It’s sometimes said that autistic children don’t know how to play, or that they don’t like to play. However, play is such a wide concept, and in truth there are only some of the aspects of play which are commonly problematic for children with autism.
What is Play?
The definitions of ‘play’ are broad and varied: The online Oxford Dictionaries suggest that to play is to “Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose“, and other definitions that I’ve come across describe play as “any behavior that is freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated“, or as a way for children to “make sense of the world around them“. Play is usually also seen as important to developing a wide range of skills, such as motor skills, understanding cause and effect, social skills, abstract thinking, imagination etc.
Playing with a Difference
In Penguin’s case, as for many other autistic children, one of the most problematic types of play is pretend play, where you have to imagine that things and people are not what they seem. That kind of play has never really interested Penguin. Then there’s play which requires turn-taking and other kinds of more formal social interaction. That used to be hopeless a few years ago, but we’ve worked on it – mainly using simple board games – and those basic skills are now there, although more intricate social interactions remain difficult, or at least different. Because that’s often what it comes down to, us doing things differently. When Penguin was about 20 months old, he got some toys for Christmas which he was delighted with and immediatly started to play with. One of them was a garage with cars and a helicopter, and as we set it up, Penguin grabbed a car in his hand and drove it down the garage exit, while making a vrroooomm kind of sound. Just like you’d expect. By the time he was two, he would no longer play with the cars that way, but would instead turn them upside down and spin their wheels. This is a fairly typical example of autistic regression, and it can feel as if you’ve lost the child you had. But he’s still very much there, and so is the invitiation to play, if we just see it for what it is and accept it. (I don’t wish to promote any specific therapy program here, but learning a little bit about the Son-Rise program was incredibly helpful for me when Penguin was younger, as it helped me figure out how to engage with him in different ways.)
I’m thinking that we’ll make “Penguin Plays” a recurring feature here on the blog, with posts about how we play, in different ways. As in many other aspects, playing with things (games, lego etc.) is something that Penguin has needed support in learning, whereas these things come more or less naturally to typically developing kids. So I’m hoping that it can be helpful for others to see how we’ve gone about these things. I also know how difficult it can be to come up with ideas for gifts, for birthdays, Christmas, etc., and perhaps some of our posts can offer a bit of inspiration in that regard, too.
Now, for this first installment of “Penguin Plays”, we’ve tried out a couple of sensory play products from Zimpli Kids, namely Gelli Play and Slime Play. We’ve recieved these samples for free from Zimpli Kids, to give them a go and hopefully write about it here, which I’m very happy to do! We’ve also been given two other varieties of these products; Gelli Baff and Slime Baff, which we’re aiming to try out next month when we’ll *hopefully* be moving into a proper home with a bath (after enjoying a caravan lifestyle for almost a year now, as we’re ‘inbetween homes’). And, just so you know, I’ve not been told what to say here and all opinions I express are my own.
First out, we tried the Gelli Play. After reading the instruction leaflet, it seemed clear that the most convenient way for us to use this would be to play with it in the kitchen sink; To make the mixture directly under the tap, and then just drain it straight down the plughole when finished was super convenient! An added bonus in our case was that the flooring by the sink would not be a problem if spilt on (you might sense here that my love of carpets is limited, lol).
To make the Gelli Play, you just run hot water, sprinkle in the powder, stir it around with your hand, and then wait. It takes a few minutes for the stuff to set, so I didn’t get Penguin involved in making it, as he would probably have wanted to dive straight in. Also, I wanted to see for myself if the gooey stuff really seemed to be as non-irritant as it says, before letting Penguin loose on it. I actually put some in my eye, and had a tiny taste of it too, both of which it says to avoid. So don’t do it – I’ve done it now so that you don’t have to! I’m happy to say that I’ve had no adverse effects of my experiment, and I feel very happy to let Penguin play with these products. I will always supervise him though, as he does sometimes tend to eat stuff that he shouldn’t (even though it’s a much rarer occurance now than a couple of years ago), and I wouldn’t want him to put his face in the goo either.
When the Gelli Play had formed nicely and I got Penguin to come over to the sink, he was at first very hesitant about touching the brightly coloured goo. I put my own hand in to show him it was safe and fun, and he then braved it and started poking it. And once he got his hands into it properly he loved it! Squishing and stirring it around, pouring it from hand to hand and over his lower arms, etc. Penguin was really enjoying it! I mostly let him play with it by himself, but got involved briefly for a little bit of interaction, pouring it on each others hands and arms. I should add that we only used about half a packet of powder to make the amount of goo you see here, which was a really good amount, so you can easily get two play sessions from a single packet.
Here’s a little video from our Gelli Play session (please excuse the poor light, I’m more of a still images kinda girl normally, so I’ve got a lot to learn about making videos…)
After we’d finnished playing with the Gelli Play, we sprinkled in some of the dissolver powder that comes with it, turned the taps back on, and drained it away without a problem.
