Puppy Love – howl at the moon

One of our most serious and all pervasive issues has been the matter of pretend play.

My son would often pretend to be a dinosaur and he was a very good mimic. As soon as I commented or guessed, “are you being a Triceratops?” he would collapse in a huge meltdown. I assumed it was because my guess was wrong and therefore very annoying.

I later learned that it wasn't the 'guess' that was wrong, it was the trigger word 'pretend.' Much later still, I learned that the word 'pretend' was offensive. It was offensive because he wasn't 'pretending.' As far as he was concerned, he 'was' whatever he was mimicking. He 'became' whatever he mimicked. A budding method actor.


It's the new wallpaper to my day. It doesn't really matter what the subject is, or what we might be talking about, everything is peppered with Chihuahua. I blame the friend, or more specifically, the mother of the friend that bought the dog. She has no idea what her new pet has done to my family, and let me tell you, it is not a pretty sight. Fortunately there are no sound effects, just dog talk.

“He is dah Christmas present?”
“Who is a Christmas present?”
“Dah Chihuahua?” It colours every conversation. He'll manage to squeeze it in to the most unlikely chat. “Would you like barbeque sauce or ketchup?”
“What do Chihuahua's like? I like what he likes.” It's a blatant lie and a figment of his imagination at the same time, quite a feat. I was never particularly keen on the breed in the first place, but they are rapidly descending into a puny pet peeve.

I try deflection. The subject is moot. “We can't get a dog until after Christmas. It's not fair to find a puppy and then leave him in kennels when we go to England.”
“Dey have Chihuahua's in England?”
“Yes but you can't bring a dog from England to the States….” I avoid the Rabies, customs and waiting period, period.
“Because…..English Chihuahua's don't understand American, it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.” Oh how I love the Constitution!

I distract.

“Can you read that sign dear?”
“What does it say dear?”
“Danger keep out.”
“That's why it's red, to tell you about the danger.”
“Dey have a big dangerous dog? Chihuahuas are not being dah dangerous.”

His sister joins in the debate. She has her own agenda. Perhaps she can muzzle him?
“We can't get a Chihuahua as they bark all the time.”
“Dey only have dah little bark.”
“They have sharp claws and they'll scratch yah when they jump on yah.”
“Dey do dah little jumps and I am big.”
“He'll lick yur face and bite ya.”
“No he will be dah good dog.”
“A lab would be better or a retriever. Now that's a real dawg.”
“I don wan a real dawg I wan a Chihuahua.”
“Anyways. They don't have Chihuahua's in America. You have to go to Mexico to buy Chihuahua's.”
“Mom I need to go to Mexico!”
“We're not goin to Mexico, we're going to England dummy. Mum tell him we're not going to Mexico. Tell him we're not gonna get a Chihuahua. Tell him we're gonna get a big dog.”
“We go Mexico before dinner?”

I fly away. I remember our one holiday to Mexico. It was based on the sound theory that we should visit Mexico, whilst we were here in the States. Once we returned to the UK, it would be a much longer and far more expensive holiday. It made perfect sense. It made perfect sense before we went. Mexico had been Americanized. It was just like America but with different accents and a milder climate. As it turned out, it was not just like America. They had no Goldfish, which was far more distressing that no seat belts in the cars.

Everything is a prompt, so I stop, prompting that is, in the remote hope that we can avoid this all pervasive subject.

He self initiates conversations, in a sly and circumnavigatious manner.
“You like em?”
“Like what dear?”
“Hot dogs?”
“Er, not really.”
“Hot dogs are like wieners.”
“Er, yes, little ones, so they are.”
“You can get wiener dogs.”
“Dachshunds dear.”
“Dachshunds are little dogs just like Chihuahuas.”

I wonder if we have time to stop by the travel agent before dinner? How much does it cost these days? One adult, one way to Mexico? I should pre-order the vegetarian option, a tofudog?

I am hounded on every front. There is no way out. I should start practicing commands like 'down boy!' Little traps await me around every corner, ready to pounce. Logical persuasive leaps abound.

He fingers the old one, the red collar with the bell and little name tag.
“We are recycle?”
“We are recycle dis?” He shoves the collar in my face.
“Well it's a cat collar really.”
“Chihuahua's are been having dah tiny necks just like dah cats.”
“It be save.”
“It be cheep, cheap, cheaper if we dun buy a new collar.”

His powers of persuasion are unleashed. He crouches on the floor on all fours.
“You like me?”
“Of course I like you dear, I love you.”
“I am cute?”
“Very cute.”
“I am a lovely little guy?”
“Of course!” That’s so odd. I’m not permitted to call him little any more.
“You see my bootiful eyes?” He blinks to wet the deep brown pools.
“How could I not?”
“You see? I am be……I am pretend…….I am an adorable Chihuahua.” Pretend! Hallelujah! He said it! He said it out loud! I was here, I heard him and there is no meltdown. A new all time first.

But it’s not the last we hear about puppies. There is always another line, paragraph and chapter. Puppy talk dogs our days.

I need a campaign or an escape route or an 'off' switch. I think I'll start by buying a dog house, a little kennel that I can hide in, with optional drawbridge.

The next day following his playdate, he accosts me in the kitchen.
“You are dah dumbass?” Well really!
“I beg your pardon!”
“Oopsie. I sorry. You are dah stoopid?” Good grief! I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a improvement. I wait. I prompt, and dangle a treat, against my better judgment.
“Yes dear?” I do not snarl. I am obedient and stay put.
“Why you say it a Chihuahua?” he yips.
“Um….your friend's puppy, that little dog…..well it is a Chihuahua,” I avoid barking.
“No!” he woofs. I listen to His Master’s voice and beg for more information.
“Yes?” I am at heel without the restraint of a choke collar.
“No. You got it wrong.”
“Yes. On my playdate……”
“..his mum bin…….”
“She be…” I wait. Prompts and encouragement can only take you so far. Sometimes you just have to wait for them to retrieve, regroup and restate.
“His mum din bin say dat …..he's a Pomeranian,” he says with perfect diction without slobbering.

