“Porthos dreams of being a bear, and you want to shatter those dreams by saying he's *just* a dog? What a horrible candle-snuffing word. That's like saying, ‘He can't climb that mountain, he's just a man’, or "That's not a diamond, it's just a rock’” (Finding Neverland 2004)
Why do we want our children to play? Is it so we have some peace and quiet for five minutes or an hour? Is it because we want them to fun and believe in things that are not always seen with their eyes? There are two types of play structured and unstructured; both of which are very important. What kind of shadows do they cast over our children? When there is structured play the shadow does as it is expected and follows your child’s movements exactly. However, with a bit of magic and unstructured play, the shadow can have a mind of its own and it can explore the room. In Peter Pan, Peter’s shadow enters the children’ room, he chases it, and it wakes everybody up. Wendy offers to sow Peter’s shadow back onto the boy, which somehow works!!! This is an example of teaching your child how to creatively solve a problem that at first seems impossible. Also, what is beautiful about this scene is the children’s reaction to finding this wild hair boy chasing his shadow around their room. They do not use logic and choose to believe that what they are seeing is not possible, they instead give it a chance to be real. What happens they succeed in helping Peter reunite with his shadow and they are happy to be right. What’s more they discover is that if they think a happy thought and fairy dust that they like Peter can fly. They learn that positive thinking is “uplifting” rather dwell on the negative thinking, which is that Wendy is moving to a new room and growing up. This is why unstructured play time is so important because it teaches our children to look past the surface of things that they come across in their day-to-day problems.
Now structure play also has its place because it is great place to learn social cues and values. For example sports service as a great teacher of fair play and healthy competition. When children grow up this plays a great role in the social aspects of their jobs, but we will get to that topic in a later blog. The other huge part of sports that is when your child puts on his or her uniform they not only represent themselves, but their entire team, which is an early lesson in how people can be a part of a large community. That how one dresses at work is how he represents the company, but I digress. What I am trying to actually say is play is that it is the foundation of how our children learn to interact with others and themselves. My question then becomes how do we as parents find the balance between the two types of play? “It seems to me that Peter's trying to grow up too fast. I imagine he thinks that grown-ups don't hurt as deeply as children do when they... when they lose someone. I lost my older brother David when I was just Peter's age, and it nearly destroyed my mother” (Finding Neverland). There is belief that if we add more structure our child (especially the ones on the spectrum) we can spare them certain pains.
It is true that children crave structure, but I believe when we give them too much of it then not only do they miss out on parts of childhood, but we do too. There are many parents out there my parents and myself included always wanting to set up our children for success. When it comes to Autism there is this is a bit of disconnect with this notion and parents are brought back to present moment more often. They begin to wish for their children to be able to express themselves and to play with other children. From my years as Teacher’s Assistant, I see less of the parents who want give their child some crazy head start. What I do see is more of I want to get know my child type parents. What I am trying say here is that Autism forces many parents to rewire their wishes for their child. Autism is a heavy reminder to all parents today that they are just children not mini-lawyers and min-doctors. There is time for that later, but for now I think George Carlin brings this issue to its utmost clarity: “Even the simple act of playing has been taken away from children, and put on mommy's schedule in the form of "play dates". Something that should be spontaneous and free is now being rigidly planned. When does a kid ever get to sit in the yard with a stick anymore? You know? Just sit there with a fucking stick. Do today's kids even know what a stick is? You sit in the yard with a fucking stick... and you dig a fucking hole. You know?”
You may be thinking to yourself dam Sam why take such bunt and aggressive approach to this issue regarding play? I will tell you it comes from a few observations that I have about how people treat children with Autism. Many programs will tell you that the key to help your child interact appropriately and “correctly” with others is by focusing on structuring their day down to every detail. When in fact, this leaves little to no time for true unstructured play. Now they are not wrong that people on the spectrum do love when things are predictable, which results in a lot of our repetitive behavior. However, there has been little being taught about how move past this while our children with ASD are still children. It often takes years of deep therapy guided programs to even get us to be tolerable of the unpredictable moments of life or doing something that is off this script. My question becomes here what shadow are we chasing here, our child’s or Peter Pan’s?
Now the shadow that follows your child’s movements exactly represents the therapy guided program and what they suggest that you do. And the scene of Wendy sowing Peter’s shadow back on represents something does not fit the script that adults teach children on spectrum. My question here is how does the creative problem solve process come into play? Well in the story the parents are off at some party and the children are left in care of Wendy and the dog. Then in comes Peter Pan and his magical shadow. Wendy could have screamed for help and hoped that some adult would come and apprehend Peter for breaking an entry. She could have simply refused to believe that this was actually happening; a boy chasing his shadow around room and tell Peter he is being foolish. This would be the logical and practical approaches which how many kids on the spectrum are taught social cues and problem solving. In other words, this is how we are taught to expect things happen rather than try to observe them as they are actually happening. The problem here is that it does not teach us how react to the unexpected thus leaving such moments to be very scary to someone on spectrum. Lastly, she could accept what Peter is doing to actually be happening and offer to help him. She sowed his shadow back on thus winning Peter’s trust and allows him to form a special bond with her brothers and Wendy.
I believe based on my own experiences working with children that trust is built much quicker when you allow children to “take chances, make mistakes” (Magic School Bus), and solve the problem themselves. You are showing them that you trust their judgement; what because their autistic you would take such experiences away from them? Do you want just therapists, specialists, and your choices to make up all of life lessons? Don’t get me wrong all three of you have your importance, time, and place. Let me tell you where this often leaves a person on spectrum, including myself at one point, with a complete distrust in one’s decision making skills big and small. As adults this leaves us often very anxious and still very dependent on others. You may be asking Sam what would you have me do? I would tell you lets go back to the source of what makes a child who he or she is play. Now I know what you are thinking “when I have taken my child to the playground with the hope that he would play with other kids there.” However, the end result is him playing with a stick off to the side somewhere. What you may have failed to realize how beautiful that is, which is that you the parent doing the opposite of what Carlin was complaining about. Your child is a third of way there to having a full childhood. What is another third of childhood?
You the parents are of course!!! How do you want your children to remember you? “I don't know, Peter. When I think of your mother, I will always remember how happy she looked, sitting there in the parlor watching a play about her family, about her boys that never grew up. She went to Neverland. And you can visit her any time you like if you just go there yourself” Finding Neverland 2004). Be the parent that let’s your children know I see you my child exactly as you are rather what I think you should be in the future. Be your child’s Wendy and sow his shadow on not once, but every dam day that he still a child! Let your children see your inner child so that they can be reminded that you were once like them. Before I leave this blog there is few things I want say. I want you ask yourself why do you maybe think Autism does not make my son or daughter a child? Really think about how play was valuable to you is and how your parents treated you. Do not be your child’s stationary shadow that brings structure the moment trouble brews. Strict structure brings only temporary peace, while unstructured play teaches the power of choice. The powerful lesson of choices is how react to every situation that can or may occur in your child’s life. Please give your child time to “play” with several of these reactions until they get it right. Thus allowing the message of the given experience to sink in and this will be what I will be discussing in my next blog. Lastly, “there is one rule I insist you obey while [reading these blogs], No growing up. Stop this very instant. That includes you Mr. Chairman of Board” (Hook 1993).
Coming Soon Parenthood: The Untold Neverland Part III, Your Child’s Tribe!