I love this x 100. Also, sign up for Common Sense Media Emails if you want to learn more (they are free) and I will paste our instructions for installing Open DNS in the box below.
I love this x 100. Also, sign up for Common Sense Media Emails if you want to learn more (they are free) and I will paste our instructions for installing Open DNS in the box below.
I had children late in life (sort of) I was 35 when I had my first child and nearly 38 with my second. When I started working in a school I realized I was a generation older than many of the parents. Like most people, I parent based on how I was raised. I was raised in the 70’s. My parents worked. We had babysitters, community camps, we were latch key kids from time to time.
I had a paper route that I inherited from my big sister, so I started delivering papers and collecting money from strangers when I was 7, I was a very busy babysitter by the time I was 9 and stayed busy earning and spending my own money. We lived in the suburbs, across the street from a lower income apartment complex. I spent an enormous amount of time outside with gangs of kids or alone in creeks, dumpsters, alleys, graveyards other people’s backyards where I should not have been and storm culverts under city streets. I was not athletic and did not have any sense, but my parents were busy, I had several sisters close to me in age and that was just how it was for us.
My house was full of books, I read whatever I wanted and sometimes was busted for reading things I shouldn’t (Flowers in the Attic) or never caught (Harold Robbins in 4th grade, oh my!!). I watched TV until my eyes popped out of my head with our babysitter Mrs. Murphy, who was a somewhat tragic figure that was very gentle and patient with us. I was terribly abusive to her, she smoked endlessly in our living room and watched all the game shows on channel 21 in the morning and then all the soaps on channel 21 in the afternoon. I watched Budd Dwyer kill himself on live TV when I was home on a snow day. I read and stared and inhaled smoke and watched soaps and played atari and rode my bike everywhere and fought with kids and collected coins and stray dogs and was a giant weirdo. It was the best childhood ever.
I learned so much. It made up for my Catholic grade school which was so dull I was ready to die. I was always reading a book under my desk and being told to stop, the only person that gave me free rein was the grumpy librarian Mrs. Schupp who was never grumpy with me and would let me have anything I wanted all the time. The two greatest weeks of my school career were 1.) when my appendix ruptured and I was in the hospital for a week and overheard a nurse say I COULD HAVE DIED (this thrilled me to no end and actually still thrills me now since I did not die, it was almost as good as witness to my own funeral a long time fantasy of mine that I loved in Tom Sawyer) and 2.) when TMI had a nuclear meltdown and we were evacuated to Allentown for a week to live in my aunt’s tiny townhouse and I played with her collection of Avon bottles and carousel horses and her awesome crocheted dolly toilet paper covers. Her house had all the good stuff that I longed for with my jealous covetous, too many sisters to compete with heart.
I was never ever ever ever ever going to get married or have children. Never. I was going to be a queen and have all my stuff and a million books and a dog and a convertible and go live in a big city and fill my shopping cart with candy every time I went to the store. And that is exactly what I did until one day when I was 29 I met Mr. Dreamy and realized he was the one person I wanted to have in my life forever and wondered how could I make that happen because I was not an easy person to be around, I was very selfish and ridiculous and chaotic, but I was thin and pretty and smart and had money so that sort of masked what a nut I was..and we fell in love and got married and for the first time in my life I started to work hard to learn how to be good and kind so Mr. Dreamy would be happy living with me.
We were married very quickly in fact…just four months after our engagement. I didn’t want him to change his mind. I asked my bridesmaids to wear whatever they wanted as all eyes would be on me, I arranged for them to picket my wedding at the state capital, Bloggess has nothing on me with her dead animals. I had picketing bridesmaids…as a middle child I wanted to see if people would really really really do anything I wanted on my wedding day. And they really really did, and I loved it. A very special day for me.
Now we lived in DC and worked and were spendy (me) and happy (us) and life went on until everyone started to die, my grandmother, my stepfather, my beloved dog. And I thought. Wow. The only thing that seems to matter is children, perhaps we should have children? And like all normal people with normal mindsets, I reached out to a girl I did not know in real life who I knew from an online community was was super nice and had baby twins and a lot going on and asked if I could bring her meals and help once a week for a year. And she said yes, and I ended up babysitting on Wednesdays for a year and at the end of the year, I thought yes, I can do this, I can have a child.
Mr. Dreamy said, we can have two. I said SURE, we can have 12!
Then I actually had one child inside me growing and I changed my mind back to one, but he talked me into two and now we have our two little freckle faced cuties. And it was definitely the right idea if I had only one child I would still be pureeing his organic food and having two lowered the bar on perfection and now we all just hang out. And I’m permissive. And I value play because I know the only way I learned anything was when I was interested and busy. And school was not interesting or busy. And being told what to do and ask to not touch things or explore makes me cringe for my kids. I assumed that kids would all play the same, no matter what year they are born but sadly this is not the case and if you are middle class and you want your child to play in a world where kids all have homework and tests and tons of private lessons and camps, you have to fight for it, you have to find your tribe and you have to work very very hard to let your kids play. Because it seems so many things are trying to make them sit still and stare.
This is why I fight for children to play, because it is wonderful and it is not as easy to find it as one would think. It is disappearing like our natural world and unless you look very hard, you will miss it. I don’t want people to get hurt but I don’t mind when people make mistakes or are embarrassed or wasteful if it makes a lightbulb come on. I’m still a work in progress myself and I might be wrong, I only have one go at it, but Mr. Dreamy is by my side and he mostly agrees with me so even if others in my life think I am a little over the top (and they are right) this is how I came to be how I am. I am a product of my time and circumstance. How did your childhood inform your parenting?
I waste time writing in my head when I could be writing here. I think I should have a coherent page that makes sense, neatly branded with a color palette and graphics. A good headshot.
Today K8librarian relaunches as my personal page in this quiet way to the 11 people that read my page and hopefully the habit of tending this page will yield the other features I want. My husband and I both work from home in virtual offices and my boys go to a school I love. For the first time in 9 years, I won’t follow my boys around all day, Brady does not need me anymore, he can advocate for himself (hopefully!!). Max has a teacher that brings out his best, he has daily gym, he loves being a big kid, his school has a new building with a focus on sports. He is in a good space, as long as he doesn’t turn around.
I’m no longer a school librarian, so I can write openly here. My son Brady, is rocking it–closing gaps, hanging out, his expressive language, security and development is awesome. He’s fine, no more special needy than any other child with one area of challenge as he manages everything else on his own. He’s done his work and we have worked REALLY hard, all of us, to get him to learn the things from intention that he needed to learn. I can write bi-weekly about what I wake up each morning thinking about.
I spend an enormous amount of time around topics like 21st century learning, our changing home, healthy eating (my downfall), raising the best kids I can the first time around, childish play, family travel, neurodiversity, reading, working from home, keeping up with tech, trusted voices, mental health, creativity and most especially change. I love change and I welcome the brave new world my children will work and live and love in. I’m concerned about their education, their health and their financial prospects with globalization. I’m going to use this space to write about those things, every day and see where the conversation takes me. In the end, all I know is that my brain is overflowing and sometimes I feel like I will go crazy if I don’t let some of these ideas out to get a perspective.
I hope you enjoy visiting my page and participating in the conversation because I love a good exchange of ideas. Special thanks to my friend Denise for her graphic wizardry, who has always had something a little bit wrong with her and thus has stayed friends with me for many many years for no other reason than we relate to each other. Or else she just really really likes people named Kerry.
“that reminds me of an old farmer friend of mine in Illinois, who used to say he never could understand why the Lord put a curl in a pig’s tail; it did not seem to him to be useful or ornamental, but he guessed the Lord knew what he was doing when he put it there. ” –Abraham Lincoln, to a soldier at the Soldier’s Home, 1864
I called a good friend after I read on Facebook about troubles her daughter was having at school.
Her child was made to feel unwelcome in the school community because of her frequent meltdowns. The little girl is very bright, a lovely little person. She’s 8, which in my estimation puts her in the category of “still figuring things out.” It’s true that by now, she’s too old to scream and cry. Yet she still does it. So, I wonder why?
