Melissa and Doug

5 Tips For Learning Through Play For Children With Autism

At Melissa & Doug, we believe in the power of play to celebrate the strengths of every child and to help build a strong foundation of skills for learning and for life. We have included five play ideas for children with autism that use a strengths-based approach to skill-building. Choosing play experiences and toys that add skill-building to activities your child already loves makes learning fun!

Please feel free to adapt the following play ideas to the needs, likes, and strengths of your individual child!

Play to Your Child’s Interests and Strengths

1. For Children Who Love Trains, Focus on Flexibility Skills
Studies have recently found a link between children with ASD and a love for trains. You can use this interest to engage your child in the practice of flexible thinking. Children with ASD often prefer THEIR way of doing things, and often do not like to consider alternatives. Train play can help practice adopting more flexible thinking habits.

Toys that Encourage Flexibility

With train tracks, there are often multiple ways of getting to the same place. You can ask your child, “Do you want to get to the water tower by going left and around, or right and up,” as you point. You can also say, “Good choice: This time we will go left and around, and maybe next time we can go right and up!” Emphasizing multiple ways of doing the same thing may help develop the beginnings of flexibility in decision-making and in routine.

Boy with toy train












As an added benefit, raising the trains and tracks up onto a table engages the gross motor muscles and core as children stand and move about the table while playing. It also offers room for multiple children to play in the same playspace, frustration free!

2. For Children Who Love Imaginative Play, Focus on Perspective Skills
All children have the gift of imagination and role play is a great way to develop this. Role play has often been praised as a prime way to encourage perspective, a key component of empathy. But role play does not always have to mean traditional dress-up, and in fact, many children with ASD actually prefer alternatives to dress up for their imaginative play. These alternatives can also be useful for preparing for new events or changes in routine, like a trip to a new grocery store!

Understanding another person’s perspective is not an easy task for a child with ASD. Not every brain is wired to take in and perceive the meaning behind body language, facial expressions, or actions of other people.Discussing the actions and feelings of others can be done through all types of imaginative play.

How to Encourage Perspective Skills

Focus on Actions: While playing grocery store, you can ask your child: “What would you like to do at the grocery store…ring up the food? Take the money? Pick out the food? Sell the produce?” By starting with an action before adding a person who does the action, a child with autism may make a connection to understanding perspective more easily. “A cashier likes to ring up the food and take the money too!”

Focus on Personal Experience. Another way to help with developing perspective is through personal experience. Asking a child to imagine another person’s perspective and compare it to their own allows for a recognition that someone else’s experience may be different than their own.

After a child has done the job of a cashier with play money, you can ask “Do you think the cashier’s job of counting money is easy or hard?” Or after a child pays for groceries as the customer, ask, “Wow, how do you feel trading your money for groceries? When I buy groceries, I feel…”

You can also add some gross motor practice into this experience by incorporating a shopping cart with the perspective of the shopper. “How does the shopping cart feel when it’s full?” “Is it hard to push?” Then add, “Do you think a customer would have a hard time pushing it?” Children with ASD often feel calmed by the sensory experience and weight of pushing a cart filled with toys!

3. For Children Who Love Repetition, Focus on Fine Motor Skills
The idea of repetition and consistency is often important and soothing to children with autism. Toys that can be played with over and over are classic favorites! Practicing fine motor skills promotes independence in life skills such as eating, dressing, and hygiene. These life skills also require repetition, as they are done every single day as part of a routine which may be comforting to your child.

Toys that Encourage Fine Motor Skills

3784 Basic Skills Board image

The Basic Skills Board allows a child with autism to engage in different fine motor life skills over and over again. You can help your child make the connections to life skills by saying “Do you see any of these types of zippers, buttons, etc., during your day?”

726 Farm Sound Puzzle image]

This sound puzzle features predictable sounds from lovable animals which your child can play with over and over. Fine motor skills are being developed every time your child grabs one of the puzzle pieces, developing the very same hand muscles used later on for holding a pencil and writing.

4042 Magic for kids












Children can practice repeating these easy to learn magic tricks and build self-confidence and resilience as they master each one, then perform them for friends and family!

4. For Children Who Love Animals, Focus on Connection Skills
Many children with autism have a natural affinity for animals. As making connections with other people can be difficult for those with ASD, many prefer to build connections with animals.

Toys that Encourage Connection

Some ideas for toys that may help children practice these social-emotional skills include:

Examine & Treat Pet Vet Play Set












Children with autism will love learning to care for animals as they practice kindness and eye contact with the lovable dog and cat in this set. Also sized for on-the-go, the animals can be great comfort companions for when your child is out of routine.

Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle

The Wooden Bear Dress Up Set offers the opportunity for children with autism to practice reading facial expressions and what each one might mean. It also offers countless hours of storytelling connection with the bear family.

Make-a-Face Crazy Animals Sticker Pad

This sticker pad offers practice with reading facial expressions and also gives a child the opportunity to express a desired emotion to others by creating a facial expression on the animals.
Animal Rescue Wooden Play Set












Some children may find it easier to connect or understand emotions through play with a smaller play set. With this Safari Animal Rescue Truck, two wooden Animal Rescuers can have adventures connecting with and saving safari animals in any stories your little one can imagine.

5. For Children Who Love Colors, Shapes, and Sorting, Focus on Speech & Language Skills
Working with and sorting colors and shapes are often a strength of children with ASD. Allowing them the opportunity to engage in a skill they feel comfortable and confident with while developing Speech & Language is a great way to tap into your child’s natural gifts and make learning fun!

