Category Archives: Pretend Play

“Umbrella, Umbrella, Raincoat!”

Yesterday Emma, wearing one of her eight bathing suits, (Emma goes through bathing suits the way runners go through running shoes) requested that we play a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”
“Mommy!  I want to play duck, duck, goose, please!”  Without waiting for an answer she ran to find her brother.  “Nicky, I want to play duck, duck, goose with Nicky please!”  Again she shot out of the room to find her dad.  I could hear her muttering under her breath, “Haveta, gotta find Daddy.  Gotta ask Daddy!”  There was a moment of silence as I imagined she located her father and stood in front of him.  I heard her  say, “Daddy!  I want to play duck, duck, goose please!”

For most parents this sort of request from their child is commonplace, however, with Emma it is far from the norm.   In the past year she has increasingly asked us to engage with her, usually in the form of a chase game, hide and go seek or other activity involving lots of running and ending with tickling and loud utterances of “You better run!  I’m going to get you!”  followed by maniacal laughter – Woooohahahahahaha – done in a creepy, deep sounding voice.  These sorts of activities necessitate a lot of lung power and is how I justify not having a gym membership in an area of the city that is purported to have more gyms than any other.  I know it’s a stretch, but allow me to cling to my lame reasoning.

Within minutes Emma had managed to pry her brother away from his favorite TV show, Chopped, me from my emails, Richard from his book and gathered us together on the floor where we sat in a circle as Emma stood over us and began.  “Umbrella.  Umbrella.  Umbrella,” she said as she pushed down on each of our heads.  She even pretended there were more of us than there actually were and mimed patting at least three more heads of imaginary people seated in our circle with us.  “Raincoat!” she shouted after a third orbit around us and pushing on my head.

The whole, shouting out “Goose!” while patting the chosen person on the head then running as they manage to upright themselves from a cross-legged position and chase her, is the one part of the game Emma hasn’t quite gotten down.  However, it must be said, she is at an advantage as both Richard and I are in our golden years aka members of  AARP and careening rapidly into senior citizen status and so bounding from sitting position to standing takes us a tad bit longer than it once did.  Still, Emma is easily caught, but other than this small adjustment to the game, she gets it and loves it.

I’d like to point out her creative amendment to the game in using variations on the duck, duck, goose theme.  I loved “Umbrella, umbrella, raincoat,” which is a variation on her other favorite, “Carousel, carousel, horsey!”

What an awesome kid!

To read my latest piece, Emma’s New Shoes, in the Huffington Post, click ‘here

And if you haven’t already done so, do vote for Emma’s Hope Book by clicking this ‘link‘ and clicking on the “like” button opposite Emma’s Hope Book.

Teaching a Name

When Emma was a year old, in a moment of impatience we bought her a baby doll for Christmas.  Despite the fact she showed no interest in dolls of any kind, despite the fact she showed little interest in any of the toys we tried to entice her with.  Emma was much more of a doer than a child who sat happily playing with a toy.  This was a kid who liked to move.  Take her to the playground and she made the other kids look lethargic.  I admit, I took a certain degree of pride in her rejection of all toys and her desire to move and run and slide instead.  Emma’s disinterest reminded me of my father who shunned all holidays, grousing that they no longer celebrated what they were intended to, but instead fed the insatiable Hallmark Greeting Card’s appetite for cheap sentimentality and  had become a financial boon for ad agencies.  His grumpiness about it all, increased with his age.   Emma’s resolute rejection of all toys, her disinterest in videos, movies, and anything else that required her to sit still, would have made my father proud.

The baby doll we purchased was pudgy, with blonde pigtails, and came with a little toilet, hairbrush, mirror, bathrobe and towel.  All that was missing was a mani/pedi kit and perhaps some massage oil.  I bought a couple of little playsuits for the doll and wrapped everything up in pretty paper with a big satin ribbon.  We had to help Emma as she showed no enthusiasm in her gifts piled under the Christmas tree.  She begrudgingly humored us by tearing open the present, but showed no excitement, it was as though it were a chore,  something that was expected of her.  When she saw the baby doll, securely fastened in it’s box with a clear window so that she could see it, but not actually reach it, she lost all interest and wandered off.  “Emma, look!  It’s your very own baby doll!”  I exclaimed.  “What are you going to call her?”  Being ignored during those early years was something we had grown used to.  Still, I persisted, carrying the baby doll over to her, I said, “What’s her name?”  Emma refused to look at me or the baby doll.

