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ATU600 – Holiday Gift Guide with Karrie Veteto, MOT, OTR, BCBA

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest: Karrie Veteto, MOT, OTR, BCBA – Director of Autism and Behavior Services – Easterseals Crossroads
Websites mentioned:
Fat Brain Toys: https://www.fatbraintoyco.com/
National Autism Resources: https://nationalautismresources.com/
Autism Parenting Magazine: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/

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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Participants:

Happy holidays from the assistant Technology Center and Easterseals Crossroads. This your assistant technology update.

Josh Anderson:

Well listeners, that music can mean only one thing. It is officially the day after thanksgiving and time for our annual gift giving guide show. But this year as we sit around with our bellies full from the feast yesterday, we’re going to do things a little differently. In the past, myself and other members of the team and organization would all sit around and talk about the holidays and some cool adaptive gifts. Well, this year I’m excited to welcome Karrie Veteto, who is our director of Autism and Behavioral Services here at Easterseals Crossroads for the show. She’s going to tell us about some gift ideas for the individuals on your list with autism and some things to consider when picking out these gifts. Carrie, welcome to the show.

Karrie Veteto:

Hello. Thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:

Yeah, I am really excited about this. Wade actually brought up the idea to me and I thought it was a really, really great thing. We usually are a little bit more broad, but I think especially for folks who have a family member or friend with a disability, it’s always good to know some of the things to consider. But before we kind of get into that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Karrie Veteto:

Absolutely. So I’ve been working with individuals on the autism spectrum for about 20 years, which ages me a bit. I’ve been occupational therapist actually that was my first job as an occupational therapist for about 15 years. And then I became a BCBA, so a board certified behavior analyst and that I’ve been had that credentialing for about 10 years. And then just recently became the director of our program here at Easterseals.

Josh Anderson:

And we are super excited to have you and just so everybody knows, because I know you can’t see in the studio, she must have started when she was 10, so I know she said she was dating herself. But I don’t really think so. Karrie, this is our holiday show. So I mean we are going to talk about the gifts and everything else, but do you have a favorite family holiday tradition you could share with us?

Karrie Veteto:

I sure do. Actually. One of the things, even as a younger child, Christmas evening is always a time. We always kind of dress up a little more fancy, go to church and then have more of a fancy dinner with family. We did that when I was younger at my grandma’s house and now we do that at my mom’s house. So that’s always something that I look forward to is spending time with my parents, my own family, and then my brother’s family. And it’s just awesome to see my kids and my niece and nephew having fun and being excited about their presence.

Josh Anderson:

I know and it almost takes you back and makes you think, “Man, were my parents this excited to me to play with my cousins and everything else.” So awesome. Okay, let’s start with when considering gifts for kids diagnosed somewhere on the spectrum. What are just some kind of best practices or some things to think about?

Karrie Veteto:

Well a lot of our kiddos, a lot of them do have really specific interest and that can make it really challenging sometimes to fall into that or to get things that are age appropriate within that special interest. So it’s important to bear in mind their developmental age versus chronological age but keeping the gift socially appropriate. So we know that sometimes we may have a kid that’s really into Thomas the train, but they may be a little bit of an older kiddo. What can we take from that and maybe incorporate, so is it books about Thomas, is it DVD? Things like that. We really want to capture their interest but also it being a fun gift for them.

Josh Anderson:

Oh sure. And I can definitely see that maybe the small Thomas the tank backpack isn’t the best thing for high school age kid because that’s just going to probably make things a little bit worse. So I could definitely see that.

So let’s get into the fun stuff. What are some great gifts for individuals with autism? And I will preface this just because I know you’ll probably say it too. Everyone on the spectrum is very different and so very different needs, very different wants, ambitions, things that they like and everything else. So this is not a blanket term and I’m sure listeners of the show probably know that too. There’s no magic bullet, no, no amazing things. But maybe just what are some kind of great gift ideas for individuals on the spectrum that might be on our shopping list?

Karrie Veteto:

So some things I like to keep in mind, and this is me tooting my OT horn and my BCBA horn. We have some favorites, but we definitely are always looking for things that are also going to help develop some skills but not in a way that it feels boring and work. We love good cause and effect toys. We love toys that elicit some pretend play and have a lot of flexibility in how they’re used. We’re big fans of the simple back and forth games anymore.

