Tag Archives: pretend play

The Beauty Of Autism

31 May

"Peep And The Big Wide World" by George

It was a beautiful moment. One of those moments that autism parents celebrate, that parents of neurotypical children completely fail to notice.

I got home after a long, hard day at work, feeling tired and cranky. As I trudged my way up the driveway, all I wanted to do was grab a glass of wine, collapse into a chair, and never get up again. I didn’t just feel lethargy. At that moment, I was lethargy.

I opened the front door and stepped into the house. Moments later, I heard a pair of feet thundering up the stairs from the basement, and a seven-year-old whirlwind launched itself at me, almost knocking me to my feet. After giving me a ferocious hug, George said, in his sweet sing-song voice, “Hi, Mommy!”

Without me saying hi to him first.

Without me or anyone else prompting him.

This was a social exchange that was initiated completely, 100%, by my child with autism – my child who has, as one of his biggest challenges, social communication difficulties.

Instantly, my energy was back and I was ready to laugh and play with my family, with this amazing child who always seems to give me surprises of wonder.

As a special needs mom, I find that my life is punctuated with moments like this. I remember firsts that I probably wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t have a child with autism.

Like the first time he pointed. What a joyous occasion that was, coming as it did after almost a full year of me teaching him how to point. I blubbed my eyes out that night, all over the Bob the Builder book that had been the vehicle for this accomplishment.

Then there was the first time he made a request using a full sentence. It didn’t matter to me that the sentence was only three words long. This child who said, “I want juice” was streets ahead of the child who, just a few months before, had indicated his need by grabbing my hand and thrusting it in the general direction of the juice boxes.

And what about the first time he pretend-played? It was a simple game that consisted of George crouching down on the ground, and crawling around with his back arched skyward while repeatedly saying, “Turtle.” So what if it was unsophisticated play that included only himself? He was pretending – something he had never done before.

More recently, we celebrated him drawing his first picture. He’d made lots of scribbly-type drawings in the past, of course (and I have kept every single one of them), but this was his first picture depicting an actual scene. That it was an instantly recognizable scene from his favourite kids’ show, Peep And The Big Wide World, makes it even more special.

We have seen the advent of humour, and this is all kinds of significant. Humour is a complicated intellectual process, and George gets it. And let me tell you, he is funny.

All of these moments, when strung together, tell a story of a very special little boy who is making a journey through life that is somewhat different to the way other kids do it. But the point is that he is making the journey and having all kinds of adventures. He may be taking the scenic route, but ultimately, he does pass through the same places that other kids do. He achieves many of the same things, but it takes a little longer and is accomplished in unconventional ways.

I believe that having a child with autism makes me a better parent than I would be otherwise.

It has given me the ability to spot a single flower in a sea of long grass, and more importantly, the power to stop and smell every single flower that I pass on this journey through my kids’ childhoods.

Garage Door Racing

28 Mar

From a very tender age, George has been fascinated with garage doors. Garages themselves hold little interest for him, but the doors are an endless source of interest and entertainment. Right in the beginning, when he was barely old enough to walk, he would insist on being able to watch the garage doors open and close. Understanding this, of course, was a challenge for us, since George had no functional language to speak of at that time, and could not communicate his desires. We had many, many meltdowns borne of the fact that our boy had this thing he wanted and could not ask for. We accidentally discovered the issue when someone happened to close the garage in the middle of a meltdown. As soon as the door started to move, George instantly calmed down.

George is not fond of garages that are left open. They are pointless to him. An open garage does not have a visible door for him to examine in its minutest detail, and even now, when we are at large in our neighbourhood, we have to watch George to make sure he does not take off in the direction of any open garage he happens to see. If he gets into an open garage, he starts hunting around for the mechanism with which to close it, and this can create an awkward situation for the homeowner whose garage is thus targeted.

In the last couple of years, George has been able to satisfy his garage door obsession by watching YouTube videos featuring – you guessed it – garage doors. You would be amazed at how many videos there are dedicated to this subject. Many of them are demonstrations of garage door opening systems presented by salesmen or manufacturers. That’s good enough for George: he watches the videos over and over, and gives the appearance of actually absorbing the words that are spoken by the presenters. It wouldn’t surprise me: George’s speech is not up to much, but his receptive language is actually quite good.

About six months ago the knowledge came to me that there is such a thing as Garage Door Racing. My son found it on YouTube. To participate in this unlikely activity, all you need is a double garage, and two people, each one with a garage door controller. You start with both doors open, and when the signal is given, each person presses the button on their controller. The person whose door is completely closed first, wins the race.