Toys that Encourage Speech & Language Skills

Wooden Steep & Serve Tea Set












Connect and talk by holding a tea party with family and friends! Choose the color tea you would like and sort them by color into the matching space in the tea box.

Stacking Blocks Set Learning Toy












Stacking blocks are a great resource for shaping language skills. Sort by size, shape, or color, or even play hide and seek with your favorite shape in the big yellow box. Name each color and shape with your child as you discover countless hours of fun and language!


With the Pound & Roll Tower, you and your child can name colors as you match and sort the balls into the corresponding color cut-out (or mix it up for added fun!). “Can you bonk the green ball?” “There goes the red ball …down…down…down or roll…roll…drop!” “Bye Bye, Red Ball.”

Switch & Spin Magnetic Gear Board

Tinkering is also often a strength of children with autism, and they may enjoy a gear toy that helps them explore cause-and-effect. Take this natural ability to combine pieces together with a love of colors and shapes, and you have a fun play experience your child will be talking about for quite a while! Using movement language will expose your child to new vocabulary and experiences. “Can we spin the purple gear?” or “What do you think will happen if you take out the blue gear?”

When it comes to children with autism, often their strengths are what surprises us the most, not their needs. Keeping the learning process strengths-based, engaging, and fun is a great way for these children to shine!

Come to Melissa and Doug to find out more.

Heartland Veterinary Supply

Canine influenza outbreak caused by Asian virus, scientists say

The canine influenza outbreak afflicting more than 1,000 dogs in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest is caused by a different strain of the virus than was earlier assumed, scientists at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin say in a Cornell media release.

Researchers at Cornell say their test results indicate that the outbreak is being caused by a virus closely related to Asian strains of influenza A H3N2, currently in wide circulation in southern Chinese and South Korean dog populations since being identified in 2006. There is no evidence that it can be transmitted to humans, they say.

The outbreak in the Midwest was previously thought to be a result of the H3N8 strain of virus, which was identified in the U.S. dog population in 2004 and has been circulating since, the release states. The H3N2 virus had not been previously detected in North America. The outbreak in Chicago suggests a recent introduction of the H3N2 virus from Asia.

Testing of clinical samples from the outbreak conducted at the New York State Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell indicated that the virus was influenza A. Further testing led researchers to believe a new strain was at fault. Subsequent testing, carried out with the assistance of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, identified the new subtype as H3N2. The National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, is sequencing two isolates from this outbreak to facilitate complete characterization of the viruses.

Both influenza strains can cause high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge and lethargy, researchers say. Symptoms may be more severe in cases caused by the H3N2 virus. Some infected dogs may not show symptoms at all.

H3N2 has caused infection and respiratory illness in cats, according to the Cornell release.

Researchers are advising veterinarians that samples from sick pets can be tested using a broadly targeted influenza A matrix reverse transciptase-polymerase chain reaction assay (Rt-PCR). The canine-specific influenza A H3N8 Rt-PCR in use in several laboratories will not detect this virus, they say. Serology is also currently not available, as the H3N2 virus is different enough from H3N8 that antibodies may not cross-react. However, an H3N2-specific serologic assay is under development and will be available soon, the release states.

Researchers do not know yet if the current canine influenza vaccine will provide any protection from this new virus. It does protect against H3N8, they say, which is in circulation in some areas. Other preventive advice remains the same: In areas where the viruses are active, pet owners need to avoid places where dogs congregate, such as dog parks and grooming salons.

Find out more at Heartland Veterinary Supply.


Atomic Toaster: Now You’re Toasting With Power!

Traditional toasters are okay. You can add two – sometimes four – slices at a time. That’s great for two people, but what about the family of 6 or more? By the time a second batch of toast is finished, the first is cold and soggy with melted butter. Gross! Now, there’s a better way.

Atomic Toaster

Introducing Atomic Toaster™

Introducing the Atomic Toaster, the only toaster that simultaneously toasts 20 slices of bread while cooking at temperatures to obliterate harmful bread bacteria, like Rhizopus stolonifera. And best of all, it’s built atomic tough. Perfect for tough and rugged survivalists! Atomic Toaster has three toasting settings: Hi, Lo, and Nuclear Winter. For a light toast, use the Lo setting, or set on Hi so your bread starts to blacken and smoke. Atomic Toaster’s Nuclear Winter setting is perfect for folks on a keto diet; the burnt, blackened bread vaporizes before it touches your lips. How’s that for cutting carbs?

Atomic Toaster Close UP

Atomic Toaster’s accordion design allows you to easily collapse the toaster for optimal storage. Gone are the days of bulky toaster sitting on your counter. Atomic Toaster can easily fit in your cabinet when you’re finished toasting.

We tested Atomic Toaster for toughness and it passed . We threw it from 50-feet in the air. It still worked. We threw it in a bathtub full of water. It still worked. Finally, we fired a heat-seeking missile from a Russian Mig at Atomic Toaster. Our toast came out PERFECT!

Atomic Toaster Coils

You can upgrade to the Atomic Toaster Pro Edition. Internal radiation coils blast with 20x more power so a bright radiation glow illuminates your Atomic Toaster. Now you can literally light up the night atomic bright while toasting your bread!

Order now and receive the bonus lead apron. Wear proudly to show your family who’s the cook in the kitchen. Just pay a separate fee. Due to the weight of this product, we are unable to ship to PO Boxes.