From the moment Emma could walk (14 months – she went from crawling to running) she would do what we used to call, Emma’s circuit training. This was before we knew she was autistic and didn’t realize that this was Emma’s very specific way of trying to get the kind of vestibular and proprioceptive movement she so craved. In fact, it all looked so “normal” or “not autistic” that it took me a long time to understand this was a kind of stimming. For more on stimming from previous posts, go to: Compulsions & The Velcro Strip.
I was always trying to find something that might engage Emma. When we were at the toy store, I found a mermaid finger puppet with long black hair and a blue sequined tail. I brought it home and to my delight and surprise Emma grabbed hold of it and ran from the living room down the hallway to the front door. When she reached the front door she swiveled around and raced back to the living room. This went on for quite sometime and I was so excited I’d found a toy that she liked, I didn’t spend too much time wondering at the peculiarity of her “play”. A few weeks later I found another mermaid finger puppet and a doll’s stroller and brought both home, only to have Emma completely ignore the new blonde mermaid finger puppet, but she loved the baby stroller.
Emma’s favorite circuit training, which was also how we came to call it that, was the obstacle course she would do in our living room, over and over and over and over again. She ran from the living room couch into the TV area, jumped up on the couch there, crawled through a tunnel we had set up, ran into the kitchen, around the butcher block island, down the hall to the front door and back again. Even better was to do all of this with the baby stroller, which she pushed along her route, knocking things over as she sped along. I wasn’t alarmed by her circuit training, after all, Emma’s older neuro-typical brother, Nic used to spin around until he became so dizzy he’d fall down. Kids do these things, right? Right?!
When I took the children to the playground, Emma wanted to go on the swings for as long as she could before the lines became so long she had to get off to give another child the chance to swing, at which point she would get off only to get back in line. She wasn’t much interested in playing with other children. She wanted, needed to swing. At her special education school she is allowed to go to the sensory gym periodically, the idea being that children who crave vestibular and proprioceptive movement become more regulated when given the opportunity to swing, have their bodies pressed in the squeeze machine, etc. Only Emma never seems to get more regulated.
The principal at her school laughed and said, “I’ve never seen a kid who didn’t get tired… ever!”
And she doesn’t. When we are in Aspen during the winter, Emma will ski for five hours, go to the Aspen Recreational Center where she’ll swim for another two to three hours, then climb on the climbing wall before going grocery shopping, where she’ll push the “customer in training” shopping carts, then stop up at the barn where she will do a weight lifting workout before coming home and demanding that we play a couple dozen games of hide and seek. Even then she’ll get up bright and early the next morning at 6:00AM sharp if we’re lucky, 5:00AM, if we’re not.
Emma – age 5
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and our exhausted attempts to keep up, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com