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Friday, November 16, 2007

On the Virtues of Dirty Laundry and Moonbounces

As kids get older, their interactions get more complicated. Instead of "run around like maniacs screaming," they play tag. Instead of "whack the ball and run around like maniacs screaming," they play baseball. For Tom, the running games - with their lack of rules or specific expectations - are just great. So are any activities that involve intense sensory input (crashing games, bouncing games, and so forth). Tom is a sensory craver, and has very little fear of getting hurt!

Rule-heavy sports and complex "read my mind" games (and tag counts as one of these) make him anxious - and so he just wanders off. Even "soccer for aspies" turned out to be too much, too complex, and had too few supports built in. I don't think the coaches understood how clear, simple, and basic the instruction needed to be...

A few years ago, we joined the YMCA - and got Tom involved with swimming. He became a competent swimmer fairly quickly, and we became regulars at family swim on winter weekends. The same Y featured a "family activity room," where kids could bounce on a moon bouncer, crawl through a space maze, and play in a ball pit. We noticed that Tom could bounce and crawl with the best of them - and rarely had an issue of any significance. In fact, these rule-free, fun-for-all games were great equalizers.

For his 5th, 6th and 7th birthdays, therefore, we rented a moonbouncer. And it was a great choice. Sara did the same - and it meant that Tom could interact with Sara's peers without comment from parents or concern from us.

But while all these sensory games were great, they provided very little opportunity to learn game-playing or social skills. After all - outside of getting out of the way of other kids - there's no need for turn-taking, negotiation, or even physical skill. Bowling has helped with some of that - but still, we have seen almost no real interaction with team mates (not that they're big on interacting, but still!).

To help a bit with overcoming isolation, we arranged with a neighbor family to send their kids to us early in the morning. We drop their kids at the bus, and their kids and our kids get hours a week to play and interact. Of course, we're busy in the early morning - and not really focused on managing or encouraging interaction. Still, we've seen some positive signs from Tom, who will at least say good morning and NOT disappear to his room.

A few days ago, it was wash day. Both kids love to help strip the beds - because I roll them up in sheets, drop pillows on their heads, and shove them into laundry baskets (can you say sensory craving??). Now that we have a loft, I can also pitch dirty laundry and pillows from a height - even more fun!

The neighbor kids arrived as my kids had figured out how much fun it was to run upstairs, drop blankets and pillows on the other kid, and then do it all over again. The neighbors joined in the fun - and Tom actually played along. He took his turn carrying, dropping, and lying on the floor for pillow crashes. He used his silly voice to pretend to be crunched under the blankets. He joined in the "drop it on ME" choruses. In short, he really, truly, played along.

I can't say that this had led to deep friendships - or even to more than one or two conversational exchanges. But it's a start. And one thing that Dr. Greenspan wrote has stuck in my mind for years: if your child has done something once, that means he can do it. So it turns out - with or without the benefits of dirty laundry - the ability is there. Now it's up to us to help him build from that basic ability... perhaps even to the point where he can connect on a personal level with folks outside of us.


Anonymous said...

i think the consistent play in the am is going to be great--some kids need alot of familiarity to establish relationships. how about scootering, or biking or skateboarding as other play activities? they are still sensory and more or less solo activities but the kids can show each their skills, copy each other? rosemary

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Thanks so much, Rosemary. So far, Tom has ABSOLUTELY refused to try any activity related to wheels (except riding a tagalong bike behind me or his dad, in which case we handle the balancing act). His only "sports" interests so far are hiking, bowling, and swimming... all of which are just fine, and enough to keep him pretty fit.

I think his gross motor abilities just aren't quite there. He can throw and hit, but only poorly... he can make a basket, but only underhand. And rule-based games just don't make much sense to him, so they aren't of any real interest.

I haven't really pushed these activities, since they weren't interesting to him - and would require a huge investment of time, energy and patience. In fact -as I mentioned - we even tried "soccer for aspies" (special needs soccer) which was a total bust. He just walked away!

Any suggestions as to how to convince him that it's worth his while to try such challenging activities?

Anonymous said...

hi lisa. i was going to say that we got a bowling set for home and the kids (I have 2) can set it up themselves and take turns doing it (with the one not bowling being the machine that sends the ball back). that might be fun for your house.
scootering--you could have a scooter inside your house for practice if you really want to try to develop the interest. some interests just come in later--our son was NEVER interested in catching or throwing a ball, until just recently he decided to practice. honestly, he likes to watch a show called legends of the hidden temple. on it, there are commmercials of kids doing sports and I think that is what inspired him to practice his ball skills.
i agree, you can expose them to activities but they have to have the interest. still you never know when the interest will develop. rosemary

Canvas Grey said...

Oh Lisa, it sounds so encouraging!
I think you are so smart not to push things he doesn't like. What about a daily pillow toss with the kids? For a few days it is down over and onto one another, the next few days it is back and forth between each other or monkey in the middle. Modifing the type of pillow tossing with a word game or word association game where the kids interact as if in conversation or a rhyming game where he is thinking about what they are saying to him and that he must turn and respond to whomever he is tossing the pillow to or playing a guessing game and the person who guesses gets the pillow tossed down to them letting him be the pillow tosser or bombadear!!! I competely agree that the door has been opened so run through it!!! Deb said...

On my search for blogs on autism, I discovered yours. I will be back to read more!

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Thanks for visiting! I'm just about to post some more blog entries, so stay tuned!