The Playground

I use to take the children to a number of playgrounds in the city when they were young.  We went to Union Square Park (before the renovation), Washington Square Park, Seal Park which is way over on 10th Avenue between 22nd & 21st Streets, Madison Square Park and Triangle park (a little playground nestled in the triangle created by Hudson becoming 8th Avenue.  There were others, but these were the ones we went to more often than not.  Washington Square was a particular favorite because of the large sand box and there was a smaller playground close by for younger children, where we would stop, on our way home.  In addition there was the huge water fountain in the center of the square and when the weather was very hot, the children loved to splash around in it.

One summer day while at the playground in Washington Square, Nic was playing in the sand box with his trucks and Emma wanted to swing.  Typically there were lengthy lines for the swings, particularly in the mid morning and mid afternoon.  I learned to repeatedly remind Emma she would have to wait for the swing, something she seemed increasingly unable to do.  More and more frequently I would have to pull her from the ground where she had crumpled in a sobbing heap and strap her into her stroller kicking and screaming to leave the playground with Nic, reduced to tears, in tow because she refused to wait in the line.  Anyone who has spent time with small children in a playground knows cutting in line for the swings is tantamount to declaring war on the other parents and children.

On this particular day we were waiting I counted each time a child vacated a swing.  “Okay, Emma, five more children ahead of us.  Remember we have to wait.  Let’s count. “  And then I would count while Emma stared fixedly ahead.  Eventually when it was Emma’s turn she leaped onto the swing and waved me away so that I couldn’t push her.  I stepped back, wondering what she would do.  Then with her feet scuffing the ground she pushed off and began to pump her legs.  It was amazing to watch such a little girl able to swing herself.  A small crowd of moms and caregivers gathered around, watching.  One of them asked, “How old is she?”

“Eighteen months,” I replied, as Emma soared high in the air and back down again.

Much later I learned many autistic children have what are termed splinter talents.  Things they are good at, though they remain delayed in most other things.  Emma has always been coordinated even though she began walking late – at fourteen months – and needs more time than a normally developing child to learn things.

But on that warm summer day, Emma found something she was able to do, and do really well.

One response to “The Playground

  1. Joe (Emma's behavioral therapist)

    I was watching ABC’s Nightline last night, which aired a story about a pro-surfer who has autism. Watching his intensified focus on the waves certainly reminded me of Emma’s physical grace and all of her athletic talents – skiing in particular. They described the teenaged surfer as someone who’s “mastered the seas but still struggles on land.” On the water he feels relaxed, but on land he must face the pressure and anxiety of social interactions.

    Like Emma, the surfer has no physical indication of any disorder so his inability to respond appropriately to social interactions (or simply say hello) is often interpreted as rudeness. This is one of the dozens of catch 22’s of autism – wanting her to be seen and treated just like anyone else but also expecting others to be understanding/non-discriminatory once they find out she’s autistic.

    The surfer’s story ended by crediting his autism for opening this door for his talents to shine: a door which may have otherwise remained shut. While Emma’s autism has come with its vast array of difficulties and challenges, it has also opened similar doors for her talents to shine. While I feel many of Emma’s abilities are innate, I believe a stage needed to be set in order for them to be unveiled.

    So I end this story by crediting Emma’s parents, Ariane and Richard, for all of their endless efforts to open every door and set every stage possible for her. As for her athletic talents, giving her the opportunity to swing herself at 18 months, getting her into gymnastics at 2 years old, and strapping her into skis at 3 years old is just a fraction of all of the sensory input she was constantly provided with at such an early age. While Emma continues to shine in the spotlight, I credit her director and choreographer, Ariane and Richard, for making it happen.

    Good show, my friends. Good show!

    In admiration of her parents and with lots of love for our little superstar,

    Joe

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