Thursday, June 16, 2011

Showcase: LJ at autism (and other stuff)

Day Nine: Super Heroes! (Morning, Noon, and Night)

Developmental specialists and pediatricians often use the lack of dramatic play as a marker when diagnosing autism. I have spoken to many a parent whose child has been denied a spectrum diagnosis because the child engages in dramatic play (all day and night). What the "experts" (and I use that term loosely) sometimes fail to realize is that the type of hyper-focused dramatic play that some children with autism actually engages in is not the same as the developmentally appropriate "let me figure out who I want to be in this world" dramatic play exhibited by neuro-typical children.

My son has hyper-focused on many themes and objects over the years (he is now ten). It began with books (not so bad), and then moved to balls, then cars and dinosaurs. But his longest running theme was that he was a super hero (or, in his case, often a super villain with a heart of gold named "Bad Guy"). He first moved from Scooby Doo characters, to Ninja Turtles then to Ben Ten and beyond. There were many days that he would refuse to answer us unless we spoke in a character voice (my throat has never recovered from the years I have spent as Shaggy and Michelangelo..."Dude!")

So, one can see how this dramatic play on steroids can delay or confuse service providers and parents when diagnosing autism. I don't remember anywhere, on any assessment questionnaires being asked, "Does your child engage in dramatic play only to the exclusion of ANYTHING else?"

I have met many other children since my son's diagnosis that pretend to be something; all day, all night. There are princesses and dinosaurs, super-heroes and even a nuclear scientist. The bottom line is, should we seek to 'extinguish' this pattern of behavior? Or should we build a bridge to the child by playing along (my personal favorite).

Of all of the literature I have read on this topic, the answer, like everything else, really depends on who is writing the article. It seems that in ABA world, hyper-focusing is a bad thing...a "preferred activity" that should be minimized. I completely understand that we don't really want a world of autistic adults running around in capes and tiaras, but honestly, we already have neuro-typical adults who are just super-spoiled and are being taught by their parents that they are the center of the maybe we wouldn't so much mind that(surely I jest...maybe)?

What we want now are children who have more moments of happiness, love and calm than of chaos, meltdowns and sadness. What we want in the future are adults who have the same as above and that are able to contribute to society in some meaningful way. I have seen the spark of joy in a child's eye when someone plays by that child's rules...even if for only a few moments. That's bridge-building material if I say so myself.

What do you think? Stop the hyper-focus or play along? (By the way, my son began to self-regulate the super-hero play at 8 years-old and has now moved on to video games...ummm...just like most other 10 year-old boys...imagine that!:)


Joeymom said...

Play along. The hyper-focus of the play is actually the child doing what other children are doing with pretend play: processing the world around them in a way that is safe. Pretending to be someone else allows them to cope with what is happening to and around them. We have a child around the corner who cannot deal with other kids, so he pretends they are all cats. By doing so, he is able to deal with going to school and functioning in a store. I don't see that this is bad. As he is getting older, is he more able to cope with other people, and the cats are fading back.

Laurie said...

I totally agree with you, Joeymom. It'a amazing what the parents and loved ones of children with autism know that some hyper-educated service providers just can't grasp. Thanks so much for your comment.

ElmaBree said...

OMG! First mother I have heard run into this same hyper dramatic play too! My son did/does almost all the same as yours right now he is hyper focused on "Call of Duty" Co-Ops game and Nerf guns. My son is 10 and the pay is not the same as the other 10 year olds. So glad I found your post. good luck to you!

Laurie said...

@ElmaBree Art's World...HOLY COW!! I'm pretty sure that is my son's game of choice as well these days! (All of the games are SO much alike, I often get them confused.)

Thank you so much for the comment. It's good for us to know we are not alone.

dluvscoke said...

Reading this post made me smile. While my son has never participated in 'dramatic role play', I can honestly say, if he did, I would play along. The thought of having to speak 'in character' totally cracks me up.

Laurie said...

@Dee Ann...Thanks so much for your comment! I honestly sometimes miss our dramatic play episodes. Childhood is so fleeting, it's best to have fun with it!:D

wishihadakarmaanghia said...

Brilliant post! Love it! Play along all the way! While we haven't had any role playing yet (my son is 6 so there's still time...), we have spent more than our fair share of time in elevators, trains, buses etc. These are the magic moments of connection and joy that I wouldn't give up for anything.
Glad to have found your blog.
Kristina x

Laurie said...

@ Kristina: Thanks so much for your comment, I'm SO glad you enjoyed the post. Sounds like you are you having a great time with your son...we TOTALLY need to savor every moment of silliness while we have the chance!



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