Tag Archives: Pretend Play

“Let’s Pretend You Are the Autistic One”

(A note on Emma’s post.  Because this is a fictitious dialogue that Emma wrote, for clarity’s sake, I asked her if it was okay to put the Autistic person’s words and thoughts in italics and the non autistic’s words in quotation marks.  She agreed.  My part of the conversation is in parentheses.)

For today’s blog post, let’s pretend you are the Autistic one and I should be the non autistic.

“Oh dear!  Why are you hurting yourself?”

(I asked Emma whether the Autistic person could use spoken language to speak.)

You can’t speak and I will talk for both of us, it will be more authentic that way.  Maybe you talk, but not with the words that best describe what’s in your mind.

“I don’t understand, do you want to go outside?  Why are you biting yourself?  Does that mean you do?”

You are thinking about expectations and how hitting yourself takes away the pain of not being understood and unable to say the words that will help.

“Here!  We will go outside.  It’s a beautiful day.”

I don’t want to go outside.  I want to read a story.

Pointless bottling emotions of endless frustration cause words to wither in the recesses of the mind.  Biting becomes the only way to stay rooted, but causes everyone watching to respond in loud voices of angry fear.  Until there is understanding, you are alone in the terrible confusion of other people’s voices that are louder than yours.

Caution is needed whenever we decide we know what is in the mind of another human being.

Emma's Ceramic Dish of Hope

Ceramic Dish of Hope ~ Made by Emma

“Come Dance With Me!”

Those were Emma’s exact words.  She beckoned to me, then to her brother, Nic and then to her dad.  “Come on.  Come dance with me!”

This sort of utterance is something we have waited for, helped Emma with, hoping that one day, some day she would say something like – “Come dance with me.”   For those of you who know all about the issues of pronoun reversal, the difficulties in initiating and maintaining interactions, the challenges of expressive language and the importance of Emma’s words, skip down to the last paragraph, but for the rest of you, stay with me as I try to explain.

A defining characteristic of autism is pronoun “confusion/reversal.”  I have problems with the “confusion” assertion, as it seems pretty clear to me that when Emma says “Do you want pancakes?” she knows I don’t want pancakes, but is expressing her desire to have pancakes.  Either these are the words she would like me to say to her or these are the words she can locate to express her desire to have pancakes.  I don’t think Emma is “confused” about who loves pancakes.  I don’t for a second believe that when she asks such a question it is her intention to invite me to eat pancakes, while she foregoes eating them herself.  So no, I think that part of the whole “confusion” piece is actually incorrect.  However, I do think the idea that when speaking English, she is “me” when referring to herself and I am “you” when she is speaking, but that that is reversed when the other person speaks, is confusing.  And if you aren’t confused yet, try explaining all of that to someone whose first language isn’t a spoken language.  And after you’ve tackled that, move on to possessive pronouns.   Good luck to you, good luck.

One of my favorite quotes from someone I know who is Autistic is:  “My first language is written, my second is music, my third is math and a distant fourth is spoken.”  It perfectly describes that person’s loves, challenges and neurology.

Emma voiced her desire to have us dance with her, not simply asked that we watch her perform (something she also loves to do) but wanted to dance together, is also worth mentioning.   All of us love to dance.  When I was single and in my twenties, I used to go to Studio 54 with my girlfriends.  Our preferred night was Sunday as it was designated “gay night” with the best music and we knew we could dance all night without worrying about guys hitting on us.   Let’s just say –  the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Still, dancing by yourself is one thing, it’s quite another to invite a group to join you.  For Emma, it was even more significant as parallel play is the norm for her, though recently we’ve seen an increase in her desire for interaction and playing games.  Interacting requires much more expressive language and an ability to tolerate a lessening of control over any given situation.

So last night we danced.  First to Gwen Stefani, then Michael Jackson, back to Gwen Stefani and Emma, ever the dancing DJ, even threw in some Lady Gaga.  It was a great night.

*I have been trying to figure out a way to work into this post the photograph below.  No opportunity presented itself, so I’m just going to post it, completely off topic, but it was too good to pass up.  Emma is terrified of dogs.  Even this dog.  He was adorable.  “Emma don’t you want to pet him?  Look how cute he is.  Don’t you think he’s cute?”


But he really was cute, don’t you think?

Read My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post

“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.

A Story About The Lady at the Zoo

Emma was confounded yesterday when she was told by one of the Central Park Zoo employees that she could not sit on the railing to watch the sea lions being fed.  She was very upset and wanted to go home.  However, instead of biting herself or doing herself injury, she came up with the following story, which is yet another example of her delightful temperament, personality and a wonderful display of the progress she is making in being able to turn something upsetting into a story that was both poignant and very funny.

Before we got on the subway, Emma verbally preseverated in her attempt to work through what had happened.  “Mommy says no.  Mommy go home, Emma stay at the zoo with just Daddy.”   Emma reasoned immediately after leaving the zoo.

“But Em.  This isn’t about Mommy or Daddy, this is about the zoo employees.  This is their rule now.  They won’t let anyone sit on the railing any more.  It’s a new rule,” We told her.

“I want to sit on the railing!”  Emma wailed over and over again as we made our way to the subway.  “You have to ask Daddy!  Daddy! I want to sit on the railing please!”

“Emmy, this isn’t up to me.  This is a rule that the zoo has.  You can’t sit on the railing.”

“But I want to sit on the railing!”  Emma cried.  Then Emma flung both arms around me and buried her head into my side.  “I know, I know.  You’re so upset,” Emma said, mimicking words I often say to her.

“Oh, Em.  I know you’re sad.  I know how hard this is for you.  But I’m also really proud of you for the way you’re handling this and talking about it.”

When her beloved R train arrived Emma secured seats for us by the window and then told the following story.

“The lady said, You have to get off the railing!  You have to get down!  Yeah,” Emma nodded her head and frowned.  Then she said,  while stomping her foot on the floor of the subway, “The lady stomped her food and said, You.  Stomp.  Have.  Stomp.  To.  Stomp. Get.  Stomp.  Down!  Stomp.  You get down right now!  Then the lady said, I’m going to get you!  I’m going to tickle you!”  Emma demonstrated being tickled.  She stomped her foot and continued.  “Yeah.  The lady is going to tickle you.  Then the lady had to go home.  She hurt her back.  Bye!  Bye, bye lady.  Lady gotta go home!  Bye!”  Emma waved her hand, like a Queen waving to her adoring subjects.  “The lady had to go.”  Emma nodded her head and feigned looking sad.  “The lady went home and Emma got up on the railing to watch the seal show!  She had to go home because she hurt her back and she has to put on a bandaid.  Now it’ll feel better.”  Emma finished and looking triumphant said, “Emma got to sit on the railing!”

“Wow, Em.  I love that story!”  I said.  “How did the lady hurt her back?”

“She tickled you!”  Emma said and then collapsed into giggles.

Earlier in the day, playing on the High Line

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

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

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.

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.


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

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


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.


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

A Tribute To Stanley Greenspan

We first heard of Dr. Stanley Greenspan and his work through another parent who had seen some success using his DIR/floortime methodology with their autistic child.  I read his book:  The Child With Special Needs, which led to our appointment for a floortime training session with Emma.  We drove to Bethesda, checked into the hotel, took Emma swimming and hoped we might all get a good night’s sleep for what we guessed would be an exhausting day.  In preparation for the meeting, Richard and I watched some of Stanley’s training videos.  We felt we had a vague idea of what was expected of us.  Whether we would be able to engage and interact with Emma in the DIR way or not, we were not so sure.

So it was with some trepidation that we were ushered into Stanley’s office – a small dingy room with some toys, a few broken, Stanley’s desk and piles of papers and books.  Stanley asked us a number of questions, all the while watching Emma intently.  “Okay.  Mom, why don’t we start with you?” He said, still watching Emma.

“Hey Emma!” I said, huge smile, high affect.  “What should we play with?!”

Emma ignored me and wandered over to the couch where Richard was sitting.  I ran over to her, tried again to engage her, “What do you want to do?  Do you want to play with this,” I asked, thrusting an armless doll at her.

The office was hot. I could feel perspiration beading on my upper lip.  After about twenty minutes Stanley said, “Okay Mom.  That’s fine.  Now I need you to take that energy and up it by about 100%.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I exclaimed.

Stanley smiled at me,  “You have a nice connection with her. “

As he spoke, Emma was busy trying to open the door to leave the office.  I tried to pull her away.  “No, no Emmy, we can’t leave yet, “ I said.

Emma resisted me and continued to turn the door’s handle.

“Em, it’s not time to go yet.  We have to stay here,” I said, pulling on her arm to come with me.

“Block her!  What will she do if you put yourself in the way?” Stanley asked.

I wedged my body between the door and Emma.

Emma tried to reach around me.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

Emma tried to push me out of her way.

“Oh!  You want me to move?”

“Don’t make it so easy for her.  Make her tell you what she wants!” Stanley coached.

“Emma, what do you want?” I asked, sure that this was leading to a melt down.

“Open it!” Emma said.

Richard and I gasped.  WOW!  We hadn’t heard Emma say that since she was 13 months old.

Stanley was brilliant.  Keenly observant, unfailing in his critique, he encouraged us to follow Emma into her world.  To interact with her, “playfully obstruct”, “entice her”, were a few of the things he encouraged us to do.  “The worst thing you can do is nothing at all,” he said, as our session came to a close.

When we returned home his insight and words stayed with us. We enrolled Emma in the Rebecca School in New York, which uses the Greenspan DIR approach. It is the only school in New York City using this model.  Richard and I undertook additional floortime training sessions at the Rebecca school and hired their DIR training specialist to work with us at home.  Alex trained Emma’s therapist, Joe as well.  Hence the “Zen Master of DIR” label in the last post.

Dr. Greenspan had a consulting relationship with the Rebecca School and we were privileged to have two sessions with him over the last three years. The entire school faculty was in attendance and Stanley was conferenced in by telephone. Richard and I began each session by updating everyone on Emma’s home life, her progress and problems and our questions on what we could do to help her.  This was followed by her teachers’ review of how Emma was doing at school. Whenever they addressed an area of difficulty, such as Emma’s self-injurious behaviors like biting herself, instead of giving his recommendations immediately, he asked the faculty for their ideas. He listened patiently and then offered his own suggestions, which were always so intelligent and insightful that Richard and I would look at each other with an expression of awe – and gratitude.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s ideas and methodology changed everything for us.  His belief in the intelligence and abilities of each and every child were a profound change from the kind of rote “training” we had heard and received in the past. To say that his presence and guidance in our lives will be missed is a vast understatement. It is a great loss for us and for all the parents and children who will never have the opportunity to experience his keen analysis and problem solving ability on an individual basis.  Yet his legacy will live on through his books and videotapes, his DIR Support Services under the brilliant stewardship of his son Jake, a floortime genius in his own right – and with schools like Rebecca School, which have adopted his teachings as their principle therapeutic model, helping countless autistic children and their families like ours move forward one day at a time.

For more information on Stanley Greenspan and his work with Autism read:  Engaging Autism & The Child With Special Needs and go to his web site:  www.stanleygreenspan.com