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 on..like 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?”
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?”
Me: “What kinds of things did you do as the mommy?”
Me: “Do you remember when you were little and you used to line up your toys?”
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?”
Me: “But were you playing?”
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
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!