Sunday, March 11, 2012

Play Lessons

After having conversation #3 with some of Ethan's teachers in which they recounted nearly verbatim the same statements (He might just never be "into" pretend play. When he's older and playing video games, he'll have an easier time relating to other kids.) I was going to launch into a wordy tirade on how I disagree. But really, I like Ethan's teachers. I don't feel like being vindictive, because really, they just approach autism from a different mindset, from the ABA-driven, play must be taught and kids should be rewarded for playing rather than the Floortime-based, play is emotionally driven and kids will play in their own way, when they are motivated internally.

SO, I decided to share a few things I've learned over the last few years when it comes to making play attractive to Ethan. I should explain if I haven't before that Ethan has never been one of those kids on the spectrum who sits spinning wheels on cars or lining up toys. No. Generally he either prefers the toy is electronic, and then he will play it to his heart's content, or that it's a puzzle or board game, and he will play it to the puzzle or game's logical conclusion. However, if I use a few tips I've learned from a great website that's no longer updated (, playing other types of games with Ethan is successful. We haven't made too much progress on him playing independently this way, but, one thing at a time.

Tip #1: Make the game not to difficult, but not too easy.

Kids with autism tend to have a lower tolerance for frustration than typical kids. But at the same time you want to challenge them, so it's important to find middle ground. For Ethan this might mean, if we're going to do blocks together, something he gets easily frustrated by, we work on something simple rather than elaborate, because he's not that sophisticated at building and wants to quit quickly if the blocks keep tumbling down. But if we're going to do something else, let's say navigate a little obstacle course I've set up in the house, I'm going to make it complicated, because he's become pretty good at following directions and will enjoy the challenge rather than getting frustrated.

Tip #2: Keep the game familiar and slowly introduce unfamiliar elements.

Many kids on the spectrum prefer routine and have trouble coming up with something different than the same games they play over and over. Rather than introduce an entirely new or foreign game, it's a lot easier to take a familiar game and add a bit of a twist. We've done this with board games lately. Ethan could play board games endlessly, and there's nothing inherently wrong with them, except that they're not the best for introducing creativity and pretend play. So lately, we've been playing pretend with the Candy Land characters once the game is over. Maybe one cries because he lost or the other pretends to go for a walk along the board game path. Ethan gets the game he knows and loves with the one unfamiliar element -- making the characters talk and interact, which works so much better than say, me taking out a bunch of Fisher Price people he never plays with. There are countless variations on could do on this theme. Maybe a child wants only to push a train around a track -- build a bridge with blocks to make an obstruction and get the child talking about it. Or maybe you play chase all the time, and you decide to add some pretend play themes to the regular chase game (a monster is chasing you; you're running away from a tornado).

I've found Anna to be the best playmate in the world for Ethan -- and one reason is because she carries out these two tips without even trying to. This child who has an endless flow of creative ideas in her own play never ceases to amaze me when it comes to Ethan. Most of the games she invents with him involve a lot of repetition with a twist thrown in for good measure. A lot seem to include made-up songs with little words but some sort of exciting element.

They were just playing a game at the hotel we stayed at last night. Basically it involved each of them going over to the phone and taking turns pretending to talk to the person of their choice. The simplicity and repetition made it a hit with Ethan. He knew what to do (talk on the phone) and when (take turns with Anna). The only thing that changed was the person they were talking to, and sometimes, what they were pretending to talk about.

I really feel the cliche rings true -- children are the best teachers. Sometimes I think what would happen if you turned a bunch of motivated 6 or 7-year-olds loose with kids in the ABA room at Ethan's school. Who knows, really? Who knows...

One of the themes that seems to run through whatever we do is that if it's familiar, make it more challenging. Up the ante a little bit. But if it's new or if it's an area Ethan really struggles in, you can't make the play simple enough. I'd rather he start from the beginning and move slowly than skip over different developmental play stages just to get him up to what's appropriate for his age. Right now, at least at home, so what if we're working on some kind of play maybe a typical 2-year-old might engage in? What's the rush, really? As I read somewhere, when your child has grown and is 40 years old, did it really matter if he mastered a skill at age 2 or age 8?

This is why I am not ready to throw in the towel and send Ethan off to play video games. All kids can play in some way, shape or form. You will never convince me otherwise.

1 comment:

Floortime Lite Mama said...

bookmarking this post
great perspective