When Play Doesn't Come in A Day
I've never been a patient person. I have nearly always wanted to see or get results to any sort of effort almost immediately. As a parent with a child who has autism, I've had to alter my patience level for the better--especially when it comes to play time. Though I realized Rome wasn't built in a day, it took me a little while to realize I couldn't expect my little guy to learn the complexities of play in that short bit of time.
Playtime has been difficult for us since my son was a toddler. Although my son has made vast improvements in this area, it used to be quite a struggle. When my child was three or four all he wanted to draw during our mommy/son art time was a colorful set of lines.
Play groups were difficult then because he didn't have an interest then in engaging with other children and instead preferred to cling to me. Talking to other mothers was nearly impossible and this mom dreaded every single play date on the calendar but went anyway because she felt it was a good opportunity for her son.
Despite the difficulty with play groups, I did find that my son did want to play. However, I was his designated play leader and often found that we were limited as to what kind of things we could do. Play outside of play groups was easier for us because there were fewer distractions.
By necessity I started out by encouraging simplified play. Inspired by the PBS classic, Mr. Rogers, I used paper towel tubes and slanted them at an angle and ran a car down through it. My son picked up on that skill right away and enjoyed the activity for brief periods of time as a two year old. Soon we were pulling off our couch cushions to make ramps for the cars. I wanted him to be able to do other things with cars such as create imaginary roads, but he simply was not ready for that.
At play groups that had mostly typically developing children, I paid attention to what other toys the neuro-typical children were playing with and bought a few of my favorites. One of the most successful toys I was inspired to buy (when my son was about three) was a wooden puzzle that featured eight or ten different sea creatures. It came with a fishing pole and each creature had little round piece of metal on it's surface so that it could be 'caught' with the pole. It still gets played with by both of my boys.
The absolute best decision I made, however, regarding the development of my child's play time was to have another child. I gave birth to our second born son, who is neuro-typical, six years ago. Fortunately, for my husband and I, the boys turned out to be compatible and they are, in their own words, "best friends." I realize that there are many kinds of possible outcomes and a sibling doesn't necessarily always make the best play mate for a brother or sister with special needs.
I feel lucky every day that my six year old has the ability to lead my ten year old with autism in play. I have to admit that C2 has more ability to lead his brother in play than I do. It's wonderful to see my ten year old with playing with toys in the way they are meant to be played with. Although I would have kept trying, I believe that having an in house playmate has led to quicker development in this area.
We still have a ways to go. Even now, our play time hasn't always been smooth. There have been times when both of my guys went out to play with the neighbor children and my oldest came back in tears because he didn't understand what they were doing. In one particular case, he was chased away because they were all performing 'jobs' and he kept interfering because he didn't know what to do. I took him back and explained that they should give him a job, but stuck within hearing distance in case they decided to take advantage of the situation. In short, group play with two or more children is still difficult for my son. Individual or one on one play is much easier.
As for now, in regards to play, my biggest challenge with play is to get my son to school in time! The desire to play with stuffed animals in the morning hits hard and threatens to make us late nearly every day!