by Jennifer Dyer
I’m starting a blogging series entitled Life Adapted revolving around raising our daughter with autism. Most days I feel overwhelmed by life, and I’m never quite sure I make the right parenting calls, whether I am dealing with my “typical” tween or my younger daughter who is on the severe side of the autism spectrum.
According to almost all moms I’ve met, feeling overwhelmed and unsure is normal. Hugs for us all!
That being said, I have a few experiences not every mom with a special needs child has been afforded, and I want to share in case it will help others.
As a speech-language pathologist, I was trained to look at every activity with someone on my caseload in mind. How can I adapt this to meet _____ goals? Most of the time it involves rethinking the purpose of a game or object and being flexible with the rules, the same way one might modify a recipe to accommodate a food allergy.
Over the years I’ve used this thinking with Rachel, sometimes to the frustration of everyone, but sometimes… Sometimes things are beautiful. I will be spending the next several months sharing ideas that I hope will bring your family or school as many smiles and hugs as they have ours.
Today, I want to talk about playing ball. Four Square to be exact.
Sunday evening this past week was beautiful. Not too windy, not too cold, yet not warm enough to bring out the mosquitoes. Perfect.
As a family we ventured outside. The goal in my mind was to have Rachel stay around us and to enjoy family time. While Eldest and I bounced the ball around, Rachel picked leaves off the bushes. (Okay, not a productive activity, but my goal was for Rachel to stay by us and those bushes needed pruning. If I started hounding her she would have run off.)
After a few minutes, Rachel ventured to the driveway and glanced at the ball. My mommy sense told me she wanted to play, but the rules for Four Square were too complicated for her to follow. I also sensed if I made a big deal of her joining us she would run away.
I asked Eldest to bounce the ball slowly to Rachel. When Rachel caught the ball, we all cheered. We encouraged Rachel to bounce the ball to Dad. From there we took turns bouncing the ball, rolling the ball, and kicking the ball to each other. Rachel didn’t always catch the ball and didn’t follow the order in which we were throwing, but perfect ball skills weren’t the goal. The goal was participation and fun.
At one point, Eldest sighed. “Are we going to go back to playing?”
“We are playing, just with less complicated rules.” It took her a moment to decide she was OK with the change, but she got into the spirit. We had a precious time, laughing, talking, and playing ball.
This isn’t just for dealing with children with autism. Activities can be modified for younger family members and people who have mobility issues. This same concept can help kids in a school setting incorporate their peers with special needs. The important thing is the “rules” of the game aren’t as important as participation.
In this way, everybody has fun. There is a time for competition and there is a time for compassion and love.
The best part? The last two nights Rachel has slept with her arms wrapped around one of our Four Square balls. And that is beautiful.
Up next: Life Adapted–dinner time.