Years later, during out DIR (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model, also known as floortime) phase, the baby doll, now joined by a number of other baby dolls, groovy girls, Jessy and Woody from the Toy Story, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, each one evidence of our ignorance and dogged determination to engage her in the world of make believe, lay untouched in a pink plastic bin near her bed.  In a moment of inspiration I yanked the baby doll from its bin and thrusting it in Emma’s face, asked, “Oh look Em!  What’s her name?”  Emma said nothing, but I persisted.  “What do you call her, Em?”  And then Emma spoke.  “Doll,” she said.  “Yes, but what will you call her?”  I was nothing, if not determined.  “Is her name, Tabitha or Katherine, Anastasia, Cynthia?  What’s her name, Em?”  The idea that naming something was not a concept Emma fully grasped, never occurred to me.  When Emma then repeated the names I was throwing out, I eventually gave up and as I was leaving, Emma said, simply, “Doll.”

And of course, she was right.  It was a doll.  To Emma that was all she was.  A doll.  For a child with little or no ability to understand the world of make believe, the idea of naming a doll, must have seemed bizarre.  Why would one do that?

Last weekend, at Barnes & Noble, I showed Emma a book called Biscuit, a beginning reader book.  Emma took the book from me, sat down on the carpet and pointed to the first word.  “Biscuit, that word says Biscuit.  That’s the dog’s name,” I said.  Emma nodded and continued to read the book, stumbling over a couple of unknown words, but for the most part being able to get through it with little help from me.  As I sat with her I remembered her baby doll and it occurred to me, she does not fully understand the concept of naming.  It is something I will attempt to teach her this weekend.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  Emma’s Hope Book.com

Em’s Airplane

Yesterday Eddie (UPS man) delivered a package.  Emma took the box and began decorating the inside with stickers.  She then drew circles around each sticker.

With a different colored marker she drew a larger circle in the middle of one end, just underneath the circled stickers.

When I got home last night Richard said, “Did you see what Emma did?”

“Yes,” I said, walking past the box without really looking at it.

“Do you know what it is?”  he asked.

I bent down to view the box more carefully.  “She’s made a pattern with the different colored stickers?”

“It’s her airplane.”

“Really?”  My mind began to tick off the greater implications – imaginative play, creative thinking, fine motor dexterity, perhaps an attempt at patterning…

“The stickers are the windows,” Richard told me.  “You should have seen her.  She got inside of it, put on her seat belt and flew.”

“Wow!  How great is that?” I said.

This morning when I went out to help Emma make her breakfast, I pointed to the box.  “Hey Em.  What’s that?”

“Emma’s airplane.”

Then she proceeded to sit inside of it, buckled her seat belt and pushed the purple colored “button” which evidently “starts” her airplane and began to fly.  “Push the button.  Go up, up, up and fly!”  Emma said.  She held onto the box and began shaking it.  “Uh-uh-uh!  It’s bumpy.  You have to be careful.  You have to hold on!”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Up in the sky,” she said, with a tone that seemed to hold a hint of sarcasm, as in – Duh, where do you think? or maybe she was just tired of having to state the obvious.

“Yes, but where will you land?”  I pressed.

“No.  Up in the sky,” she said.

Because clearly I was missing the point.  The destination wasn’t the goal.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

Hide and Seek

Like many children, Emma loves nothing more than a rousing game of Hide and Seek.  Except Emma doesn’t like to look for anyone, she just wants to be the one to hide, always.  She also only likes to hide in one place.

Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game.  Because not only is she utterly predictable, she’s also really hard to miss.  Never-the-less, we do our best to play the part of surprised “seeker”.
“Hmm, I wonder where Emma is?  Let’s see…  could she be in here?”  Dramatic throwing open of various closet doors and curtains, followed by, “No.  Not in here.  I wonder where she could be hiding?!”  There’s a great deal of crouching down, looking under chairs, the bed, her desk, while muttering, “Gosh, I can’t imagine where she could be!”

