I believe that 'play therapy' is a term of art, but you can pick your own label.
At three in the afternoon I sneak away to pause and make a pot of tea. 9 hours down, six to go. The noise is deafening but they’re happy playing Pokemon. Not only are they playing pretend but they’re playing together. I do not lie. This is the culmination of many years of play therapy.
In theory, since I am more than half way through the day, with the added lure of ‘electronics’ time in two and a half hours, or 150 minutes as displayed on the visual count downer, this should be plain sailing. But all parents are familiar with the late afternoon threat of thunder. Maybe it’s because they’ve been working hard all day, or awaken so early, but whatever the reason, we parents know that we need to keep a little bit back, tucked up our sleeves, for the inevitable crisis moment.
I double check the weekly menu planner on the fridge to anticipate what level of protest is most likely? Only Wednesday, pizza, and Friday, pasta, are easy. The other five nights a week, we endure dinner, which is merely the opportunity for nutritional input. I pull a face; Asian pork on a bed of steamed rice with wilted Bok Choy. What was I thinking of? A real hard sell. I console myself with the thought that the children’s loss is the compost bin’s gain.
I have played doubles all day. This is where I play something with them that they hate, then they’re released to 'not play' for another thirty minutes, whilst I tackle domestic chores. This has worked surprisingly well, such that I have nearly caught up from the aftermath of the weekend. Thirty minutes is a very long time for an autistic child of any age, when not involved in a preferred activity. I can hardly believe that we have traveled such a long way from those tortured 2 minutes sessions, several years ago.
Even today, I still smart at the recollection.
The initial evaluation took many weeks to complete. Of the many stark facts presented in the report, one or two pin pricks were quite startling. They were startling to me because it allowed me to see myself and my children, through other people’s impartial eyes for the first time. An inaccurate approximation of their report would be, ‘the mother sat on the floor and prompted him to choose a puzzle. Minutes later she choose a preferred dinosaur puzzle and completed it for him while he stared off into the distance.’ At that time I had no clue what to do nor how to do it. I was left with the knowledge that I knew nothing and that when the second evaluation was completed on my younger son, that I would know even less.
I sip my tea and look at the mess. Toys are everywhere. This is evidence that people are playing. I do see toys lined up, but they lack the exactitude of earlier days of OCD. More importantly, I see a mixture, blocks and string, Pokemon and trampolines, Spongebob and Lego, saucepan lids and cars. Your child may be good at using a saucepan lid as a spaceship, or a Frisbee, or a hat, but for my children it has always been just a saucepan lid. Not in the category of toys nor imaginative play. As with anything you teach, sometimes it can take a very long time before you see any results.
‘But why would anyone teach a child to play Madeline? They’re kids, that’s what kids do, they play, right?’ And of course until a few years ago, I would have been on your side. Indeed, since I am a lot meaner than you, I would add, ‘what other useful purpose do they serve other than to play,’ or "isn’t that where the definition 'child’s play' comes from dimwit!" But my experience tells me that this isn’t always the case.
But I can tell that you doubt me, so an example may help.
Only a few years ago I took them all to Toys R Us, at my daughter’s request. I submitted to the pleads and begs because there were so demeaning. Although we have always had enough toys to restock Toys R Us without making a hole in our own reserves, very, very few of them were played with. Repetitive movements and lining up, do not count.
After the usual torture of getting everyone ready, into the car and driving to the accompaniment of two screaming boys, we arrived safe and sound. We negotiated the parking lot to arrive at the entrance. I then spent the next twenty minutes standing by the electric doors as my youngest son jumped in and out of the doorway and my other son lay on the floor playing with the wheel on one of the carts. Behind them was every conceivable toy under the sun, but I couldn’t dislodge either of them. I had forgotten the Goldfish cracker bribes for my Hansel and Gretel impersonation. My brave daughter made little exploratory forays, returning at regular intervals to still my beating heart. Eventually I picked the boys up under protest and navigated our way through the check out.
Her glee at her trophy, was more than compensation enough for my old leaky eyes. Indeed I have been malfunctioning ever since.
I know this is hard for many people to understand, that children must be taught to play, but sometimes, it can be done. I have the evidence before me, namely, several hours of tidying up, just in case you were worried that I might be bored or mislaid my grumpiness.
But I hope this is useful, or perhaps just hopeful, to someone?
Addendum – sprinkles on the cake [translation = over egg the pudding] I should like to mention that no-one noticed when 5:30 electronics time arrived, for the first time ever, at least not until 5:45!