If you look for board games for kiddos, well they’re all gross. They all circle around boogers and yucky things. But just finding those things where you can just simply take turns back and forth and they don’t have layers and layers of rules and tons of pieces and that kind of thing. So we are always excited to find new ones of that. And then of course good old construction type toys where we’re talking about Legos and other things. So I have a list of some items that fall into these categories.

Josh Anderson:

Okay, awesome. What are some of those?

Karrie Veteto:

When we’re talking about pretend play things? Everybody in my program we’re big fans of Melissa and Doug. They just do a really great job of having some really just cute pretend play things. But also these kinds of activities are really great for our kids. If they’re simple, the parts are always really safe because we know sometimes with our littler ones they may putting them in their mouth, but they can also be used for a large age range.

So littler kids can have just as much fun with a baking place as a kid that’s a little bit older can still use the functionality. So one of the items that I found that I thought was super cool I hadn’t seen before is called Let’s explore flower gardening play set. And what’s cool about it is it’s actually got all 16 pieces, it’s got little pots and seed packets and flowers and you’re planting the flowers, but the flowers actually change color when you spray them with water.

So that’s fun and exciting. And then obviously, it can be done again and again once the flower dries. So we really like this one. I mean it’s going to encourage skills like imitation communication skills and those pretend play things. So I think that’s just a really great place set along with that one. Melissa and Doug also has a really cute super smile dentist kit, which I also thought this one was fun because a lot of our friends aren’t big fans of going to the dentist, so it gives them a chance to play with those tools and pretend themselves being the dentist and knowing what to expect. I never in my life have thought I would want to play with the dental play kit, but I saw this and I was like, “Oh that looks really cute.” So it’s great for helping them understand what’s going to happen at the dentists and practicing with the tools.

Again, encouraging the imitation communication, pretend play skills. The interesting thing about it is that you have a dry erase marker in the set so you can create decay on teeth and then you can use the tools to clean the teeth and so you’re actually cleaning the teeth and not just pretending, which I really like this as an OT. And really even in ABA we’ve run programs where we’re trying to teach kids what brushing your teeth actually is and that you have to clean all of them to get everything clean. So this is the kind of activity we would set up often is look not on their own teeth but on a model. See you have to get everything to make sure you did a good job. So I just thought that was really cool that it kind of looped into that

Josh Anderson:

Nice. And I love the way, like you said, those have the cause and effect, but they can really help in different ways. Going to the dentist actually okay, this is what it happens and how important brushing your teeth is. Then I could see how the gardening kind of place that could even extend into more maybe next spring I can help mom with gardening or dad plant seeds and actually plant seeds and do things and see that. So it could really turn into a whole lot more.

Karrie Veteto:

Yes. And I’ll say with Melissa and Doug, I have a six and a half year old at home who created her own cafe in our toy room and she was started collecting all the things that were related to food. And so at six and a half, almost seven, she’s still really into using those. So I definitely think those toys really serve a wide range, age range.

Josh Anderson:

That’s cool. We have a whole plethora of wooden and plastic food from Listen Doug and other places that yes, you get some amazing dishes from the four year old now, but now the one year old has picked it up and is actually wanting to play and hand you things too and they really do seem to last and really hold up.

Karrie Veteto:

And the functionality too. We have a drink dispenser that the restaurant actually at home had to shut down for a bit because the grape juice was missing, but it actually drops the drink into the cup so it looks like the cup is full and even ice cubes. So I mean as an adult I had fun.

Josh Anderson:

You get in there. I wish they had this when I was a kid. But yeah. And what about some other things?

Karrie Veteto:

So another thing like I mentioned back and forth games, so getting away from those games and sometimes even we all think back to Candy Land and shoot some ladders and I think those are great games. Sometimes that duration of the game is just really pushing your luck with some of our kids that struggle with attention. And then all the cards and things.

So one of the games I really like is Zingo, which Zingo Bingo, I think it’s made by think fun but it’s a bingo game. But what’s cool about it is you have this little dispenser thing and it shoots out these little tiles that have the picture and the word on it. So it might say cat and a cat on it and then when the kids have their board, but it exactly matches what’s on the thing. So that you could work on, if you’re working on letter recognition, you could do it, but you can also use those pictures.