All of this is done while Emma variously – sings, hums, makes loud breathing noises or whispers to herself , “No, not going to find Emma under the mattress!”

That she is also squirming around makes her hard to miss, still we do our best to play the part given us.  Eventually if we are taking a very long time to “find” her, she’ll give us a little help.

By yanking off the fitted sheet to reveal herself and yelling, “There she is!”

In the theatre world, this would be called stealing lines, hogging the stage or any number of disparaging phrases.  But to Emma she’s simply trying to help us out and we appreciate it.

“Oh!  There you are,” we shout before grabbing a limb and tickling her mercilessly.

“Let go!  Let go, let go, let go!”  Emma squeals.

“No, no, no.  I’m not going to let go.  I’m going to tickle you and tickle you and tickle you..”

The other day while in the midst of just such a moment, Nic appeared in the doorway to Emma’s bedroom, “What are you guys doing?”

“We’re playing hide and seek, want to play?” I asked.

“Yeah okay,” Nic agreed, somewhat reluctantly as he knew Emma would only want to hide underneath her mattress again.

“Should I count or do you guys want to find me?” I asked.

“You and Nicky hide?” Emma said.  Meaning she wanted to hide with Nic.

But I pretended not to understand as every interaction can be an opportunity to teach (we’re trying to help Emma with her pronoun reversal problems), “Oh okay.  So you’re going to find me and Nic?”

“NO!  Mommy find.  Emma and Nic hide!”

“Emma you have to say, Nic and I are going to hide.”  Nic took her finger and made her point to herself, “Me, Emma.  You say me,” then he looked up at me with an expression of mild exasperation.  “No wait, that’s not right.”

I nodded my head.  “It’s okay, Nic.  You’re doing great.”

“Okay, okay,” Nic said, starting over again.  “Em, you have to say I.  I’m going to hide with Nic or Nic and I are going to hide.”

At this point Emma had lost all interest and was trying to get one of her favorite youtube videos up on her computer.

“Come on Em.  One last game,” I encouraged.

“Five minutes then computer,” Emma said.

“Yes. One, two, three, four, five…”

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and an interview with her older brother Nic, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Piggyback Rides and Bats

The other day Emma said to me, “Give piggy back ride?”  Then she leapt from the couch where she was balancing herself into my arms.

“Em!  You’re heavy!”  I said.

“I feel your pain, Mom,” Nic said to me.

“You do?”

“Yeah, she did that to me the other day,” he said.

“You’re kidding?  How did you carry her?” I asked.

Nic laughed.  “It was tough, Mom.  It was tough,” he said, shaking his head as he left the room.

Later Geneva, one of our wonderful caregivers, confirmed that Nic had given Emma a piggy back ride.  Here are the photos she took documenting it.


Last night Emma said to me, “I’m going to fly and bite you!”  Then she ran over to me and bit my cheek.

“Ouch!  Em you just bit me!”  I said.

“A bat, fly and bite you!”  Emma said, laughing.

“Are you a bat?”

“Yes!  Don’t bite me!  Fly and bite you!” she said coming close again.

“No!  Don’t bite me!” I said.

“I’m going to bite you!”

“Ahhhh!!” I yelled running away from her.

It’s always difficult to know whether encouraging her to play a game that she might “play” with another child at school, who doesn’t understand that this is a game is a good idea.  And yet, to not encourage her to be playful seems wrong.  Is this an opportunity to discuss biting and how it’s not okay to hurt, how it’s important to be gentle, how this is a game only to be played with me?

With these thoughts in mind I approached Emma, “Hey Em, when you’re pretending to be a bat…” I began.

“You have to be gentle,” she interrupted me.

“Yes!  You have to be gentle.  And you can only play this game with me, okay?”

“Yes.  Just with Mommy,” she said, nodding her head.  Then she pointed to my cheek and said, “I don’t mean to hurt you.”

“And you didn’t…” I started to say.

“You have to be gentle,” she added.

“That’s right Em.  You have to be so gentle and you can only play this game with me.  You know that, right?”

“Yes.  Just with Mommy,” she said pointing to me.   “Now play – Don’t say Mommy!”

“Okay.  One game of Don’t-say-Mommy,” I agreed.