Her teacher’s comment “She melts down when she doesn’t have direction” is what made me pick up the phone.
Children’s behavior serves a purpose. It’s easy and natural to talk around it “She’s too old to cry like that.” or blame, “She’s spoiled” or reject “I don’t want her here, she’s disruptive.”
Or you could remember that you work in education and this is one of the large problems that come with working with kids. Sometimes you find childish behavior in children.
Bill Nason is one of my favorite writers on children’s behavior. His perspective is useful and dispassionate. He doesn’t judge or talk about poorly parented children. He looks at the behavior. Why would someone scream and cry and meltdown? If you are a teacher, or work with kids, or have children with social delays or challenging behavior, or rigidity–Read Bill Nason. He’s enormously useful.
Somewhere along the way, school changed from a place where kids learned and grew up into a place that kids had to learn fast and by a certain time and if they didn’t, then it was a big problem. If you didn’t have your reading sorted by 1st grade, it’s a problem. If you have your reading sorted, but you don’t know how to get along with people, that’s a problem.
Kids don’t work like that. They grow at different speeds, making big leaps and then nothing for a while and then these marvelous competencies. Or baffling behaviors. Their brains are amazing, but children’t don’t learn when they are stressed or frightened or overwhelmed.
Don’t forget your child is a child. You can’t program them or dump information in neatly and have it come out. That’s an adult learner, someone who has their personal habits sorted, is done with the messy work of growing up and is there to discretely take the information and move through the curriculum.
I’m a school librarian, but I’m not there just to check out a book or clean the library. I am with them, it’s a privilege to be close to children and have them trust you.
Do you know what is great about kids? When they have a hurt, they do think a band aid fixes it. That’s cool. When do you lose that?
Lots of the time, when they were in the library, they did not find a book. But they always found someone that looked at them like they were a little person and wondered what they were thinking about it and doing and I engaged with them. I wanted to draw them out, see what they were about and then we went from there. The books would come, the books are a long game. Childhood and development is a long game. When a child reveals themselves to you, good or bad, that’s information for you. It’s nothing more than what they are ready to show you at this time.
In heaven’s economy nothing is wasted. That meltdown? That outburst? That’s information. It is not an indictment of you, it’s an invitation to learn about a unique person.
I was lucky that I was not as directed and managed the way classroom teachers are. I was not burdened by parent expectations, state charters. The school administration supported me in letting the kids play and wonder. I wish that modern education allowed for childish behaviors in the classroom and less of the directed learning and assessment. Children that don’t fit the group are made to move. They change schools, they get labels, they start to see themselves as bad or broken. Autism affects 1-68 children now. Or does it really? Is it just a category that has lots of room for uniquely developing kids, a space that has funding and services for kids that need an extra accommodation or more attention?
I hope that my little friend finds adults that help her find her way instead of shaming her and pushing her out, because a real teacher is someone that works with the whole child and not just the easy parts. A real school is one that supports a teacher and gives her/him the freedom and resources to make those connections and build those supports into the classroom. Once the stress is removed, the child can learn again and move forward.
All behavior serves a purpose. Do you have a child in your class that is driving you and everyone else bananas? You can work the problem. You can turn it around. That child is doing you a favor by giving you a road map to how he/she perceives the world. That outraged little being is someone that is still trying to grow up and do the hard thing of getting along in a group or managing something overwhelming and you are the perfect person to help them grow up better. You got this, the first step is to draw the child in and keep them close to your heart.
The good Lord knew what he was doing when he put the curl in the pigs tail and when he put childish behavior in children.
Brady starts 4th grade next year and is in a great place. Our school is moving to a new building and he will have many new faces in the classroom. I won’t work at the school next year, so he won’t have me in the building to advocate for him. This change comes at a good time, he does not need me to take this role anymore, he is self-aware and can practice advocating for himself.
Brady started school at STLC when he was 4. He feels safe, accepted and competent. Brady loves school.
