So what do you like to do for fun? When my kids were younger and I was still trying to "recover" them, what they needed to do for fun was what other typical kids their age would be doing for fun. After all, if it is typical, then it allows for possible social opportunities. It also makes them appear more normal, and recovery is close to normal, no?
When I was a kid, I was very much into video games. Today, you might read that sentence and barely give it notice - what boy isn't into video games? But this was in the 1980s, and back then, that wasn't so common for boys, and especially not so common for fathers of boys. My Dad, God bless him, tried really hard to show some interest, but he just wasn't, and it was obvious. He liked sports and the outdoors - fishing, camping, and the like. While I enjoyed the outdoors with him as a boy I never developed the skills needed for his more challenging trips as a young man, and while I certainly enjoy watching an odd hockey game, sports buff I ain't - not even close. He also is a very intelligent man, so to some degree he enjoyed debate and discussion on ideas, and there I could provide some challenge for him.
My point here is that despite my interests not being typical of boys at that time, they were my own interests. Strange interests tend to result in some social isolation, because let's be honest - especially for men, relationships form around common interests. The fewer the number of people who share your interests, the smaller the pool of people is with whom you can form friendships.
I wanted my kids to have typical interests so they could have friendships and be more like everyone else. But as time has passed, I see I am fighting a losing battle (much like my Dad probably did). What people do for fun has to be intrinsically fun for them. As parents, we can introduce new activities and possibilities. Some of those will be shot down (in my case, almost all of them), but it does not mean we should stop trying, nor does it mean we should take it personally when it is shot down.
Case in point: puzzles. Both kids have been introduced to puzzles; A had programming around this and T has been shown numerous times. Both kids don't like puzzles much. They don't mind the iPad versions, and occasionally I can even get A to sit and do one with me when she wants, but mostly, she doesn't like them. Here's the rub: how many adults do puzzles? Not me, no thanks Jack. Puzzles are a task to me. Yet for some people they are quite relaxing. I think most people do puzzles as children and move on.
I have come to the point of realizing that while I need to constantly introduce and teach leisure skills, I have to stop fighting their natural interests and instead work with them. Yes, both kids play with some toys appropriately (T more than A), but A also thinks it's super exciting to watch things fall. New this week: place broom on deck. Push broom over, flap at result, and repeat. The old me would have said, "this is perseveration, let us redirect this activity." New me says, "Clearly she is enjoying herself, this is pretty funny to watch." T might arrange his letters a certain way and touch them, or watch a video at various volumes and laugh his head off. Yes, it's weird, but to him, it's fun.
My rules on leisure activities have drastically changed:
- Activities cannot involve danger or injury to the kids, others, or property.
- Activities cannot become so rigid that they interfere with daily functioning (case in point: T's letters were banished to his room because he got upset if we stepped on them - they are big foam letters. Sorry kid.)
- Activities cannot be so solitary that we cannot join in - note this does not mean we always have to, it just means I have to be able to add some social component to it where we do it together.
So yeah - I suppose the Dad conversation is a bit different ...
Question: "What'd you do with the kids?"
"A and I had a blast rolling brooms and pots off the deck. It's hilarious."
"T and I broke our eardrums listening to TuTiTu videos. It's fun being somewhat deaf. Only for a bit though."
And yeah, most Dads just look at me because what can you really say to that? But the ones who know us best just say, "Sounds cool. Glad you guys had fun."
They did. They had a blast doing things their own way. And isn't that what leisure activities are for? Yeah, I get to suffer through it, but what parent doesn't? If you want to have a relationship with someone you have to join them in their common interests, and with autism, the reciprocity of interests isn't very high. So it's more work for us, but in the end, we get better quality relationships. It's worth it. Most days.