It was pretty clear to me that this was a hit with Penguin, but we’ve got some visual cards for evaluating different experiences (which I made after seeing something similar on a visit to the leisure center), so I got them out and asked Penguin what he thought about playing with the Gelli Play. And he gave it top marks, choosing the “Brilliant!” card with the happiest of faces on it 😀
Personally, I’d choose the “Good” card, with the smiley face. My reason for not giving Gelli Play absolute top marks is mainly about my own preference for more natural products. Both products that we’ve tried smell of strawberries, which is lovely, but I generally try to avoid perfumed products as they are said to increase the risk of developing allergies. I would have loved for the scent as well as the colouring to have been more naturally produced, and I’ve asked Zimpli Kids about this. They’ve promised to get back to me, and if I get a reply which could be relevant to you as a reader, I will of course edit this post to include that information.
Another note on colours: The colour of the Gelli Play that we tried is called Lava Blast Red, but it turned out more cherry pink than red. This was absolutely no problem to us, but if you were expecting it to be as bright red as the shirts of your favourite football team, for example, you might feel disappointed.
After the great success with the Gelli Play, it was always going to be a tall order for the Slime Play to meet Penguin’s high expectations, when I started mixing another colourful powder into the sink the following day. We enjoyed the Slime Play too though, if perhaps not quite as much as the Gelli Play. I thought it would end up a bit thicker than it did, so I made some more in a separate bowl, using a higher proportion of powder, but it was still more fluent than I’d expected. Still, it was really quite relaxing to play with, and I can certainly imagine it being a lovely experience to take a bath in this stuff!
I added some beach finds in the shape of shells and stones into the Slime Play, to add another dimension to the experience. We also had a jug and a small bowl for pouring the stuff with, and Penguin enjoyed a good amount of play with those, but plucked the beach finds out and placed them in a bowl on the side. When it comes to adding items during sensory play, I think it’s a good idea to do that sometimes, but not all the time. Consider what the aim of your play session is; If it’s to really focus on enjoying the sensory pleasure of slime, jelly, rice, grains or whatever you’re using that time, then perhaps it’s better to leave the additional items out? If on the other hand you wish to make it a session for initiating communication around a certain theme, or for counting items, or comparing shapes, colours, sizes etc, then go ahead, chuck in a pile of dinosaurs, or whatever floats your kid’s boat!
After having played with the Slime Play, I again asked Penguin to let me know what he thought of it, using the same visual cards as above. This time he picked the “Good” card, and it would be the same from me. I suspect though, that a Slime Baff may well get a “Brilliant!” as this stuff feels like something that would be amazing to swim around in. Also, Daddy Penguin gave the Slime Play a go and thouroughly enjoyed it, which was a little bit unexpected as he’s more of a sensory ‘avoider’, while me and Penguin are more ‘seekers’. So perhaps, if you’re child finds thick, gooey sensory play overwhelming, this thinner slimy goo could be just the thing?
Here’s a short video I made, attempting to show the consistency of the Slime Play.
Conclusions, and Giveaway!
Despite my slight reservations about the not so natural ingredients, our experiences of playing with these products from Zimpli Kids have been great. And the fact that they’re non-staining, non-toxic, non-irritant and made here in the UK adds to my mostly positive impression. We’re looking forward to trying out the bath products as well, as soon as we get the chance!
To our great excitement we’re now running a GIVEAWAY of a bundle of Zimpli Kids sensory play products! One lucky winner will get their hands on all of these:
- 1x Gelli Baff, Green
- 1x Slime Baff, Blue
- 1x Gelli Play, Red
- 1x Slime Play, Green
- 1x SnoBall
The competition will start Saturday night 17 Feb at midnight (i.e. 12 am Sunday 18 Feb), and will run for 8 days, until the end of Sunday night 25 Feb. To enter, just click on the link below and follow the Rafflecopter instructions. Terms and conditions apply, please see below. Best of luck! 🤞🍀
Terms & Conditions:
- Competition open to UK residents aged 18 or over only.
- The prize is a Zimpli Kids products bundle, as specified above, and cannot be exchanged for cash.
- Competition opens on 18 Feb at 12 am GMT and closes on 26 Feb at 12 am GMT.
- The winner will be notified within 72 hrs after the competition has closed.
- The winner will need to respond within 72 hrs from being notified to claim there price, or a new winner will be drawn in their place.
- The prize will be distributed by Zimpli Kids.
- Sensational Learning with Penguin cannot be held responsible for missing or damaged prizes.
If you wish to buy some Gelli Play, Slime Baff, or other Zimpli Kids products, one place you can find them is on Amazon:
Disclaimer: The pictures above are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and buy the products I should recieve a small commission from Amazon, at no extra cost to you.