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August 9, 2010 / paperkids

Paper Play


When I was Emma’s age, I had a HUGE imaginary world.  I know mom and dad had to be just a little concerned when I was nearing 10 and 11.  When was I going to abandon this pretend world I slipped into every day after school?  They watched me countless hours out in the field talking to myself and playing in the woods.  I loved my make believe world and I really needed it, considering how shy I always felt.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as Emma is the same age I was then.

When Emma was about three, she had really stopped playing with toys altogether.  She would watch Baby Einstein videos over and over and, if she were involved in toys at all, it was just to line them up or chew them up.   Many random things got lined up.  During that time, when I had started reading up on all things autism, lining things up is one of the early signs to look for.  It could be considered either a delay in, or abnormal functioning of, symbolic or imaginitive play; or it could fall into the category of repetitive behaviors.  For me, that whole period of time was hard to understand and everything got lumped into that new all-encompassing word : AUTISM

As the years have gone by, I have looked at Emma’s progression of play.  Her “appropriate” play has ebbed and flowed over the years, steadily changing.  Therapists, teachers and I have tried to teach her the “proper” way to play with toys.   ie:  “Give the baby the bottle”  and “put the baby in the crib for sleepy time”.   I pushed for this focus on play and have worked hard on it over the years, too.   But I think after many years, many unused or chewed up toys later, and LOTS of attempts, you just tend to let it go.   There seems to be SO many other things to work speech, or behaviors, or daily living skills.  I put “play” on the list of many things that I felt Emma might not experience or understand…another thing ultimately that I would never share with her.  

I thought if ONLY she had an imagination that could take her away the way mine did.  If only she had an imaginary world like I did to slip into.  But everybody knows that most kids with “severe” autism  DON’T PRETEND, right??

Recently,  Emma began to pile up all her stuffed animals randomly all over the house.   I honestly figured she was just “stimming” (self-stimulatory behavior) on this.  Pretty much all “odd” behavior gets lumped into the “stimming” or “inappropriate behaviors” category.   I decided to ask her (because OMG – now I CAN!)  and find out why she was doing it.  I held up the letterboard for her to spell:

Me:  “Emma, are you playing?”

Emma:  Yes

Me:  “Really?  What are you playing?”

Emma:  I am pretending that I am a teacher

I was very suprised and  excited to hear this.  Honestly, from looking at these piles of stuffed animals, it would be hard to think that she was playing anything at all.   And when she let me in on it, I started to see it!  It might not appear the same way that other children’s play might, but she was PLAYING! 

Again, I thought of Tito’s poem on perceptions.  I thougth of how we percieve things that are different.   Different, not better.  Not right or wrong, just different.  At one time, man thought the world was flat.  That was a perception based on what man knew at the time.   I thought this was really enlightening and completely has changed the way I think about many things I now see Emma do.   I think it’s safe to say that Emma’s imagination is very vibrant! 

Today, I held up the letterboard and she spelled out:

I pretended house today

Me:  “You did?!  Were you the mommy?”

Emma:   Yes

Me:  “What kinds of things did you do as the mommy?”

Emma:  cook

Me:  “Do you remember when you were little and you used to line up your toys?”

Emma:  Yes

Me:  “Do you know why you did it?  Were you playing?”

Emma:  I was putting the pieces in line out of irrational thinking

Me:  “You mean because you didn’t know how to play?”

Emma:  Yes

Me:  “But were you playing?”

Emma:  yes

I asked her if it would be okay if I shared this story about her play.   She spelled out “yes”.

Me:  “Do you like this idea for a blog entry?”

Emma:  I like it because it tells others that I pretend play 

Me:  “Got any ideas what I could title this entry?  What should we name it?”

Emma:  Paper play

So cool!! 

I have had to bend my mind around some of the things I’ve learned recently about Emma.  I guess things aren’t always what they appear to be.  How could Tito’s mother have known at the time, that the upstairs mirror was showing him amazing stories about the outside world through it’s reflection.  I couldn’t dream up such a fantastical world. 

 It’s beyond my imagination!


Leave a Comment
  1. Lynn States / Aug 9 2010 5:26 pm

    Beautifully expressed, Sabra; and just another attribute of Emma’s life that teaches us how wonderfully unique each of us are. Things are not what they appear to be: another lesson learned.

  2. Amber / Aug 10 2010 11:55 am

    Let Emma know that myself and quite a few others that I know anxiously await her next entry every day. I am so excited for your family! I am curious to know what kind of conversations she is having with Jared too…I love you guys and miss you so much!

    • smurphy3 / Aug 11 2010 5:24 pm

      Thanks girl! WE love you too! We are working on her communicating with Jared. It may take a while:) Pray for us!

  3. Heather / Aug 10 2010 5:35 pm

    I am in tears – this is amazing! Tell Emma that Heather in Georgia is cheering her on and that she is a wonderful teacher. I love her poem. She is God’s child, we all are – it sounds like she is more spiritually advanced than 99% of the population.

    • smurphy3 / Aug 12 2010 8:19 pm

      Thanks Heather! I will let Emma know for sure! She is really loving it:)

  4. Heather / Aug 10 2010 5:36 pm

    I also am subscribing to the email updates 🙂

    • smurphy3 / Aug 11 2010 5:22 pm

      Thanks so much Heather! That means a lot!

  5. Grandma / Aug 11 2010 7:33 am

    As a child, I, too, had non-human friends. For me, a tree bending in the wind was saying hello. Who is to say otherwise? To this day, I view “the world” as a place beyond the mere tangible. We don’t see air, but know it is there; we don’t see love but oh, the fruits of our loving behaviors. What inspires Emma is Creation itself. Her play is no less artistic than the painting, the poem, the symphony. In earlier years, Emma came to me in dreams, telling me she was happy.
    I believed it then, I know it now. And she is happy because she has two loving parents grandparents and friends who have opened their hearts to being with her, in presence, embracing the sacred imagination.
    My heart goes out to all of you, and to those you have touched with these reflections, who respond in turn. . I wish all of you blessing upon blessing.

  6. Cheryl / Aug 12 2010 12:30 pm

    I wish I could meet Emma. Tell her I love to hear her stories!

    • smurphy3 / Aug 12 2010 8:21 pm

      I wish you could, too! Thanks so much for your encouraging words, girl. This has been a true gift from God. So hopeful and excited to share more.

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