With which she put her face up into mine and said, “Don’t…  say… Mommy!” and then ran out of the room with me following close behind.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism go to:  EmmasHopeBook.

Emma’s Dolls Get A Bath

Two nights ago as Nic was helping me clean the dishes, I heard the sound of water running in Emma’s bathroom.  “Hey Nic, hang on a second.  I want to see what Emmy’s doing.”

Nic held out his hand for the scrub brush so that he could take over.

As I rounded the corner I could hear Emma singing.

“Hi Em.  What are you doing?”  I asked surveying the scene.

“Mommy go away!”  Emma said.

This is what Emma says when she thinks she may be doing something we might object to.

“Em!  You’re giving your dolls a bath!”  I said.

“Mommy go away, go away!”  Emma said while trying to close the bathroom door with her foot.

“Okay, don’t worry Em.  I’m gong to go finish the dishes with Nic.  But can I come back a little later?”

“Yes,” Emma said and closed the door on me.

“What’s she doing, Mom?” Nic asked me when I reappeared.

“She’s giving her dolls a bath,” I said.  “It’s so great!”  When I returned to the bathroom I said, “Em, that is so thoughtful of you to put the rubber ducks in the tub with your dolls!”

“And bubbles,” Nic added.

“Doing great job washing doll’s hair,”  Emma said, nodding her head and reaching for the bottle of shampoo.

“Yeah, you’re doing a great job!”  Nic said.

As Nic said this, Emma squirted an enormous amount of shampoo onto each of her doll’s heads.

“Okay, maybe that’s too much,” Nic commented, looking at me with concern.

Oblivious, Emma happily massaged the shampoo into each of her doll’s hair and then pulled one of them from the tub and sat her in the sink.  “Have to rinse hair,” she announced as water sprayed from the sink faucet out into the bathroom onto her and her brother.  “Uh-oh!”  Emma said, cheerfully as she struggled out of her now soaked nightgown.

“Oh boy,” Nic said, retreating from the spray.

Emma carefully gathered all the rubber ducks from the bathtub and sat them on the edge of the sink, then rinsed each of her dolls before putting them on a towel on the floor.

“Dolls all done!”  Emma said, as she wrapped her dolls in several towels.

“Awesome job drying off dolls!”  Emma said.  “Now time for bed,” she added.

I often find myself looking for little clues, the small details in what Emma does as reasons for hope. The washing of her dolls is such a great example, I think, of Emma’s continued development.  That she thought to include the rubber ducks was such a wonderful display of thoughtfulness and pretend play.  Emma still doesn’t cuddle her dolls the way I used to when I was a little girl, but in her own way she is caring for them, giving them a bath, washing their hair, rinsing them off and then drying them, wrapping them in towels before leaving them on the floor.  She has, in the past, put them in bed as well, though she seemed to lose interest before that thought occurred to her.

Emma even remembered to drain the water from the tub before shutting off the light and leaving the bathroom.  Sometimes I think I am clutching at straws, I mean, really what’s the big deal?  So she gave her dolls a bath.  But to me, it is a big deal.  Or I choose to make it one, because really what’s the alternative?  I can find the positive in the things she does, see them as hopeful examples of progress or I can shrug my shoulders and say – So what?

I’ve never been the “so what?” type, so I can’t imagine I’ll start now.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism go to:  EmmasHopeBook.

Hide And Seek

Games are difficult for Emma to understand.  When she was much younger, unless it was a physical game such as chase, and only if she was the one being chased, games held little interest.  The old standards, Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders, Old Maid, Go Fish all sit unused in some drawer at our house as Nic moved on to Monopoly, checkers and eventually chess, which he continues to play.

A few years ago Emma engaged in a game at a day camp with some other girls where they stood in the shallow end of a pool and threw a ball to one another while singing – The Wonder Ball Song.  Emma was able to catch the ball and even threw it to the next girl, but this was unusual and so we documented it with photographs.

The Wonder Ball Game

A few years ago I tried to explain Hide and Seek to her.  She seemed to understand that it involved counting and running, but the whole hiding part eluded her.  We showed her some “sample” hiding places, but when it was her turn to hide, she was usually found standing in the middle of a room shouting, “There you are!” when one of us appeared in the doorway.

