Monday, August 8, 2011

A Kind of Acceptance

When Alanna was younger, I used to buy her a lot of toys.  I still buy too many toys for the kids.  My wife will tell you it's my weakness.  Toys "R" Us is a bad store for daddy.

Alanna was never interested in playing with toys "properly" when she was younger.  She would play with parts of the toys, or lick them, smell them, stare at them, or do any number of "weird" things with them.  This perplexed me a great deal, especially before her diagnosis.  I tried to show her how to play with them properly and figured if I buy the "right" toy, she would like it and play with it a lot.

Fast forward to the present day...

We have taught Alanna how to use a number of toys as they were "designed".  We have taught her how to play with pretend toys, and how to even pretend how to use things for functions for which they were not intended (e.g., feeding a baby with a block!)  We are presenting trying to teach her to play with a variety of toys if they are laid out for her to play with, and we're trying to do this without a visual schedule because this is unnatural and we only want to do that if it is absolutely necessary.

Alanna will play with toys, but usually not for very long without prompting.  She loses focus and goes on to the next thing.  This is usually tied to sensory regulation.  If she is regulated and isn't engaging in activities to stimulate her senses, she plays better.  If she needs deep pressure, bouncing, running, etc. to stimulate her senses, the playing will not last long unless it is prompted.

It occurred to me the other day the purpose of play really is supposed to be fun.  So buying her more toys with the hope she will find out fun means I have to obtain toys she finds fun.  Most toys she finds "fun" are sensory toys.  She will also play games with me, but on her own terms.

I used to think Alanna needed every waking minute to be "redirected" to ensure she was learning from her environment.  Not only with that attitude completely burn you out as a parent, it is also unfair to your kids.  Here's the reality - for Alanna, bouncing on the trampoline and bouncing on her bed is fun.  Pulling out facial tissue and rubbing it all over your body is fun.  Licking stickers and sticking them all over the place is fun.  Emptying your closets and throwing your clothes on your bed is fun.

Maybe playing the way I want her to play is work.  Maybe she does it sometimes because she is interested but mostly because I want her to do it.  Kind of like when your dad tries to show you fishing is fun, but it's not.

Lest you think I've converted to neurodiversity with this post, I haven't.  Play skills are still needed for school, to interact with others and to learn other skills.  But it's still work.  I can hope she will eventually find it fun.  I can try to make it fun, but if I'm really giving her time to relax, shouldn't I let her do what she wants to do to relax (within the limits of safety and sanitation?)

Maybe the next time she is rubbing something all over her face, I'll just join her.  It's work for me, but maybe that is the price of entering her world.


  1. Participating on the child’s terms is actually the primary principle of SunRise/Floor Time. If it engages the child and any form or reciprocity exists it is "work" for us - doing on the child’s terms can elicit participation and not appear as work to them (thus social interaction and good). This is really an ABA process but not "table time", not all ABA has to be table time (something many forget). We have done the same with our son (now 7, ASD) and it did teach him how to play and pretend play rather than seek just sensory input (he used to spin the wheels on his cars and smell them till the sun went down). Now that he can play "properly" it has given him the ability to enjoy himself, play with his typical brother and learn how to express choice (e.g.: I want to play truck not boat!). While not a curative means it certainly has benefited his quality of life (more fun) and has made the bond between dad and son stronger – he now asks to play together, play people games and it has become a very strong reinforce for hard work. Outside the clinical it is a great thing to see him enjoy play. I know he knows when he “gets it”, his behaviour and happiness is an expression of pride. We slip hard work in incidentally (not much but still substantive) during play and though I can read him and see he knows he is being tricked to work it plays very well (no pun intended).

  2. awesome. Good for you dad. Good realizations enjoy yourself with your kid.

    Her interests will grow and become different and she WILL change as any kid changes. I used to think Khaled will spin things forever (which he still does) but he also likes to draw, and watch movies, and throw things from a height so I made him a parachute with an army guy hanging of it, so now we both really enjoy it :D

    He will still need to be asked what he wants to do, or to choose somtehing to do when he is so dysregulated that he is bouncing off the walls...but more and more he is spontaneously asking for his toys that are tuckd away and out of sight - so his idea is not based on any visual prompt - and he iwll play with them. They are usually things he perseverates on like trains, toy washing machine, or computer game...but you know 2 years ago he was just flapping hands and spinning himself in circles and jumping off the couch 24/7