Monday, January 01, 2007

zoobs


I figured I may as well blog about the Zoobs since they're pulled out all over my living room and on my mind. Here's a photo of Jacob from a few minutes ago, in the midst of building a "Zoobrex" (the Zoob version of a T-rex).

Jacob's Zoob building talent is something that everyone who sees him in action seems to be amazed by. I don't consider it particularly amazing, given that he has Autism and this is just following written directions -- very static, very up Jacob's alley. So from an overall conceptual level, there's nothing to it at all to get excited about. In fact, it initially caused a bunch of concern for us, as it seemed to be exactly the sort of thing that we did NOT want to target.

However, when I stopped to think about the individual skills that go into being able to do it -- shifting focus from one thing (the directions) to the next (the Zoobs) without losing his place, matching pieces in real life to the pictures in the directions, following steps sequentially, the hand strength needed to snap the pieces together (and take them apart), the modulation in strength needed to get the pieces to sit in the right place once they are together, the patience and persistance needed to assemble an entire creation (some of these things have hundreds of pieces in them), and the appraisal needed to trouble-shoot if the creation doesn't stand correctly, I guess it IS sort of an amazing thing.

When we got our first set of Zoobs (I believe for Jacob's 5th birthday), it had 50 pieces and an instruction booklet to build a handful of items. As he does with anything that comes with instructions, Jacob quickly worked his way through the construction of those items, then started rebuilding the same ones over and over. We worried about it becoming a very static obsession for him, and figured that we had two choices -- either take them away (which didn't feel right, as he really enjoyed building those things, and at that point, he wasn't doing any imaginative play, so seeing him so involved with something was nice), or get him a whole LOT of them. We chose the latter, and Ebayed up a set of 500.

The set came with instructions for dozens of different designs, and we breifly considered just destroying the instructions in hopes that he'd play more creatively with the toys. But the reality was that, at that point in our remediation program (or even now, for that matter), he just wasn't capable of generating original ideas as to what to do with the Zoobs. So in the end we gave him the full set of instructions. It was a good move. Because there were so many different things to build, it prevented him from focusing on just building one or two things over and over. Instead, every time he sits down with the Zoobs (which is at least several times a week, usually in that hour time span between when he gets out of bed and when Zoo Boy and I do), he builds something different. Sure, we've had lots of repeats of the same items, but he doesn't usually build the same thing every morning, he seems to rotate through them in a random fashion.

As far as his OT (Occupational Therapy) work goes, these things have been terrific. He's working on his hand strength, his reading skills (even though there are no words involved, the eye movent and ability to keep his "place" are skills he needs for reading), his small motor skills (the pieces are only a couple inches long), his manual dexterity, and his motor planning. It's also really good heavy work -- it takes a pretty good amount of pressure both to push the Zoobs together, and to get them apart again.

They're plastic, so that's not 100% ideal (see my post from a couple days ago as to why I feel that wooden toys are superior to plastic toys from a sensory integration standpoint). But it's not the only plastic toy in his life at the moment (notice the huge plastic ball pit behind him in the photo!), nor is it bound to be the last. I'll talk more about the plastic vs wood battle in our house in a future post. But really, other than that, I think they are pretty close to the perfect small motor OT toy.

I've used them in some of our RDI work, too. I've built things that Jacob has to copy. We've built stuff at the same time. We've built stuff at different times. We've built stuff that I accidentally break so we have to build it again. Picking them up together is a great regulation activity. I plan to incorporate them as we progress through the higher stages too -- Stage 8 (collaboration) and Stage 9 (co-creation) come to mind as excellent places for them to fit in. And along the way with that work, perhaps we'll open up new paths for Jacob to try some of his own creative variations on what to build with them. In the meantime, it's something he feels very competent at, and he is obviously proud of his ability to create complicated structures on his own.

And an added bonus -- Zoo Boy has just started taking an interest in playing with them. Only, in super-creative Zoo Boy's world, there's no sense in following instructions. So he slaps a few pieces together and then uses whatever he created in his pretend play. Usually it's either a superhero that saves the world, or a villian that lives in the mud and shoots people. Often he switches back-and-forth roles with the same creation, making it all but impossible to keep up with the story line (tho he certainly has it straight in his head!). But anyway, my hope is that he'll suck Jacob into his pretend Zoob world, adding another dimension to the toy set for him.

Yup. I guess I like the Zoobs.

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