“No, no Em.  You have to find a new hiding place and then you have to be quiet so we can’t find you,” we tried to explain.

We even persuaded Nic, who was a master at hiding in impossible-to-find locations, to take her with him to hide.  But we always knew, no matter how brilliant his hiding place was, where they were because Emma couldn’t stay quiet.

“You have to be quiet,” Emma would say loudly.

Interestingly as I was writing this, Emma came into the room and said to me, “Play hide?  You have to count.  Come find me,” and then she ran out of the room to hide making me wonder whether she really is reading at a much higher level than we think or if it’s just a coincidence.

Not willing to pass up an opportunity to engage, I counted to twenty and then yelled, “Ready or not here I come!”

Emma is predictable in her hiding choices.  She almost always wriggles under the bed sheets of her bed.  So I called out as I looked in other places, “I wonder where Emma is?” while looking in the bathroom and Nic’s room before finally going into Emma’s room where a huge wiggling lump could be seen under the sheets.  “Hmmm.  I don’t see Emma anywhere!” I said.

“Waaaaa!” Emma screamed before I could shout it first.

“There you are!” I said tickling her.

When she scooted out from under the sheets I said, “Okay, it’s my turn to hide.  You have to find me.  You have to count to twenty.  Okay?”

“Okay,” Emma said.

I heard her begin counting, but at around six her voice trailed off.  After a few minutes I called out, “Em, you have to find me!”

She ran past the room I was hiding in, so I called out, “Hey Em!  Where are you going?  Come find me over here!”

After further searching she found me.  “Waaaaa!” she yelled gleefully.

“Ahhhhh!” I yelled back.  “Okay your turn to hide.  One, two, three…” I counted.

When I opened my eyes, Emma was sitting directly in front of me on the floor.  “Em, I thought you were going to hide,” I said.

“Hiding all done,” she told me, so I tickled her instead.

I know this doesn’t sound like much, but it shows a desire to engage, a desire to initiate and a desire to play with others.   All of which, are huge steps for Emma.

For more on Emma and autism go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Making Friends

When Emma and Joe picked me up yesterday evening from the store, Emma launched into the list of all the things they’d done through out the day – swimming, Justin Beiber movie in 3-D, Bowling in El Jebel, except there was a tournament going on so they didn’t have any free lanes with bumpers, the Wheel Carousel, which is really the metal merry-go-round in El Jebel.  Emma had a blast.

“Emma did something amazing today,” Joe said, when Emma had finished.

“What?” I asked.

“She was doing some great interacting and initiating with another girl at the playground.”

“Really!  What did she do?”

“She asked a girl to come ride the merry-go-round with her.  She said – Girl, can you ride on the carousel with me?” Joe laughed and then said, “We’re still working on the “girl” part.”

“That’s fantastic!” I said.

“Want to ride with girl,” Emma said from the back seat.

“Last week we were working on saying – My name’s Emma what’s yours? – We’re still working on that,” Joe said.

“Hey Em,” I turned to look at her.  “You can say – Hi! My name’s Emma, what’s your name?”

“Girl,” Emma said.

“No Em.  You can’t call her girl.  She has a name, just like your name is Emma.  Joe’s name is Joe.  She has a name too.  Maybe it’s Cynthia or…

“Cynthia.  Girl,” Emma said.

“But, Em, we don’t know what her name is.  That’s why we have to ask, but we can’t call her girl, because maybe her name is…”

“Cynthia,” Emma broke in.

“Maybe, but maybe her name is Lisa or Lily or Sally.  We don’t know.  Her name could be anything,” I tried to explain.

“Cynthia!  Do you want to ride on the carousel?”  Emma said.

I looked over at Joe.  “I think I’ve made it worse.  I wonder why it’s so hard for her to understand though.”

“I think she understands people have different names.  I think it’s hard for her to role play or understand the way we’re explaining it,” he said, ever the diplomat.

