I am the mother of a beautiful daughter who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and by sheer coincidence, I own a puzzle company. I clearly remember the light bulb moment when I was working on my hobby, which is jigsaw puzzles, and my daughter came over to the table where I was assembling the pieces and looked at a piece, picked it up, and tried to place it into another piece. It was an “aha” moment that changed our lives.
Jigsaw puzzles are fun, challenging, inexpensive, and readily available. They come in cardboard, plastic, wood, rubber, foam, and you can also find them made of chocolate for special occasions. So, if you are wondering who does jigsaw puzzles, I can tell you firsthand a wide range of people love puzzles, and they provide benefits for just about everyone. There are not many educational experiences that have the far-reaching potential to teach such a varied range of thinking skills, as well as other useful skills, such as patience and perseverance. Learning these skills can benefit everyone—especially those with autism.
The educational value of doing a jigsaw puzzle is priceless. Here are 10 ways your loved one with autism can benefit from jigsaw puzzles:
1. Problem solving: There is a clear problem—the puzzle is in pieces—and it needs to be put together. Unlike many other situations people with autism face, puzzles are different—there is only one solution. Problem solving with only one possible solution is a very worthwhile and meaningful experience.
2. Memory improvement: You must use your memory when assembling a jigsaw puzzle. If you don’t finish the puzzle the same day, you have to remember where you left off.
3. Attention span: Jigsaw puzzles help build the attention span of those with autism as you have to focus on colors, shapes, and sizes.
4. Fine motor skills: Another useful benefit of jigsaw puzzles is helping to develop fine motor skills as you must work carefully to fit the pieces together correctly.
5. Sorting: Being able to sort pieces by color, shape, edges, etc. is a benefit and promotes patience and a sense of accomplishment.
6. Social skills: This is my favorite—people with autism can benefit from doing jigsaw puzzles with other people. Working with others promotes inclusion, listening, and interaction. I sometimes prompt my daughter to tell me the colors of the pieces, which helps with vocabulary building.
7. Independence: Doing jigsaw puzzles alone helps with independence and confidence. It also gives me time to do a chore while my daughter is engaged in her puzzle. I can see the sense of accomplishment on her face when she is able to finish it on her own.
8. Persistence: Those who are not used to doing jigsaw puzzles will sometimes become frustrated and give up but after a while. With some help they will keep working on it and keep trying. Persistence is a very valuable lesson for anyone.
9. Confidence building: This is an important benefit because when a person finishes a jigsaw puzzle on their own it gives a huge boost to their self-confidence and self-esteem.
10. Endless entertainment: Jigsaw puzzles provide endless education and amusement. Having a good time and learning while doing it is the ultimate goal. The value of building skills and being able to transfer those skills to other situation can prove helpful with the future of those with autism.
Now that you know how beneficial jigsaw puzzles are for the autistic community, you can let your loved one pick out a puzzle with an interesting image and enjoy it together. Be sure to choose a puzzle that will hold interest and is not too easy or too hard. My suggestion would be to start with no more than 24 large pieces and increase from there, as needed. Choose a clutter-free area dedicated to work on the puzzle without distraction. Lastly, encourage and praise effort and work.
Beverly Nance is the owner of Puzzlebilities, a company that makes custom jigsaw puzzles from customer pictures and artwork. The Puzzlebilities brand also has a line of colorful jigsaw puzzles for retail purchase. Puzzlebilites is most proud of the custom puzzles made for the Alzheimer’s and autism communities. Beverly is the mother of a daughter who has autism and a son who is a sportswriter. Beverly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Puzzlebilities.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This article was featured in Issue 62 – Motherhood: An Enduring Love