Brady was identified as having Aspergers by a developmental pediatrician when he was in 1st grade, via the recommendation of his teacher. In the spring of 2014, Brady was diagnosed as “autistic’ by a developmental pediatrician and has an IEP. The word “Aspergers” is not a valid diagnosis anymore.
As a student with Aspergers, Brady is raised with acceptance and support. He has self-knowledge of what Aspergers means for his learning style and viewpoint. I share my experiences as an adult on the Autism spectrum (undiagnosed) and that lets him know that he is just one of many. The reality that he is a normal person with a unique point of view is mentally healthy for him.
Brady is gregarious, cheerful, easy going and has many friends. Brady participates in activities and socializes with many people. I do not think he is socially delayed, he has caught up with his peers.
Brady has classroom and learning challenges from Aspergers that are ongoing and present strongly at the beginning of the school year when so many things are new and then in the spring he does much better as the work of processing the large pieces are out of the way.
His challenges are:
Brady likes to get away from the group and take breaks to process information—this might be a few times a day in the beginning of the school year or you might see more in the afternoon as his energy flags. This is essential for him, but it should be respectful of class goals as well and not a distraction or undermining your classroom. You can find that balance with him. Brady does not expect you to treat him as less capable, he will get to know you and as he understands you and the classroom and the goals, he will perform better. We say “Autism is a reason, not an excuse.”
He struggles with novelty–because he has to process everything individually and misses the big picture. As the relationship builds, he will understand you and be able to communicate. This is expected. He has felt this every year and he always gets his legs after a bit. In a predictable setting, his performance will be very good. When he has his processed the situation, he can use intelligence, good memory, deep focus and willingness. Once you get to know him you will see his wheels turning or mired as his tokens fall out and he flounders. It’s interesting.
He has an average (non autistic) tendency to talk to his friends or let his attention wander or not listen if he is excited. This is not autism, this is immaturity and it is average with respect to his peers. I’ve witnessed it at school and I’ve drawn a line between the disability (processing) and the immaturity. He tends to misbehave more if he does not have a boundary or a parameter.
Aspergers gives him many advantages. He loves rules, order, he likes to do the right thing. He is very logical. He has a sweet purity and a silly side. He does not have any obsessions or special interest, rather a deep pleasure in physical beauty, tender with animals, patterns, color, science and math.
The best way to motivate Brady is with logic and fairness. As an Aspie, he takes negativity or temper personally. He will match it with challenging behaviors that will be intense and pointless. Logic works better. We talk to him like he is an adult and use reason, not punishments to correct his behaviors. If you explain your motivations, he will come around. We expect him to live in this world and support his teacher in her leadership and communications. I try not to “give him a pass.” He’s been sent to the principal and written up. We don’t regard that as “negative.” We regard temper or cutting remarks or an impatient or angry face as negative (and human, we do it to him, it just does not work if you are trying to get him to change or cooperate).
We tell Brady he is average and ask him to be group minded and respectful of other people. He is used to tolerating discomfort and knows that strong feelings come and go. We love him just the way he is and expect him to be a great member of your class community.
Asperger Learning disabilities:
Fine motor issues, poor handwriting – we ask that his writing be evenly sized and spaced and this paper be clean and not crumpled or scribbled on. His handwriting was poor and we hope for average. This was a major focus in 3rd grade and he made great strides.
Difficulty asking for help when he needs help – He has speech therapy for expressive language. What you will see: He might not understand an assignment or directions and might sit and do nothing. He might have frustration and challenging behavior when he is confused. What he is supposed to do is ask for help, or if he cannot get his words out, he is supposed to write a question mark next to the question he does not know how to approach. This was a major focus in 3rd grade and he made great strides.
Mono channel – People with Aspergers process things one at a time instead of taking in the big picture so if he is looking at the clock he will miss the critical thing. This is not something I expect you to accommodate, only to have a compassionate perspective about, it is not just immaturity, it is a learning disability. However, the consequence is on him and we expect him to compensate for it. Learning from mistakes or missing out might be a good way for him to heighten awareness of this disability of his.