“Right, she’s taking it all literally.”  As we drove up Red Mountain I thought about how instead of realizing we’re saying – maybe her name is this or that – Emma’s hearing me say – what’s her name? and she’s answering that she’s a girl.  That’s what she is to Emma, a girl and since she doesn’t know her name, the name becomes secondary.  I don’t know that this is what she’s thinking, but it would make sense if she were.  It’s the same when I’ve asked her – “What’s your doll’s name?”  The idea that Emma could make up some arbitrary name for her doll seems to be something she cannot conceive.  So she answers – Doll.

“Was the little girl offended?” I asked Joe.

“Oh no.  She said – I’m sorry.  I have to go home now – Emma understood.”

For Emma to reach out to another child is definitely noteworthy.  Children are typically much more difficult for Emma to connect with as they can be so unpredictable.  It’s always wonderful to hear when Emma is making an attempt.

Milestones

Early this morning Emma climbed into our bed.  “Hi Mommy!”

“Em, it’s too early, you have to go back to bed,” I said.

“Okay.”

I listened to her make her way back to her bedroom.  When her bedroom door closed, I marveled at how just months ago, this would not have happened.  In the past, Emma would have refused to leave or screamed until one of us took her back to her bedroom where she would not have gone back to sleep or she would have left and begun screaming minutes later.  This morning, there was nothing but silence.  The silence accentuated by the thick layer of snow covering everything and which continues to fall as I write.

Later, when something crashed into one of the windows, causing the dogs to start barking downstairs, I tiptoed into Emma’s room.  She was in her bed, with her head on her stuffed green monster, Muzzy.  “Hi Mommy!”  she said.

“Hi Em!”

“Just you and me,” she said pointing to herself and then me.  “Just you and me in Emma’s bed.”

“Yes, I said, sitting on her bed.  “You and me” is something Emma has begun saying for a few months now.  It is another milestone.  She says it as she points to each person she is referring to.  While this may seem inconsequential, it represents an astonishing leap in cognition as well as tremendous developmental progress.  One of the telltale signs of autism – a lack of pointing – is something Emma is now beginning to do.

“Muzzy, teddy bear,” Emma said, pointing to her monster.

“You love your Muzzy, don’t you Em?”

“Yes,” she said.

And I love that Emma has taken to referring to her stuffed monster as “Muzzy, teddy bear.”  It’s such an apt description of what he is to her.  And like all things Emma, her choice in “teddy bears” is a bit unconventional.

Emma just came into the room where I am writing with her “twin”, an enormous doll I bought for her one Christmas.  I ordered it over the Internet and had to send a photo of Emma, with instructions on the correct eye, hair and skin color.  When the doll came, complete with Christmas party dress and faux fur stole, Emma looked at it and wandered off.  A pile of unwrapped presents remained under the Christmas tree abandoned.  Every Christmas we have attempted to entice Emma with a few things we think she might enjoy only to have her barely take notice of any of them.

“Look!  Doll!” Emma said  as she sat down with the stripped down doll in her arms.

“Oh Em, you have your doll with you.  What’s her name?” I asked.

After a pause Emma said, “Girl.”

Then she picked up some of her picture books and began “reading” to “girl”.

“Have Eddie come, get christmas presents?” Emma said while we were still in New York.

“We’ll be in Aspen for Christmas,” I told her.

“Open Christmas presents at Granma’s house,” Emma said.

“Yes!”

For Emma to show even a remote interest in opening any presents this Christmas will be a first.

Change

Saturday morning we could hear Emma’s scooter shooshing through the house before we saw her. She appeared at my side of the bed, with her Cokie in it’s designated “Cokie Pouch” and smiled at me. “Hi Mommy!”
“Hi Em!” I said. “Remember Cokie stays in your bedroom.” I stood up.
Emma raced off to her bedroom shouting cheerfully, “Cokie stays in your bedroom!”
What was utterly spectacular about the morning was, not only did Emma put her blanket back in her bedroom, but stayed in the living room, preferring my company to the solace of her blanket. Her thumb stayed out of her mouth as well. Emma’s thumb sucking, something I have lost sleep over more nights than I care to count, has deformed her mouth requiring years of dental work in the future.
The following morning, Emma arrived at the side of the bed. “Hi Mommy!”
This time Emma was not holding her blanket and later when I went into her bedroom, there Cokie was, stuffed in the “Cokie Pouch” and left on the oversized armchair. Emma stayed in the living room with the rest of us, cheerfully playing. She spoke more words over the past weekend, than any of us have ever heard. She pretended to go on the school bus, she acted out various children on the bus, admonishing them, “No spitting!” and “Logan, sit down!” She then pretended to go on the airplane to “visit Granma and see Claudie,” before going to “Becky’s class” where she recounted how she’d made Becky “so angry” by ripping the class copy of Goodnight Moon.
Emma’s continuous flow of dialogue was nothing short of profound. We were all astonished by it.

