If He Won’t Join ’em, Have ’em Join Him: Entering Autism

by J

It has been a little while since I last posted. The past few weeks have been somewhat uneventful- some days have been fairly normal, while others have been higher ‘autism days’. Over all, things are going smoothly and I haven’t had much to share.

And, then there was today- a really awesome autism day. Is it possible to have an awesome high autism day? Apparently, the answer is “yes”!

Today, S and I spent the morning at our local aquarium. It is the off-season now, so it was sort of like having the entire place to ourselves. With less people around, S was able to focus more on the animals and less on retreating into his comfort areas (skateboards and steps). Then, after a nice lunch and a long nap, we hit the playground. However, it is the on-season for playgrounds. The weather has broken and sports are back in session- and so, the playground was packed!

Lately, I have been bringing a ball to the playground to help S break the ice a bit with the other children. Since most kids like playing with balls, it gives S an easy ‘in’ with the neighborhood kids, and as an added bonus, they kind of have to let him play since it is his ball. In the past few weeks, this has worked rather well; however, lately it has been pretty crowded at the playground- which is a bit overwhelming for S. Since today was so busy at the playground, S quickly retreated to the sidelines to play with mulch and thus, into himself. My attempts and luring him into the playgroups were not successful and I was left sitting there, watching other children play with my son’s ball, while he pretended that a piece of mulch was a skateboard.

I usually take a fairly hands-off approach at the playground. I want S to have this time to test out his social skills. I like to observe him and see where he struggles and how he is perceived by his peers so that I can think of ways to help him be more socially aware. While I do sometimes intervene here and there, overall, I tend to stand back and just take it all in. However, today I couldn’t bear to watch my little boy play alone while the other children were laughing and playing around him. So, I went over and sat and played “skateboard mulch” with him. As we were playing, a little 14 month old boy came over and he was engaging with me. (It is always interesting to see children do things that are typical for their age- S would’ve never done that at 14 months).

Without even realizing it, I began to include the little boy in our game. Before I knew it, 2 other little boys had come over to see what we were doing. Here we were, me, S and 3 other little boys- all playing ‘skateboard mulch’. Once I realized what was happening, I ran with it… I expanded the game to keep the other kids interested all the while gently guiding S into expanding the game from a solitary skateboard-focused game into a multi-player game of interaction.

It was as if a light bulb went off! If I can’t get S to enter the other kids’ world, I can just help them enter his… at some point, the will meet in the middle.

Within ten minutes, the kids- including S- were all running and playing ball. It was great! Not just a few minutes prior was I watching my son retreat into himself, unable to interact with his peers. By encouraging the other children to join him, I was able to help bring S back into our world. I don’t know why this approach had never crossed my mind, but I am certainly glad to have stumbled upon it today! It is so great to know that another trick up my sleeve to help S interact. Hopefully it will be as successful in the future.

In the meantime, I will enjoy this small breakthrough. :0)