You know, some parents can be a real handicap. I adopt a hangdog expression and I slink away, with my tail between my legs.

New post up over on “alien.”

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Early Days 8 – cracking the code

That innocent word, ‘play’ can be huge hurdle for some autistic children. “Scheduling time” is a marathon and many of us, parents that is to say, have a hard time planning out what to do, how and when?

What we [parents] refer to when we say ‘play’ seems simple enough and doesn’t need any explanation, but ‘play’ when it comes to autistic children may not be quite so straightforward.

If you looked at my boys when they were little, you would have seen them playing, not just the typical autistic play of lining things up, moving toys in a mechanical and repetitive manner, examining some tiny feature on a toy but behaviour that would ‘pass’ as typical play. Teasing these elements apart, unless you are very observant or a play therapist, is not that easy for the novice. [translation = me]

The key element that experts often refer to is ‘lack or impairment of imaginative play.’ When I looked at my boys, I would see them pretending to be dinosaurs, or dinosaur eggs. To me that looked like imaginative play, there was no impairment that I could see. I knew what my eyes saw and yet I knew that I was missing something, but I didn’t know what it was?

A typical exchange at that time would be when I watched my son be an Allosaurus. I wasn’t allowed to join in, though I often tried. [translation = on each occasion that he pretended to be whichever dinosaur was in favour that day] He didn’t mind me watching by then. [translation = first he was unaware that I was watching, then when he did become aware that I was watching, he objected violently] This was something that he played alone. Since dinosaurs were his area of enthusiasm, this was my cue to engage with him. [translation = joint attention]

I had learned to be upbeat and use simple language. His mimicry was superb, his body and gestures matched those in the many, many books we had about dinosaurs. I knew that to praise him, would guarantee a level 10 meltdown. It also took me a long time to correct myself. [translation = not to ask a question that elicits a response, which would seem the most obvious step when you’re dealing with a speech delay, but instead, to make a statement which removes the pressure and stress of having to find a response]

At that time we were still trying to fathom out his rule matrix. [translation = the many triggers to meltdowns] One trigger was buried in this daily ‘pretend’ play, but I didn’t know what it was. The experts always ask you, ‘and what exactly preceded the outburst’? I knew that I was doing something wrong and provoking his meltdown. I changed ‘my script,’ my ‘approach,’ and everything else I could think of, to try and make it work, but the outcome was always the same. It remained the same until he was able to use enough words for me to be able to translate and interpret their meaning.

I watch. I have a pad of paper and pencil behind me listing in detail each exchange we have attempted over the last 27 days all of which have been unmitigated failures, each of which I’ve crossed off, eliminated. I am going to play dinosaurs with my son if it kills me. [translation = or the T-rex bites my head off first]

“You are a Lambiosaurus!” He rears up a little in response, bears his teeth a little more and claws the air in slow motion. I watch carefully, willing myself to see the trigger. Nothing. So far so good. He jumps onto the sofa a morphs into a different dinosaur. Which one? I watch. I watch until I am sure.
“You are a fantastic Stegosaurus!” He snaps a glare at me! I used a ‘praising adjective’ by accident! It just slipped out! I hold my breath waiting for the explosion. Nothing. I got away with it, but he did notice the word. Maybe I’ve made a mistake? Maybe all this time I’ve been assuming that he didn’t like praise but actually it’s something else that’s setting him off? What could it be?

He lumbers off the couch onto the floor and morphs into a, into a ? yes, into ….. “You’re pretending to be a fabulous Parasaurolophus!” I blurt with unsuppressed excitement. He arches back raging at the ceiling, screaming his lungs empty, not as any dinosaur but as a misunderstood child. He rolls on the floor crying and beating the carpet. What? What? What? Please help me understand.

I can’t believe that I’ve blown it again. I rub his back as he curls into a small hard ball, blocking me out. I wipe away the tears coursing down his cheek his body wrapped up like an egg. Why is there no manual? No book? No ‘how to?’ Can you plead with a four year old?

All I can say is ‘sorry’ quietly, again and again as I stroke his silky hair. He calms, slowly and lifts his head, “I not pretend,” he says crisply. These are probably the only three words he will utter during the next 24 hour period. 3 words. His eyes stare into mind. Eyes may be windows but I still can’t see. He says it again with emphasis on ‘pretend.’ 6 words in 24 hours! Does this mean they’ll be no words tomorrow, that he’s used up two days supply of words? I cringe at the thought of the future silence, wasted on a repetition because I am too stupid to understand him the first time. I stare at the surface of his glistening eyes willing myself to see.
“You’re not pretending you ARE a dinosaur!” I gasp. He dives at me, medicine ball head to sternum shouting “YES!”
We rock. 7 whole words! We rock back and forth clutching each other with all the force that can be mastered by a four year old.

He bursts away from me, “I am egg! You sit on me!” I am in a state of shock, too dumb to quibble, I simply obey. I sit on my son who is curled up like an egg. [translation = proprioceptive input on the sly] The egg starts to crack as I move off, to find that a baby Corythosaurus has hatched, tweets mewling noises and preens his crest for my wonderment. He had invented a game for us to play together, our first real pretend play. He has used 14 words in one day. We played it every day. I try hard to forget to count words. It was my all time favourite game ever.

Lastly, a lesson in imaginative play, brought to you by the ‘guy’ I love to hate, Spongebob et al in ‘The Idiot Box.’ [translation = television]

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