I know, I know.

But clearly someone enjoys it.

About two weeks ago we started a new phase of the whole garage door thing. George found a YouTube video featuring a guy cutting into a garage door with a jigsaw.  He immediately went off and gathered several long pieces of Lego. He stacked them together in a tower that I later realized was a fairly realistic emulation of a garage door. Then he found a toy jigsaw that someone had given to one of the boys. Armed with the Lego and the jigsaw, he returned to the computer and played the video again. Except this time, he copied the video by “cutting” his version of a garage door with his toy jigsaw.

Since then, he has spent many happy moments pretending to cut his door, both with and without the computer. I am encouraged by the pretend play, even if the pretending is of a somewhat unconventional nature. Gerard is encouraged because his son is showing an interest in power tools.

Today we ran into a bit of a problem. Because I have a cold and took a sick day, I was home when George’s school bus dropped him off this afternoon. He came inside, and without even taking his coat off, he ran into the living room, retrieved his toy jigsaw, and then ran back to the front door and tried to go outside. It turned out that he wanted to use his toy jigsaw on the actual garage door.

Great. That’s all we need. Already I am picturing a day when I come home to find our garage door chopped up into pieces.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dumbledad/3398173944)

Getting Roped In

21 Jan

"Peep And The Big Wide World" by George

A few months ago, George went through a phase of tying one end of a rope to his ankle, and the other end to the ankle of a willing or not-so-willing participant.  He would then insist that the other person walk with him to wherever he wanted to go. He didn’t care what the other person was doing, so frequently I found myself trying to cook dinner or do the laundry with a kid attached to my ankle.  He also didn’t mind who the other person was, as long as they had two legs and the ability to walk.  Guests to our home would discover that there was suddenly a child at their feet tying up their ankles.

The rope wasn’t always a rope.  Usually, it was a bathrobe cord, which meant that every time I needed to put on a bathrobe, I would stalk around the house cursing while I looked for a cord to tie it with.  When I got the brilliant idea of hiding the bathrobe cords, my mother-in-law’s measuring tapes started disappearing, much to her consternation.

Initially, we weren’t sure what all of this ankle-tying business was all about. The whole thing loosely resembled a three-legged race, but we couldn’t think where George would have been exposed to that.  We’re pretty sure they don’t do that kind of thing at the therapy centre.  Lord, can you imagine trying to do that with a bunch of kids who all have autism?  But we went with the three-legged race thing because we just couldn’t think of what else it could be.

At around the same time, both of the boys were discovering YouTube videos featuring Peep And The Big Wide World, a children’s TV show that remains a firm favourite with both of them. You should listen to the theme song – it is very catchy.  I have to confess that I find the show itself kind of catchy.  Shut up!  I know I’m 41 but I can still be a kid, can’t I?

To provide context for the rest of this story, I have to give you a brief outline of the cast of characters in this show.
Peep – a baby chick who has just emerged from his egg, who is very curious and wants to explore the world that he finds himself in.
Chirp – a baby robin who has a strong sense of fairness, and frequently finds diplomatic solutions to a problem.  Her biggest ambition is to be able to fly.
Quack – a purple duck who I think actually looks more like a grape with legs.  He is obsessed with wearing a hat (a characteristic he shares with George), and he is very vain and bossy.  He thinks the sun shines out of his you-know-where.

So anyway, one evening I happened to be passing the kids’ computer while they were watching a YouTube episode of Peep.  And all of a sudden the whole rope-around-the-ankle thing fell into place.  In this particular episode, Chirp and Quack somehow find their legs joined by a rope, so they have to go everywhere together.

All of this time, George had been replicating this episode.

Can we take just a moment to consider the significance of this?  George was engaging in PRETEND PLAY!  For a child with autism, this is through-the-roof HUGE! What made it even bigger was the fact that it was pretend play that required a partner.

Hmmm.  Pretend play that incorporates social interaction. To borrow a phrase coined by my online autism support group, Holy Moly Shit! This represents an exciting chapter in George’s development.  He has outgrown this phase now, and he has not engaged in much pretend play since then, but it’s the potential that strikes me.  The fact that he CAN.  If it’s happened once, it will happen again.

Shortly after the ankle-tying phase came to an end, George drew his first real picture (i.e. the first picture that actually depicted something other than scrawls and scribbles).  I was most amused – and highly thrilled – to see that the picture was an illustration of George’s favourite Peep episode.

This kid astounds me. From time to time, he does these amazing things to remind me of what he can achieve if given the opportunity.

Archimedes said it best: “Give me a place to stand and I can move the earth.”