Traditional toys like Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are used to teach kids about the different parts of the head and face, and how those parts work with together with our seven senses.

Likewise, you can use toy cars and play kitchens to teach your child about how the wheels of a car make it move back and forth or how different parts of an oven cook food in different ways (i.e., the difference between baking and boiling.)

What Goes Together and What Doesn't

Play time is a great time to teach about inclusion and exclusion.

We use the seemingly endless amount of dinosaurs and shark toys my son has to teach him about things that go together and things that don't.

For instance, sometimes we put all the dinosaurs with wings together, followed by all dinosaurs who walk on all fours together, and so on and so on.

When we want to talk about plant-eaters and meat-eaters, we divide those up, too.

Most retail stores like Walmart or even Dollar General carry little plastic baskets full of fake food in their toy aisle, and they usually cost less than $10.

Buying one of those little baskets is a great way to teach your child about the basic food groups and what foods are similar and different (i.e., apples, oranges, and bananas are fruit; milk and cheese are dairy products.)

Sequencing

Teaching our children about the order in which things go can be easier said than done.

But we can use simple toys like big colored beads or blocks to teach our children about patterns and sequencing.

If your daughter loves jewelry, pick up a child's jewelry-making kit and work with her to make bracelets and necklaces featuring different patterns of beads.

Before you know it, she'll have an understanding of patterns and will apply that understanding in school.

Use What They Love to Teach

If you've learned anything from this blog, I hope it's this: you don't need a specially designed toy to teach your child skills they need.

In fact, I believe our children learn best when we teach them using items and toys they love rather than some weird toy nobody really understands.

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