The kids really like the little thing that shoots the tiles out. But that’s a great thing when it’s your turn you have to have that. So that’s a thing you have to pass back and forth. So whoever has the red dispenser, it’s their turn and that really helps some of our kids recognize like, “Oh it’s not my turn because I don’t have the dispenser.” So we have used that quite a bit. And then there are other versions of it. I couldn’t find them all online, but I know that at my house we have one that’s just sight words. So there are making it a little more advanced if you wanted to raise the bar a bit, another simple back and forth game, it’s a porcupine pop game so it has… If you’ve ever seen those tiny Nerf darts, you stick those on this little porcupine guy and then basically you’re taking turns and one of them will you push his nose.

So you roll the diocese as push his nose one time. So you push the nose and at some point the nose push is going to make all those things shoot out. So it does create a little bit of excitement, but it’s again just taking turns back and forth and then working on just that simple idea and then, you could scale down how much you’re using the dice and you’re working on number recognition, color recognition, and any of those games where you can even throw the rules to the side and just create your own back and forth thing is what we love to do. Use those kind of games.

Josh Anderson:

Nice and I’m glad you brought up duration because I know we broke out shoots and ladders hadn’t played it forever and even with a child, that game takes a lot longer than I remember when I was a kid. You keep going and going and why are there so many slots in so many places? So I’m glad you brought that up too.

Karrie Veteto:

Mouse trap, it had so many parts and then if you miss lose one part, you can’t do anything.

Josh Anderson:

Oh, exactly. Well, and if you bump it in the middle, yeah I can always remember if you bump it in the middle or anything like that, it can really cause a bit of a challenge.

Karrie Veteto:

I think you just have to think about, so shoots and liners for example, it’s fun unless you are really disappointed when you end up on a shoot. And you’re sliding down the shoot and that can cause some behaviors and we don’t necessarily want to avoid that, but you just have to think about for sure in ABA we’re going to make that a goal of hey let’s work on losing games or bouncing back. Same with Candy Land, like everybody’s worst car draws when you get the candy cane that’s at the beginning of the game and basically if you get that snowflake, you’re winning the game. So being able to deal with unexpected things or loss or those kind of things, those are great things to work on. But things to keep in mind that may not always be the most fun game for some of our kiddos.

Josh Anderson:

Karrie, what are some other things to consider or maybe some other gifts out there that might be good for those folks on our list?

Karrie Veteto:

So as an OT I’m always going to think in terms of the sensory needs of a kiddos as well. So for anybody you’re thinking of and as I was looking through these ideas, I was thinking what do I like to get mean? Give me some good comfy pajamas or just those things that are calming a nice smelly candle. Same thing for our kiddos and even when we’re thinking of maybe older kids and teens is things that are calming are always welcome to us, right? I did find a couple things and I know actually a couple of these items we recently just ordered for one of our kiddos in our program through a grant, which was pretty exciting, are just things that provide that. So one idea is, and you can find it with different names, I’ve always called it the cozy canoe, but it’s essentially an inflatable thing like a canoe.

But you can sit down inside of it and you’re getting that smoosh from the sides. The kiddo that we got that for literally sleeps in it in a safe way is not getting suffocated. But he sits in there with his books and it’s getting that smoosh, a nice hug from that little canoe and it’s his own little space so that’s really great. The item that I found sensory pea pod for kids, I think I found right on Amazon, but there’s different versions of it just as everything is.

So you can find different price points with that. But I know any of the kids I know that have really loved that. The other thing that we had gotten also for this kiddo and my own children also are warmies, which I feel like you’re seeing more and more, you can find them online, I find them a lot in boutique type stores or Hallmark, but they’re very, very soft stuffed animals.

But what they are, they kind of are a little bit weighted and they do have a lavender sent to them and then you could put them in the microwave for a limited time, but it kind of warms them. So when kids are going to bed, they can kind of sleep at that warm animal. You can also put it in the freezer and chill it so it’s like colder. So you’re getting just touching into the senses there. But my kids both have them and sometimes you need a little extra something before you go to bed. It is a little weird to see a stuffed animal on the microwave staring at you, but the kids that we have that really like that and sometimes it’s just a matter of having things in our hands. So the little guy that we just ordered some things from him, he had a small one for each hand and he would carry those around and that kept his hands busy.

