Meet our Autism Consultant- Amanda Mc Guinness
Amanda is a mother to 4 children, 3 of whom are neurodivergent: daughter Hailey (13) and sons Conor (11), Jack (7) and Max (3). Amanda is an autistic adult and just like their mother, Conor, Jack and Max are also autistic.
Amanda is a Law Graduate, Autism Consultant, Early Intervention Educator and Visual Supports Designer. Amanda’s lived experience over the last 40 years as an autistic individual, her lived experience raising and home-schooling her three autistic sons together with her professional experience as an Autism Consultant, Early Intervention Educator and Visual Supports Designer, inspires parents of children with additional needs all over the world through her online social media platforms: The Autism Educator and Little Puddins.
Amanda’s passion for education and progress, inspired her to create a dedicated “Home-school” room in her home where she educates, supports and encourages her young sons’ progress. Over the last decade she has hand-picked a compendium of fun educational toys, games, and activities to help support her children’s varying needs ensuring progress is always on her mind when she supports and educates her children.
“I am incredibly proud to be the Autism Consultant for “Cogs The Brain Shop”. I have been a long-time customer of Cogs The Brain Shop and have recommended their quality educational toys, games and activities time and time again to parents just like me, who have children with additional needs.
I remember a time in Ireland almost a decade ago, walking down lane after lane in stores and not seeing any toys or games that were suitable for my children who had additional needs. I would often find myself overwhelmed in stores, leaving empty handed, crying as I would walk back to the car, going home empty handed, feeling a failure.
I am so thankful to Conor, Ruth, and Alan for this incredible initiative. As a parent it means the world to me that children like my own have been genuinely considered and catered to, it is just so emotionally overwhelming in the most positive of ways.
As an Autism Consultant I am delighted to be able to offer autistic insights and product recommendations firstly as an autistic individual but also from my wealth of experience in the field of autism, supporting and educating children.”
Here are just some of my recommended products from Cogs The Brain Shop:
This is one of my go-to toys for early intervention but also for children who love sensory play. For my eldest son Conor who has an intellectual disability, he finds many toys and activities challenging. The Spin Again activity always garners his attention, he loves to watch the rings spin down the pole and gets very excited the faster they spin he gives them a push with his hand.
For early intervention, when supporting my young son Max I use this toy to support his engagement, joint attention, his attention and listening, I model language, and encourage Max’s social skill development. Turn taking, waiting doesn’t come natural to Max so this is a great activity that helps to develop social skills together with fine motor skill development, problem solving, and so much more.
Big Feelings Pineapple
We have had so much playing with the “Big Feelings” Pineapple. For many autistic children, just like my own boys and even myself growing up, I found it incredibly difficult to “read” non-verbal facial expressions. The Big Feelings Pineapple activity will help children to understand facial cues and be able to apply their learning and understanding to real life social interactions. For children who struggle to understand their own feelings and those of other children this activity will be ideal to model and interpret what each expression may mean.
Shark World Snappy Shark Game
We love Shark World in our house. A brilliant fun game to encourage waiting, turn taking, understanding the concepts of winning and losing. An engaging activity to encourage fine motor skill development, colour identification, numeracy and so much more.
Both my sons Conor and Jack struggle to understand and interact in the social world, the concept of waiting their turn or for Jack the notion of losing and not always being the “winner” has been a struggle. The Shark World Snappy Shark game has really helped both boys with their social skills and social understanding.
Pretend & Play Doctor Set
For a lot of children just like my little boys, they may be fearful about trips to the doctor, they may not understand what to expect or what the role of the Doctor entails. They may be fearful of experiencing pain while at the doctor, and for many the idea of being unwell or sick can be anxiety inducing.
The Pretend and Play Doctor set is ideal as it is fun, interactive and can be as a visual representation of what to expect, helping to make “concrete” the abstract notion of pain and the expectations of the doctor and their interactions while at the doctor’s office.
I use the Pretend and Play Doctor set to role play with Conor and Jack about going to the doctor, what may happen (helping them with their expectation understanding), helping to ease their anxieties.
Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register
Jack is learning all about money at school right now and at home I am supporting Jack to understand the social world of shopping and paying for items. We play with the Pretend and Play Calculator cash register almost every single day.
We have a “snacks” basket at home, and I place “price” stickers on the snacks. Jack has a wallet, filled with the play money that comes with the Cash Register and he must use his “money” to buy a snack. He is really interested and what I have noticed now is when we are in town, he will keenly watch my interactions with the Sales Assistant at the till. He calculates in his mind what change I am due to receive. The Pretend & Play Cash Register has really helped his social understanding of paying for goods and services but also his numeracy in particular his ability to calculate in his mind what items cost and what change he should receive.
Special Interests. What I have learned over the last decade in supporting children who are autistic, is to take notice of their special interests and therein you will find a path to progress. My sons Jack and Max both adore dinosaurs I love this set by Learning Resources as the dinosaurs are large in size, robust in design and ideal for little hands that struggle with fine motor skills. They are incredibly detailed so for children like Jack who “notice” the fine details of their special interests, the Jumbo Dinosaurs. I encourage my son’s engagement, interaction, attention by providing Dinosaur themed activities. Incorporating their special interests in to activities at home means I am from the start playing to their strengths and interests which in the long term will lead to progress and development.
Pretend & Play Original School Set
For many children starting school for the first time can be a daunting, anxiety inducing experience. I use the “Pretend and Play Original School Set”, to role play going to school, helping my youngest son Max to understand what to expect, to “practice” being the teacher and to understand key learning concepts.
It provides imaginative play opportunities based on own first hand experiences, develops speech and language skills through role play, encourages letter and number recognition and so much more.
Janod Magneti’ Alphabet Book
A firm favourite with my sons Jack and Conor. Conor (11) uses a SGC (Speech Generating Device) to communicate as he is non-speaking loves this activity. He uses the letter tiles to spell out the words and then uses his speech device to type out the words to “say” the word for him. He has the biggest smile on his face when he knows he has spelled the word out correctly.
What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?
I am a huge fan the Orchard Toys range in general. The Orchard Toy range is always high quality, well thought out educational activities. The “What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?” has been instrumental in my sons Conor and Jack learning the abstract concept of time. We have loved playing this turn taking activity and using the game pieces to identify the time on our kitchen clock too.
I will take out a game card which has a visual representation of a clock time on it and ask Conor to tell me what time it on the card and he is will use his speech device to “tell” me the time. I will then point to the kitchen clock and say “what time is it on our kitchen clock?” and he will tell use his speech device to tell me. A thoroughly engaging and fun educational activity.
Wriggle Worms Fine Motor Activity Set
We love this interactive fine motor activity set. Jack and Conor both enjoy using the specially designed tongs to catch the worms and place them in their colour match baskets. The tongs have indents to intuitively guide their hands into the finger placement.
The fine motor activity set helps children with early learning skills including introduces including colour identification, sorting, and counting. The activity will help to build hand strength, and hand-eye coordination.
Wooden Latches Board
Conor and Jack are always working on their fine motor skills development, Conor in particular is focusing on his life skills right now. The Wooden Latches Board is an ideal activity to help Conor to learn how to open and close latches correctly.
Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle
Melissa and Doug Puzzles are my go to brand when purchasing puzzles for my boys. This insert puzzle is a personal favourite of mine when supporting children with additional needs to learn to match, identify geometric shapes and block colours.
The large wooden knobs ensures children who struggle with their fine motor skills such as the pincer grasp will be able to successfully pick up and later insert the correct shape piece in to the puzzle.
Roll Again Sorter
An excellent cause and effect toy that Max in particular loves to play with. The activity encourages fine motor skills, sorting skills, sequencing, exploration, experimentation. The balls feature built-in rattles for extra sensory excitement.
Magnatab Numbers & Shapes
My sons love this sensory-based learning board. They love the feedback of the magnetic stylus when it traces the lines of the shapes and numbers.
Big Bumper Box of Sensory Toys
I use the Bumper box of toys designed for children in the calm down baskets the boys have in their bedroom. They each have a basket of sensory toys they prefer and when feeling overwhelmed or just wanting to unwind, they will go to their rooms and take out their sensory calm down baskets.