Jessie & “Dolls”

Autistic children are known for their inability to engage in imaginary play.  A defining moment for my husband, Richard and me was when it was pointed out Emma did not seem interested in any form of pretend play.  Until then I had reasoned:  she was too much of a tomboy, she didn’t like dolls, she was like my sister, it ran in the family.  But the truth was; not only did Emma lack any interest in dolls, she showed no interest in stuffed animals or toys of any kind including horses, a favorite of my sister’s when she was small.

When Emma began playing with her monster, Muzzy, we were elated.  Despite the comments other children, especially little girls who saw Emma, made.  “Mommy, why does she have a monster in her stroller?” One such child asked in puzzled wonder this summer.

“I don’t know honey,” the mother said, looking from me to Emma with a speculative glance as she grabbed her child’s hand and hurried away.

Comments aside, we were ecstatic.  Muzzy was the first toy Emma had shown any sustained interest in.  Granted she played with Muzzy in an odd way – tossing him in the air while laughing, throwing him on the ground so he would, “hurt his head” – it was play however unusual, which suggested tremendous progress.  See Em & Muzzy, Emma’s Pal Muzzy & The Porkmepine and Panama – Day 3.

Last night when Emma disappeared into her bedroom only to emerge moments later carrying not one, but two of her dolls, I was again ecstatic.

“Richard!” I whispered.  “Look!”

Emma sat on the couch holding Jessie who had on a fabulous green coat over her chaps and another doll I’d forgotten we even had.  Granted the doll’s hair looked like a “bad hair day” poster child, but Emma seemed unaware and proceeded to hold each in one hand making them bop up and down.

“It’s Jessie,” Emma said, surveying her red cowboy hat with a discerning eye.

“And what about her?  What’s her name?” I asked gesturing to the other doll.

“Dolls”, Emma said.

“But what’s her name?” I asked again.

“Her name Dolls,” Emma said, turning her back to me.

Emma with Jessie and “Dolls”

Emma did not engage in much language as she played and rebuffed our attempts to “play act”.   But she said hi to Jessie and observed Jessie was hot and needed to take her hat and coat off.  She repeated this with “Dolls”.

Emma Taking Off Jessie’s Hat

At a certain point she looked over at Richard with an impish grin and said, “Dolls fall down?”

“Is the doll falling down?” I said.

“Uh!  Uh!  Uh! Uh!” Emma laughed before flinging the doll to the floor.  Then she pretended to cry and said, “Doll crying, doll hurt.  Doll hurt her head.”

“Oh no!  Did she fall?  Is she alright?”

“Down, down, down!  Help you up, help you up!” Emma said in a sing songy voice.

“Who’s going to help her up, Em?” I asked.

“Help you up,” Emma said again.

“Are you going to help her?” I asked.

“Doll, Doll, come!” Emma said.   Emma leaned down and made the doll pat her head while saying, “Doll hurt her head.”

Emma became stuck in a verbal loop with the above dialogue, repeating it over and over again.

Richard and I suggested she be the one to help Doll up, which she finally did.

“Thank you!” Emma said as she lifted Doll up and gently placed her on the couch.  “Doll crying, Doll see Mommy, Doll hurt her head,” Emma said.

“Oh, no!  Let me see,” I said.

“Hi Mommy, time to go home,” Emma said without giving me Doll.

“Can I hold her, Em?” I asked.

“Time to go home,” Emma repeated, ignoring me.  Then she put Doll’s coat back on and laid her carefully on the ground.  “Good night,” she said, pretending to be the doll.

“Good night Dolls,” Emma said, in response.

Hey it’s play, no matter how bizarre.  It is imaginary play.  Each tiny step of progress, no matter how small, is progress.