Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Challlenges and Rewards

I remember taking a quiz about five years ago, one of those silly things on the web. This one was titled "How Autistic are You?" and I just couldn't resist. I don't remember my score on this oh-so-scientific survey, but it wasn't anything off the charts. There were questions like: Do you avoid crowds? Not really. Do you have trouble reading people's emotions? Definitely not.

But as I've observed Ethan these past few months and learn what his therapy is attempting to teach him, I'm recognize some vaguely familiar themes...his inflexiblility at times; the way he gives up easily without persistening; his resistance to trying new things; his sometimes lack of curiosity. I've had to sit back, swallow and admit it -- that's me.

Thankfully, Ethan so far does not seem to have these traits to an exaggerated level the way some kids on the autism spectrum do. He doesn't exhibit the kind of rigidity that would make him insist have on having the same cup and plate and eat in the same spot and the same time, for example. He will continue persisting with something frustrating if encouraged, and he will explore objects for a bit and play with new toys, if they are intriguing enough. But it's work for him. And as I begin to help him, I realize it's work for me, too -- but we both have an amazing opportunity in front of us.

As a child people called me very creative and imaginative. I even attended a special program one summer for "creative kids." And to some extent that was true. The people at this camp were impressed with the Lego creations I'd build for my Fisher price people...only to be destroyed by my various invented natural disasters. Of course, they didn't know that I always played that game. I rarely "mixed things up." I had my familiar games, and that was that. I liked to reread books rather than find different ones. I liked to play the piano by ear and learn songs, true, but usually ended up going back to the same old songs, rarely learning new ones.

As an adult, I like to stick to my favorite restaurants and favorite dishes, because why be disappointed by something that doesn't taste as good? When playing with the kids I usually go back to the same routine and same games, rarely mixing things up. A few years ago I began to comment to Dan on how disappointed I was in my lack of curiousity or willinginess to try new things as a child, and how it's affecting me to this day. Basically, I don't know how many common objects truly work, because I never asked or paid attention, as a kid. One reason I didn't try new things is because I got frustrated easily and wasn't really taught to persist (my dad had a soft spot and was always doing things for us). So I learned to just stop when something got too hard.

But now, with Ethan -- now I have no choice but to think of a new way to approach a game...or Ethan will get "stuck" and want to play it only that way. The play will cease to be a learning experience and begin to become a routine. Now I have to learn to peservere as I work to engage him. When he's in a "mood" he won't willingingly play. You have to work and woo him, and you have to not take it personally, because he can act as if he couldn't care less and is completely ignoring you, but after much persistence, suddenly he jumps in and is ready to play. Now I have to keep learning, studying, exploring, and creating new ways to reach him.

I feel that as we work to try to rewire some of Ethan's brain, we are doing the same with mine. I am blessed to have the opportunity, because I don't think it ever would have happened, otherwise.

No comments: