Tag Archives: autism and pretend play

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

Unlocking Emma’s Mind

This morning Emma said, “Play musical chairs!”  Then proceeded to position several dining room chairs in the middle of the room so they had their backs to one another, fanning out in a kind of lopsided circle.  She turned on some music from her iPod and danced for a minute or two, then hit the pause button and yelled, “Freeze!”  She ran to the nearest chair and sat down, staying very still for a few seconds before leaping up and turning the music back on.

When I joined in she said, “Mommy dancing!”  Then she began to laugh uncontrollably.

After about twenty minutes I sat down and watched her continue to play by herself.  She looked up at me and smiled, then covered her eyes with one hand.  “Hi Mommy!”  she said, peeking out between two fingers.

“Hi Em.”

“Playing Freeze with Mommy.”

“Yeah do you want me to keep playing?”

“No.  Nicky hurt his toe in Aspen.”

This is typical of Emma to make a sudden leap in thinking or maybe we all do this, but she just verbalizes her train of thought.  Maybe he hurt his toe while they were listening to music, I can’t remember any more.  Maybe it was simply an errant thought.

A specialist said, while being interviewed about autism, that they thought autism was the disregulation of neural pathways.  They went on to speak of the idea that people with autism have trouble communicating and putting into words their thinking.  But that it was the communicating that is troublesome, not the thinking.  I have no way of knowing what Emma is thinking, obviously, unless she tells me and even then it can be difficult figuring out exactly what she is trying to tell me, but I know her mind is very busy.  I can see her processing information, I can watch her and see that she is thinking, I just don’t know about what.

When I work with her on her reading and writing I can see how she is very clearly understanding the words she sees.  She is learning to read.  Yet if I ask her to read the sentence – Here is a truck – it causes her tremendous difficulty.  I know she can read it because she knows each word when shown by itself.  Yet put it into a sentence and it confuses her.  It’s similar to when she works at the computer.  She seems to have an easier time typing words and identifying words when she’s on the computer than if she’s asked to write those same words by hand.

When I read about autistic children who suddenly begin to type out full comprehensive sentences, it seems like magic.  Usually these same children have displayed nothing to indicate to their caregivers that they can read, let alone spell.  Yet there are numerous cases of children communicating through typing who have never been able to communicate before.

The other night I dreamt about Emma.  In my dream she was talking to me, just as any neuro-typical nine-year old child would.  She was telling me “secrets” and in the dream I thought how profound this information was.  She was telling me about what it was like for her and answering all my questions.  When I woke up the next morning I tried to remember what she’d told me, but I couldn’t.  I kept thinking if I just relaxed I would remember, as though she really had told me, as though it hadn’t been a dream, as though for a brief moment I had the answers, the key to unlocking her mind.

Every time I work with her on the computer I have a tiny hope that she’ll suddenly write something on her own, something that we aren’t working on.  Like magic, she’ll write a sentence that let’s me in on her thinking and her mind.  And each session when she doesn’t do that, I think – it’s okay, maybe next time.

For now, I have a game of musical chairs waiting for me.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and to hear her sing go to:  EmmasHopeBook

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.