Open ended questions: Brady has a hard time writing essays or open ended multi sentence assignments or verbally answering open ended questions. In a crowded classroom it might be even harder for him to do. This is something we ask him to try his best on, stay “group minded”, keep his challenging behavior in check and make a plan to take it home, do his best, break it into parts, or create a plan. This is something he is still “poor” on and has made the slowest strides with, but onward and upward. If there is a writing project, than perhaps special ed can tackle this in a small group setting with more support.
Literal – he is literal.
Executive function – his procedural memory is stronger than his ability to organize himself so he needs strategies for organizing his tasks—he might draw a blank or become useless when he has a new task, unable to figure out an approach and will need support. This is something for the IEP or special ed perhaps? Not sure when it would come up in the classroom. This is average for his age, but a reality of Aspergers. This is something we work on at home all the time.
Does not pick up on social cues or learn from watching other people without conscious effort, so if everyone is lining up, he will not necessarily start lining up too. It is more likely he will line up because he was directly told, or it is the routine that was established by direct instruction. It is equally likely because of his immaturity that he will not comply, but then we revert to the challenging behavior sheet and hope for better. Not picking up on social cues sometimes triggers the challenging behaviors.
Spacing out and doing nothing in the afternoon. Not sure what to do about this, but recognize he does it. I’m not a fan of it, but at the same time I’m not sure if that is Aspergers (flagging energy, processing) or lazy habits. I think as an adult he will have more discretion over his schedule so try to just keep an eye on is he learning and meeting his bench marks and loosen expectations when his energy is flagging. I gave him intense criticism for this (logically) last year and saw some improvement but still not impressed overall. Best accommodation might be not expect great performance from open ended tasks in the afternoon or at least have a compassionate perspective that this is not his most productive time of day.
Successful teaching style:
Plan for Managing Challenging Behaviors:
Brady’s challenging behaviors are short lived and intense. Brady does not hold grudges, is not particularly sensitive or anxious. His social processing challenge is ongoing. If things happen too fast, unexpected deviation from schedule, loud noises or hunger/tired you will see it. This is an aspect of his Aspergers and it does not turn off or go away. An easy way to think about his processing is to think about it like a blood sugar, and if it gets out of balance, he has a reaction.
Typical warning signs that Brady will manifest challenging behaviors:
This is what we want him to do when he feels his “tokens falling out”
Brady recognizes logically that he has challenging behaviors and that they are distracting and alienating to other people. However, at the time the challenging behavior manifests it is too late for him to do much except take a walk to get himself back into a sociable and “group minded” or non distracting frame of mind.
We call “challenging behaviors” evidence of “temper” and put the responsibility of Brady to manage his temper so that he is showing self-leadership, respect for himself and respect for others around him.
We ask his teachers and peers to take a compassionate viewpoint to his challenging behaviors and credit him for how far he has come.
Brady does not sulk or hold grudges. He is not very verbally expressive and when he has a challenging behavior or is tired, he cannot express himself. When he is very frustrated he will use his hands, or shout or slam things. These outbursts do not last long and the best thing to do is to encourage him to take a walk outside, offer a benign expression and then when he comes back endorse him for making an effort to manage his tokens and say “let’s start over again.” I don’t usually ask what happened as it is easier to just move on.
He is concerned with social justice and if someone in class is experiencing shame or distress, Brady might have an outburst as well. He picks up on shame or cruelty and is bothered by it but not be able to tell you why. Sometimes when I see him looking angry and it does not compute for his day, when I look around I see someone nearby is hurting but he couldn’t tell me. We address that and offer comfort and then he recovers.
Challenging Behavior Triggers
This is a two part post about the journey to helping Brady learn to play and be with people. A common challenge for children on the spectrum is relating to their peers, enjoying school experiences like recess and getting to know classmates. This post tackles some of those puzzling delays and how best to support your child. I hope that reading about our story will give you insights of your own.
Brady didn’t play with us. Or anyone.
He didn’t socialize or relate. It was hard to put your finger on it because he was talking so clearly, if we were following a routine he participated peacefully. But if the routine deviated or something happened that he didn’t expect, he melted down.