But I think those are always great, just providing that sensory thing. And then the item I found that I was actually… Maybe I’d like this myself was it’s this jellyfish lava lamp. And again, this isn’t limited to kids, but even adults laying in bed, it looks like it has jellyfish and there were different LED features. You could change the speed and the colors and things like that. So I thought that was also a cool idea that you don’t always think about. It’s not, and it’s definitely not the thing that kids are like, “I want a jellyfish lamp.” But it might be something that they get and they’re like, “Oh I’m actually using this every night.” Which to me as a gift giver, you want to know that people are using the gift and enjoying it.

Josh Anderson:

Oh definitely I’m getting something good out of it. And it’s very funny that you mentioned the jellyfish lamps. I’m pretty sure we talked about that last year on the show.

Karrie Veteto:

Oh really?

Josh Anderson:

Yeah, just because I did the same thing. I found it, I was like, “I could see how that could help with some calming and other things and…”

Karrie Veteto:

Or an aquarium you’ve seen those two weeks to have one upstairs. I think it might have bit the dust, but yeah, it’s just something that’s calming, it’s moving slow. Again, calming things are when you just need to bring it down before bedtime. It’s slower and calmer. So you don’t want to watch something moving really quickly. And a lot of our kids nowadays are on screens and that’s elevating their-

Josh Anderson:

Attention-

Karrie Veteto:

Their attention, yeah. So being able to bring that down and slow moving and slow music and calming things is the direction you want to go with that. And even just sometimes in the middle of the day you just need a break. One of the other things I had found was this little tent thing, just a calm corner for kids and it was actually this black cube looking tent. There’s different versions, but this one particularly kind of blacked out some of the light and things. But I know my own children love nothing more than making forts and building these little spaces. At least this way it can fold up really quickly and not have 500 blankets and pillows have to be put away. But it’s also something for families, maybe we’re going and staying at grandma’s or maybe we’re in a hotel, it’s something that can always go along.

It collapses down so it’s flat, you can just slip it in the trunk or whatever and then you can make that more fun. You know, could add Christmas lights, you could add different things to give it some more a bean bag in there or a weighted blanket. So I think it’s an easy way to create a nice safe place for that kiddo, whether they’re at home or out about. And you were to walk through our ABA department, we have at least in one of the rooms, we have a little tent area set up and we give that to the kids, “Hey, that’s your space. You can go in there and chill out, come back out when you’re ready to do some more stuff.”

Josh Anderson:

Oh sure. Well I’m sure sometimes kids might not even need to go in there, but just knowing it’s there. It really has to come out.

Karrie Veteto:

Like the rest of us, you ever really, I just went to a conference last week and there were times where I was like, “I think I’m just going to go back to my hotel room for a few minutes and I might not really have to do anything in there. I just needed to get away. And I think as adults, when we can recognize that we have those needs, our kids do too.

They just don’t always have the same way of communicating it or knowing what they need. Being able to say that. So I need break, so I need to go and just chill out for a few minutes and then I can come back. And we work a lot on that with our kiddos. I mean that’s definitely an OT goal, it’s also an ABA goal of being able to advocate for yourself, recognizing, I am coming in glued, I need to go calm down and this is what I need. And so we work a ton on that. And so I think these tools are things that you’re providing for them that they can use at home and be able to request and seek out.

Josh Anderson:

Sure. And it’s fun whenever you talk about that needing the time away and, “Oh I’m coming and glued, I need to just walk away.” Probably something all of us could use. I don’t think that’s very specific to individuals with autism.

Karrie Veteto:

Or I mean at work, I’m not going to win my office for a while and I’m going to close the door so that I can just sit in here and do whatever I need to do.

Josh Anderson:

Yeah. And maybe get some work done, maybe just breathe for a little bit and forget about the last hour.

Karrie Veteto:

I’m going to check my Facebook for a second. Yeah.

Josh Anderson:

Yeah, exactly. Or whatever it is to calm myself down and get me back to where I might need to be. I care. We got a little bit of time left. Can you give us one more?

