It’s almost a given, perhaps, that the Monster doesn’t often engage in “appropriate play”. Like many children with Autism, he’s often more fascinated by parts of things, rather than the thing itself. He’s inclined to sort game pieces or toys by type or color or some trait he’s selected as he might be to play with it in a manner that approaches “appropriate”, but… it’s how things are.
Most of the time, if the Monster and R play together on something, it’s R guiding the game – something that, as a four year old, he’s very good at. “We’re going to play spaceship now, [Monster],” R will declare, as he hauls over an empty box, and he pulls the Monster with him into it, narrating the whole time and telling the Monster exactly what he should be doing at each juncture. Or he’ll guide them upstairs to jump on beds or the crash pad, or they’ll do any of about fifteen other variations… all with a typically-developing-and-therefore-bossy four year old directing the action. The Monster, being sweet and compliant, just goes along with it most of the time, and wanders off when his attention dictates. Rarely, however, does the play involve actual toys.
Which is not to say that we don’t have toys or games for them to play at together. R loves Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, save for when he doesn’t win, and with some direction, the Monster can be brought into the game. A few attempts at Sorry! weren’t exactly successful, since that requires more attention than the Monster and R really have at any given moment…
I’m the first one to say that we don’t need more toys around the house. I think we have a lot already, some of which we could stand to get rid of since the kids have outgrown them. But… when she finds them for a buck at a consignment sale, I can’t really object as much, since it’s at least good reuse of someone else’s toy. And, frankly, it might be a push to get some of our toys going in the opposite direction very soon…
But I digress.
One of her finds at the most recent sale is this marble-run toy set. You’ve all seen it somewhere, this set of plastic tubes and ramps and whirlpool things that the children are meant to put together in any of a thousand configurations, and then make a horrible amount of noise with the marbles clattering through it. Given what our children have been doing of late – losing the marbles from Hungry, Hungry Hippos in the various PVC pipes of a home-made tablet stand – it probably seemed like a really good purchasing decision.
So after R had been good for two days, my wife let them have at with this new game.
Now, playing with this takes quite a bit of adult intervention – the Monster doesn’t have the fine-motor skills, and hasn’t shown the interest in assembling anything himself, and R (being four) doesn’t have the patience. (Which means I’m generally getting down on the floor and having R direct while I put something together. “I want both spinny things next to each other! No, higher!”) The Monster wasn’t so interested in the construction process… but then the whole thing was put together. And then…
… the Monster actually reached into the bag of marbles and started, like R, to feed them to the construction. The noise was only a problem at certain points – never, ever feed all the marbles to the machine at once, especially with children who don’t understand that they need to also empty the receivers at the far end – but the two of them were engaged in good, cooperative parallel play with the toy in an appropriate manner for more than five minutes at a time without R having to direct all the action.
Sometimes, miracles do happen.