His meltdowns were constant and passionate. Naturally, they ruled me. I didn’t take him places if I thought he wouldn’t like it. This was a long time ago, but since it was the beginning of his life, it was all either of us knew. My life was our house, the yard and my immediate family. He liked his cousins but he did not play with them.
You could imagine you were playing with him because you were doing a puzzle together, or because you were doing art together. You could say “give me the yellow crayon” and he would give it to you. And if I replaced an activity with something else he liked, like if we went from a lining up the dominoes to the ball drop, he was game.
He was acquiring language very quickly and wanted to know new words or to talk endlessly about a process he had seen, like a children’s show had an episode about a surprise birthday party. It was in Word World, and everyone had forgotten Dog’s birthday — or so he thought as he looked for someone to play with him. Dog came home and all his friends were hiding inside. They jumped out and yelled “Surprise!”. Cue happy theme music. Brady talked and talked and talked about that. He was Dog, we were the friends. He asked about it. I would say, you went to visit Pig, you went to visit, Cat (or whomever) and you are crying. He loved the details about how Dog was very sad then very happy. Naturally, I asked if he wanted a surprise party and the answer was always an emphatic NO.
He loved to read a Richard Scarry book that had a paper mill and showed lumber turning into paper. He loved the conveyor belt and the journey through the building. He spent hours over a period of years studying that picture and talking about the lumber mill. He loved a sequence about building a house, it had a frame and pipes for hot water and cold water that went under the street. He could not get enough of the idea of wiring.
He was three and he wanted to look at municipal pipes and manhole covers but heaven help us if we went to picnic or a parade. I thought I understood but I really didn’t. It was so unrelenting, this insistence on process. If someone would have just said “Kerry, he has a logical brain and he loves if-then, but he has no tool to understand spontaneity and he’s spending all of his time looking for order” I would have said, “You are right.” I also think when he was 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, those pre school years that were so lonely and crushing because of temper and the search for order that his immaturity prevented him from stepping out of that place. His same age peers started off responding to family, then parallel play. The gulf between him and his peers was not evident until he went to grade school. Before that time, it could be explained away. “He’s so smart” or “He’s shy.”
That is what it meant when a developmental pediatrician says “socially delayed.” Brady was an extreme, but when I started to work in schools I could see that there were many children that did not pick up on cues from their peers. The common response to social awkwardness or social alienation is “figure it out” or judgement by peers that the child is annoying. That’s not helpful for the child. If they didn’t learn how to relate from the simple process of being in the world with other people they are forced to learn from mistakes, or by an epiphany or cobble together misunderstandings and decide on their own version of the truth.
In the meantime, the isolation and temper with Brady reminded me of events I had long forgotten. Sad memories piled up in my head, Brady and I were not so very different. Many of the things that he did not understand confounded me as well. I wasn’t a process loving mini scientist, but I was a dreamy, horse obsessed little girl who raged at my peers in grades school, mocked my peers in high school and then changed settings and jobs before anything caught up with me.
I went to three colleges for my undergraduate, I raced through grad school in one year and then moved 11 times in my early twenties around the DC metro area. I changed jobs 5 times, but i was the internet boom and easy to jump from project to project. I thrived in rapidly changing environments with lots of novelty but put me in a setting that required steadiness and productivity and I was bored and useless. A little self knowledge would have gone a long way for me. I’m skewing it negatively now, at the time I found joy in many things, just not people. I did not relate to people very well. I think it matters. I wish I had a person who saw me for who I was and helped me close those gaps without humiliation or danger. But we didn’t recognize those kinds of challenges when I was growing up. Kids weren’t watched the way they are now, I spent lots of time outside playing after school, and in school I had good grades. I was always a social failure but it was just one part of me, and we didn’t talk about things like that when I was growing up.
True story: I remember when I was a little girl, I didn’t know how to get along with people, so I said outrageous things and seldom was honest because I noticed that people acquiesced when I lied. And I thought I was smarter or better than they were because situations changed based on silly things I said and everyone seemed to go along with it. It came from a place of innocence but it turned into trait that became a part of me. I was frequently outrageous because it was how I talked to people.
