Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mother discovers line of toys helps with autistic kids

Antioch resident now sells Discovery Toys after learning about benefits for her sons at Bill Wilkerson Center By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • March 19, 2008 ANTIOCH — Antioch resident Andrea Adams had a feeling something was not normal with her older son, Sean, long before he was diagnosed with autism. "I had seen some signs," she said. But she said her son's pediatrician kept saying that he would "grow out of it." Adams, a local consultant for Discovery Toys, finally took Sean to a different pediatrician, who suggested she have him screened for autism. Sean, 10, was diagnosed with autism at age 4; most children are diagnosed before age 3. As a result of Sean's diagnosis, Adams was well aware of the signs of autism when her younger son, Jared, began showing them. Although a May 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine discredited any link between autism and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and other thimerosol-containing vaccines, Jared's parents believe his autism is related to a vaccination he received when he was 18 months old. Adams said he had good eye contact, verbal skills and play skills until receiving the shot. Both Sean and Jared, 8, receive speech therapy at the Bill Wilkerson Center at Vanderbilt. They also receive speech therapy and occupational therapy at school. Also, some schools provide ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, if needed in cases more severe than Sean's and Jared's. But Adams said the waiting period to see an autism specialist is very long. Many parents may be at a loss as to what they can do for their autistic children while they wait besides changing their diets. This is where Discovery Toys can be helpful, she said. "It's frustrating; you just feel helpless," she said about the feeling she had when she first found out. "It's like having a 2-year-old forever, but a 2-year-old who thinks they can do everything." And, said Adams, "there's no known cause; there's no known cure." Adams said she first saw Discovery Toys at the Bill Wilkerson Center. But she was officially introduced to them when she met a consultant who had a booth with a sign that said, "Discovery Toys Works with Autism Speaks." It was then she discovered there was a whole market out there. Firm also works to create toys to help with autism Discovery Toys are designed to be educational and safe. The company promises that all of its products meet or exceed standards set by the U.S. and Canadian governments regarding safety. All toys are tested for flammability, hazardous materials and toxic elements, including lead, by an independent laboratory prior to shipment from domestic and foreign manufacturers. The company also regularly monitors the labor practices, raw materials and manufacturing processes used by its vendors as an extra measure for quality and safety. Adams said Discovery Toys has collaborated with the Princeton Child Development Institute to offer a line of toys specifically designed for children with autism. The toys are designed to develop independent play; promote sustained engagement; build skills for cooperative play; create opportunities for children to talk about their play experiences; reward accomplishment with completion activities; and encourage pretend play. Mary Shelton, a professor of psychology at Tennessee State University, said some of the toys' features would likely offer specific benefits for children with autism. For example, "to promote cooperative play would be addressing one of the weaknesses involved in autism." Also, "impaired ability to engage in imaginative play is one of the diagnostic symptoms of autism," she said. However, Shelton added, other features may not yield any more benefits for children with autism than they would other children. Already, she said, children with autism tend to be "overly engaged in solitary play or objects." Shelton said "kids with autism cover a wide range." "Autistic spectrum disorders can range from really smart, focused, well-liked kids who have social difficulties to kids who are severely impaired." So generalizing about what toys would work well for children with autism is like saying, "Would this toy appeal to a boy?" Adams said she encourages parents to find the toys that fit their child's circumstances, regardless of age. With children who have autism, their "developmental age" doesn't necessarily correspond to their "chronological age," she said. She spreads autism awareness while selling toys A couple of toys Adams said her boys like are the Castle Marbleworks and the Magic Talkin' Kitchen Crew. Castle Marbleworks allows the child to place a ball at the top of a ramp so that it travels down the winding ramp. "He likes this one," said Adams, as Jared experimented with the Magic Talkin' Kitchen. "It talks, which helps with his speech." Adams, also a part-time preschool teacher at Hamilton United Methodist, uses some of the toys there. She has booths at conferences, church festivals and other special events. Products may be ordered during home parties or by appointment. "I can help families and spread autism awareness all at the same time," she said. Contact Suzanne Normand Blackwood by telephone at 259-8268 or by e-mail at

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