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Flexibility, Feelings, and Fun

Flexibility, Feelings, and Fun

Ihave been combing through the past of late, sitting with my boys and watching videos of their early years. This is Sam when he was just three years old. I first posted it back in 2008.

I realize that John is doing now, at nine, what Sam, at three, insisted on every single morning: A schedule.

autismtwins.com“John’s schedule?” he asks, after fetching orange construction paper and a crayon and handing them to me — a demand. He is eager to see the regular things: Get Dressed, Eat Breakfast, Go to School, but he is waiting for his favorite activities to appear too: The Library, DVDs, The Beach. It is very important that I think this through — what new activity will I need to ask of him today? How must I couch it between his favorite things in order to avoid upset if we have an unscheduled stop at the grocery store? I must be precise as well as build in room for the unexpected, and so I will add a question mark or two or indicate a time and underline it. For example: Walk on the Beach IF IT’S SUNNY. Or Go to Library AFTER SCHOOL, and just hope that he can go with the flow.

Sometimes we are successful and sometimes, well, we are not.

On Sunday he woke up at 6:00 a.m. and asked for the days’ events. I pondered (because I had just brewed my first cup of coffee and was in no hurry to leave the house) and slowly I wrote: Wake Up, Sit with Mommy, Eat Breakfast, Watch Sesame Street, Read a Book, Draw a Picture of Elmo, Get Dressed, Go to Library. He ran to his room, emerged with clothes in arms and said “Get Dressed. Go to Library. John’s Schedule.” — all before 7:00 a.m. “LATER,” I said. “Library is CLOSED,” I said. “Leave for Library at 10:30,” I sighed. Meltdown.

Not always successful.

When Sam insisted on these schedules, he did not wait to see his activities for the day appear like magic. I took dictation — it was his schedule, his order of events and I dutifully captured it as he ordained (within reason because he was only slightly more agreeable to alterations). Obsessed with the weather (extreme and otherwise), his daily schedule usually starred current conditions, along with any books or DVDs in rotation at the time.

Coincidence? John is watching the same DVD on a loop, Family, Feelings and Fun. I think his favorite part is the Feelings Song, mostly because he puts his elbows on the table and presses his face near the screen while it plays and sometimes I actually hear him hum. Probably because of that and the fact that he pauses and rewinds to it over and over.

“What are you feeling?
Don’t keep it bottled up inside
Try try try
Try to tell me what’s inside —side —side
Don’t keep it bottled up inside
Try try try
And tell me what’s inside

Do you feel EXCITED?
Do you feel SILLY?
Do you feel SCARED?
Do you feel GRUMPY?

What are you feeling?
Don’t keep it bottled up inside
Try try try
Try to tell me what’s inside

Do you feel SICK?
Do you feel SURPRISED?
What are you FEELING?”

Exactly. I ask this question of John countless times a day. In an effort to get a spontaneous response, I sometimes make my voice rea-lly LOW and I intone: “JOHN. Do YOU. Feel. MAD?” and he’ll mimic my facial expression and say “MAD!” Or sometimes I’ll make my voice high with sadness and say, “Boo-hoo, Mommy cry,” and then turn it over to him: “John cry?” He’ll mimic me down to my last inflection and say “Boo-hoo! John cry.” I get up, take his hands in mine and we twirl around until I stop suddenly and say “Woah! SURPRISE!!” He startles then laughs. I tell him it’s his turn and he makes his eyes big, rounds his mouth and says, “SURPRISE!” What a mimic, he has a gift.

I love that he is studying and exploring, just like his brother did so long ago, because in addition to being able to tell others how he feels, he is learning about how others sometimes feel and that is a link to community, to empathy, to a bigger world.

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