I was shopping at Kohl’s with an overflowing cart. I heaped discounted clothing on the conveyor belt at Kohl’s. I said to the cashier very dryly, “our house burned down and we lost everything, that’s why we are buying so much stuff” I’d been that way forever, just saying stuff and not caring about how someone took it. I was so matter of fact, but she was horrified and gave me a huge discount. That was a moment for me because I felt bad, like I had ripped her off somehow. But I knew I was joking, I knew I didn’t mean it. The cashier should have known it too. So I thought about it a lot and the things people said to me piled up in my brain, “people don’t expect you to say things like that” or “it’s not a normal thing to say, so of course she believes you.” I felt very ashamed and that was the end of my casual outrageous statements. It took a long time for my family to figure out that I was all done with that, people would say “you aren’t funny anymore” or try to prod me into comedy but I had a perspective check. My poor parents would have loved for that epiphany to have taken place when I was at home but it was not possible, I did not understand the limits to my perception and I didn’t trust my mother who was always correcting me but also also prone to global polite statements like “It doesn’t matter” or “that’s fine” or “that doesn’t really bother you as much as you say it does”. Because it DID matter to me, it wasn’t fine and yes, it did bother me as much as I said it did.
And so it went with me, but I really did not want Brady to waste so much time growing up, the way I did. With so much useless misery or random joys that were only mine.
When you have a child that is under 10 who has never played successfully with other children it’s not fair to heap blame on them and say “you are naughty” or “you are obnoxious”, isn’t it more likely that your child just doesn’t get it? That’s the compassionate perspective. Just like some kids struggle learning how to read or ride a bike, some kids struggle mightily with joining other children in play.
It was not appealing (or affordable) to close those gaps with interventions and behaviorists. After all, he melted down with strangers and was at his worst with new people. How could I expect him to learn in a clinical setting with a behaviorist? Car rides put me around the bend because he cried so much, I could not imagine weekly appointments. Finally, I wasn’t really sold on the autism idea yet, I had not met a professional I trusted, so I tried to sort it out on my own.
I asked myself these questions:
One of the most beautiful things about children is they tell you the truth about themselves. Through their responses to the world, they give you a window into their growing brain. One of the sad aspects of the early part of the autism journey is forgetting the things your child likes and focusing too much on the parts that make them different from other children. As your child matures, it can hurt how they see themselves. The negativity will new unnecessary problems if they start to see themselves as broken or less than.
So, let’s start with getting to know your child through his strengths and his truths. Respectfully. This is a move towards acceptance. Ask yourself,
Because I had an extreme child, I saw that children give you a map through their toys, their play. I curiously observed the play of hundreds of kids while I worked in the library, wondering about the mystery of play and my own socially isolated son.
Kids fairly shout, this is ME! This is what I am made to do, when they play. The easiest tempered kids are the ones that enjoy so many things, and float from activity to activity. The more challenging kids have strong preferences. The toughest kids are the ones that stay in their shell and don’t reveal themselves except a little bit. They might be anxious, or frightened. These are the ones I’m talking about.
The first step is always, make your child feel safe, accepted and competent. Kids don’t learn when they are stressed, if you are trying to close gaps and bring about change, you must find a way to create that security.
I think if you pay careful attention to the story they tell you when they are toddlers, you will find the seeds of their success when they are grown. The challenge is navigating that part in the middle when they are in school and creating their idea of self. I passionately wanted to know who Brady was and draw out his voice. I lured him with play. It was not terribly social, but I was confident we would grow together.
Let’s talk about social delays. You can be socially delayed without being on the spectrum, but I don’t think you can be on the spectrum without having a different way of relating to people and the world. But just because his play did not look like his peers didn’t mean it didn’t count. He was still human, he was still curious and engaged. He was just engaged on a different level and I needed to get there.
