Yesterday, Ella and I went to church together and left the boys at home with Paul because sometimes, it’s just not worth the fight. I sat with my dear friend *Hope and as usual, she blessed me with her wisdom, her compassion and her desire to help other people.
We were sitting behind another friend who had her little boy with her who was getting a bit restless so Hope rummaged around in (what we call her Mary Poppins bag) and produced some paper and coloured pens to draw with. She drew an upside down cat and encouraged him to draw too.
The little boy’s Mum sat down beside him and also tried to get him to draw and eventually he picked up the pen and scribbled all over the cat! I giggled and pointed it out to Hope and she smiled and said: “It doesn’t matter – he’s engaging with his Mum, that was the whole point”!
Hope probably doesn’t realise what that tiny comment meant to me or how the words rolled around in my head for the following 12 hours or so!
“Engaging with his mother”. I just couldn’t shake it!
I thought about my relationship with my own kids and knew that when it comes to engaging them – I rarely do. And that’s not because I don’t know how to, or because I don’t have the time to, but because most of the time: I don’t want to.
That’s right, I don’t want to……..I’m over it. O.V.E.R!
Most school afternoons I am exhausted within half an hour of collecting the kids from school. The constant yelling, running, jumping, flapping, bouncing and spinning mixed with mindless chatter and monologue-ing just about does my head in. I often develop a headache around 3pm and tense up and usually end up putting myself in a time out! I go into my bedroom and sit on my bed, (or in my wardrobe on the more desperate days) and escape the chaos for as long as I can get away with it!
I’m not really that clueless though – I do know that my kids need to decompress after a long day at school and that they require some sort of loose routine to help them to do that, but organising and scheduling does not come easily to me at all. I fight it a lot more than I should.
But I cannot just tell my kids to “go play” because they simply don’t know how to.
For a child who is developing typically, they are born with play skills that are flexible, spontaneous, creative and also voluntary. Playing comes naturally to them and it’s how they learn about their world. Play teaches children how to self-amuse and be independent when they need to be and helps the child to build confidence in themselves and their abilities.
But, children on the autism spectrum often need to be taught how to play. It sounds strange I know, but children with an ASD often have repetitive, non-functional and rigid play with very limited interests. Because of this they struggle to learn skills to help them to socialise with other children and they don’t instinctively know “how” to play make believe type games. (This is why it’s difficult to engage with children on the spectrum and in my son’s case – why he often explodes in anger because he can’t figure out what he needs to do next or how to do it!)
There is hope though. The best way to engage a child on the spectrum is to find out what they are interested in. Find out what makes them smile, what excites them and what makes them feel safe. And then use that interest to engage with them and teach them necessary life skills through play.
At the moment – both of my boys are mad about Trashies! (Trash Packs).
Our house has been overtaken by them, and a dear friend often buys the boys new ones as rewards and incentives. So this afternoon once we got home and wound down a bit, I asked the boys if they would “help” me to sort the Trashies out.
I asked them if they could help me to put them all in groups of the same colours and to help me to figure out which group had the most Trashies in it and which one had the least. Of course they were in their elements because this type of activity is well documented as being something that ASD children love to do. Grouping things, lining them up and organising are all known to be comforting to individuals on the spectrum. So ‘together’ we sorted them all out.
Because I was playing alongside the boys and not talking to them face to face, they were comfortable enough to tell me about their days at school. They were super-focussed on arranging the Trashies and there was not one single harsh word spoken between them the entire time. This alone is HUGE progress because when you have 2 sons on the spectrum and NEITHER of them possessing very good social skills, play skills or knowing how to play independently – there is always a lot of fighting going on. But not today!
Next we counted them by colour, did some basic adding and subtracting and ‘invented’ conversations between the different Trashies. It was wonderful to see them getting so involved and the sneaky maths homework proved a winner too! (hehehe).
Most days I curse those little trashes that are strewn all over my house and usually I cannot go into a single room without finding one of them on the floor but after this afternoon, I have started to see Trashies in a whole new light!
Granted it only lasted ten minutes before Harley started begging for the TV and Lucas for the computer but it was ten minutes longer than yesterday. And I hope to increase that play time over the next few months as I continue to find new and exciting ways to engage my children.
So for now….I’m keeping some of the trash INSIDE the house.
* Hope is not her real name, but she is the same friend that provided my boys with these wonderful grubby little treasures…She has brought us much hope hence the pseudonym ♥.