Karrie Veteto:

Sure. So one thing I’ve been seeing more and more, and this is not a new idea, because as like I said, an OT that’s been around for a while, I’ve been making these myself for years. Sensory bins that whether it’s a bin of pinto beans or rice or sand or whatever, and then putting interesting things in there, now you’re finding more and more places that are actually creating these for you. So if you go on Amazon, you can always find these bins. One of the things I found on Amazon was just an outer space themed one, and I think it had almost like aquarium, black aquarium rocks and some neon mixed in there. But there were a lot of different, you might have rocket chips and astronauts and different things that you can use. And that gives the kids a lot of creativity in their play.

They can do what they want with it. They’re still getting some of that really great sensory input. If I was using that therapeutically, I could get more communication and “Hey, I want the red robot that goes with this.” And you get the fine motor skills, the turn taking, you can scale it up or you can scale it down. Some of our kids just like to sit, and again, my time to calm down. Maybe just playing with this sensory bin is my break situation.

So there’s a lot of those out there. Parents may cringe a little if they’re a little more of on the messy side, definitely things that are bigger or easier pick up. I would also recommend maybe you also buy them a nice plastic tablecloth to stick underneath it or a blanket. So it’s easy cleanup, but I’ve been excited to see that other people are making those ready to go so that it just takes one more thing off the parents to have to put together for their kiddos. So I was excited to see that and I think that’s always a great way to go. And of course Plato moon sand, there’s all weird substance substances out there that you can play with. Not a big fan of the slime. We have a no slime rule in our house, but other things, it does allow for a lot of creativity and just sensory input and it has a lot of-

Josh Anderson:

Awesome. Karrie, are there some resources maybe for finding gifts for individuals with autism that might be on our list? Are there little places maybe you go to look or find those things? Or is there anything, I guess insider knowledge maybe you can share with us?

Karrie Veteto:

Yes. So as I was looking, I found a couple different resources that I thought had a really great list. I mean, one, you can always… I’ve discovered with Amazon you can pretty much scale down your search as specific as you want. And they actually do a decent job even if you want to incorporate an age range in there so that’s one option. But I also found Fat Brew Toys has a nice guide and they’re not even specific to autism. They actually provided lists for various special needs.

So even if you’re looking for somebody on your list that has a specific special need, there are lists involved for that. So I would definitely check them out. A couple of websites I found more specific to autism was national autism resources.com and autism parenting magazine.com. So both of those had actual gift giving ideas and links to the items. So I thought those were both pretty helpful.

Josh Anderson:

Awesome. We’ll put links those down in the show notes so folks can easily get to them. Okay. Well, we’ve got just a minute or two left. Is there something you’re looking most forward to this holiday season?

Karrie Veteto:

Sure. So the last two years we have had COVID in our house. So many of our holiday traditions changed and we were quarantined to ourselves. So we’re crossing our fingers that we avoid that again this year. But I am just looking forward to doing some of those annual events that we have with either family and friends that we have not been able to do the last two years. And then of course, I’m always very excited with just seeing the excitement of my own children, not just with gifts, but just with the whole magic of the season and all that. So Christmas time’s one of my favorite times for sure.

Josh Anderson:

Awesome, awesome. Well, we hope that COVID bug stays out of your house this year for sure. But thank you so much for coming on the show and just telling us some great ideas as well as maybe just some things to think about as we look to maybe get some gifts for those individuals on our list that may or may not have autism. Thank you so much, Karrie, for coming on.

Karrie Veteto:

No problem. Thank you.

Josh Anderson:

Listeners, that does it for our holiday episode here for 2022. We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday that you’re having an amazing Black Friday, hopefully getting to spend a little time with friends, with family, and with those that you love as we take a little time out to count our blessings, the things we’re thankful for. We’re thankful for all of you who take your time out of your day to listen to our show and hopefully enjoy it at least a little bit. So again, listeners, thank you so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with our regular format. Happy holidays everyone.

Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on assistive technology update? If so, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org or shoot us a note on Twitter @indataproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or INTRAC. You can find out more about INTRAC at relayindiana.com.

A special thanks to Nikol Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA project, Easterseals Crossroads, supporting partners or this host. This was your assistive technology update. And I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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