If he wasn’t going to learn from watching people than I was going to learn from watching him. If I could understand him, then I could help him create an entry to build bridges to other people. He had to find out from playing with me that people are fun too, not just sensory experiences. People can be fun and valuable just as well as a ball drop or a domino rally.
Consider instrument play versus relationship play. (Links to book where I discovered this concept)
Instrument play is regarding people are interchangeable because the object is the goal. Whether playing a sport, or a hobby or going to a movie, the goal is the activity and not the person. Instrument play brings people with common interests together. It’s not bad, but it is limiting and as a child if you are only skilled with relating to people because of a common interest than heaven help you if you like things that are off the beaten path like choral music, maps and the periodic table.
There is a danger when you console yourself that your child is so smart. I know many adults who are very bright and lonely. What use is the periodic table to a 4 year old? Brady didn’t break any new ground. He just memorized pi and I thought, that’s not going to be soul satisfying for you. A large useless talent in a child is called a splinter skill. It detracts from normal development. A splinter skill is not the same as being a prodigy. Brady was not a prodigy. He was just like a kid that was tilted all the way on the see-saw and completely out of balance. He had a rigid sense of play and introducing novelty created enormous stress.
Relationship play is when you postpone a pleasurable activity because it will be more fun with a particular friend. Again, you need balance here. What if you are so intent on the friend that you never figure out what you like? Lots of adults are walking around with no idea what they are really good at, what resonates with them. It’s good to have special interests. However, Brady did not know how to cultivate that friend. And honestly, I’m not sure he even knew what he was missing. But there was plenty of time for that lightbulb to come on.
I needed language to describe what I was seeing at home--I was so confused, so overwhelmed. That’s why I’m writing it all down now. It’s cathartic for me and I hope my story resonates with someone like me, googling at home, wondering what path to take. The word “autism” was such a choatic, sprawling nightmare but reading words like “instrument play”, “rigidity”, “Splinter skill” I thought, that’s him, that’s my child.
I started by looking at what Brady liked. He liked strong graphics, he liked predictability. He liked logic and order. He liked music and color. He did not like new people or any people really. He did not like surprises or change. this is his favorite video from when he was 2, you can see the strong insistence on order and sequence here.
It became a matter of finding out what scared him and eliminating those things. And then finding out what he liked, really liked, and making that list longer and longer.
At home his play was very logic oriented –very if/then. Lots of memorization. Between 12 months and 2 years he built up a large vocabulary. He liked classical music, puzzles, colors, sensory toys. I relied on these toys to help calm and soothe him.
These are the things I did that did not work very well:
I joined mom’s clubs, I took on leadership positions, I tried to be a great hostess so that people would like me, would like US, so that my son would have someone to play with. I was that mom that you could drop your child off at while you ran errands. I was so eager to give him chances to play, to make friends. I reinvented myself over and over, but at the base of it, he remained the same. I was burnt out from all the free babysitting where he melted down behind a closed bedroom door. Max was 2 1/2 years younger but he ended up playing with the kids that I brought over for Brady. I became quite the little camp counselor. And wasted enormous energy getting nowhere.
I spent hundreds of dollars on toys. I bought anything that I thought he might play with, and imagined him sharing it with a friend. He kept to his blocks and marble runs, puzzles and blankets. I gave away the Imaginext, the Geo Trax. We had a good run with My Little Pony, he memorized the ponies and the songs but did not play with them. I decided he liked the ponies because they had their personalities written on their flanks like a sign. He wished we all wore signs saying who we were and what we were like.
The tide started to turn when I:
I borrowed a child development textbook from the library and I read about Play. I’m not going to rewrite it here, but if you are a nerd like me and can manage it, spend a few hours and read about the mechanics of play. If you catch yourself blaming other children for being mean or unkind, read about play and look at it dispassionately. I don’t remember what the exact book was, but I remember it was very helpful to start breaking down play into discrete parts and figuring out goals.
If your child fails to make friends and get along socially, it is not because everyone/the school/your town is so mean. It’s not because they haven’t had a chance to play, or don’t know anyone and it’s not about the toys. But it might be because they don’t comprehend people and how to join play.