Play Therapy? You cannot be serious!


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 wake up 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 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 as 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 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, 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, before 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!

Maybe some of us parents need some “play therapy” too!


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Campaign Consolidation

I determine to return to my former self, the efficient, 'plan ahead' self. A decade ago I would plan the year in advance, set goals, note all birthdays and anniversaries well ahead of time. [translation = allow for the vagaries of the international postal system] Then, all of a sudden, a whole slew of babies descended upon us. [translation = fertility increased due to imbibing American water and breathing American air]

I decide that baby steps are the order of the day and therefore limit my planning to 'Summer.' Nevertheless I am determined to consolidate and co-ordinate campaigns to date, in a seamless trajectory towards the goal of 'progress.'

During the Summer we with reduce our footprint on the planet in a few fundamental ways. Firstly, laundry shall be minimized. [translation = instead of changing filthy clothes after each meal consumed, we shall dispense with the need for clothing] Furthermore this campaign will be co-ordinated with outdoor eating to reduce cleaning. [translation= the birds will benefit from the crumbs, clumps and other debris and spills] Bodies are so much easier to wash than clothes. As I have no plan to tumble dry my children after washing, this will further reduce our electricity consumption. In an effort to cut electricity consumption, living outside a hot house, will negate the need for air conditioning. Everyone will be cooler if not burdened by clothing.

Now what have I left out? [translation = missed.]

Now I'd be the first to admit that there are a couple of stumbling blocks in the great plan. It's not that I've forgotten that I have 'inside bodies' rather than outdoorsy ones, but that little bump in the plan can become part of the plan. [translation = further desensitization to 'outside'] All elements of the plan can work together harmoniously. Their education will be considerably enhanced through nature studies. [translation = mother nature and all her little pals are our friends not the enemy] We can practice a whole slew of new vocabulary. [translation = greater than Venus flytrap, bee, lizard and locked gate]

I refine the plan and mine for details that I might have missed when spouse appears. I tell him the good news, that the campaign is nearly ready. I advise him of all pertinent elements.

“All this to save the planet?”
“And you're sure you've thought this all through?”
“Absolutely! Faultless! It is the perfect plan.”
“It has a familiar ring to it.”
“It does?” In what manner?”
“Naked screaming children in the garden – isn't that precisely where we were four years ago before therapy started?”

It's just as well that someone has a functioning memory bank.

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Adam and Eve – knowledge begets bounce

I put down my book by Ruth Rendell to think. [“Adam and Eve” and Pinch Me] I contemplate the many ways I have unwittingly tortured my children since babyhood.

All those supposedly innocent little ditties, nursery rhymes and games. We all know them, “round and round the garden,” “pinch punch, 1st of the month,” “the incy winsy” spider,'…….an endless list. Each and every one of them, has it's own unique twist of a flick knife, but I didn't know that at the time. Anyone with more than one brain cell would have cottoned on [translation = realized] that although I tried to engage my children, what I was really doing was beating them with a very large, noisy, prickly stick.

I decided that the 'oldies' might not be 'goldies.' I even went as far as to purchase a new book on 101 ways to entertain your baby, in the hope that I could improve my skill set and become a little more up to date. As with most things I tried in those days, it was another unmitigated failure. It seemed that there was nothing I could do to induce a smile. Their happiness quotient was independent of my input. Indeed it would be more accurate to say that most of their misery was caused directly by me, no matter how innocently. [translation = ignorantly] It seemed impossible to teach a “primigravidae” [translation = old first time mum] new tricks. [note 1 below]

But of course, that was a long time ago now. I re-evaluate the ditty – Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, went down to the river to bathe. Adam and Eve were drowned. Who do you think was saved? And the response is……altogether now….. 'pinch me!' Then you pinch them and everybody laughs, or most people do, especially little people.

As with most things, what was true a week or two ago, [translation = or month, or year] is not necessarily true now. I wonder if it's worth having another go? What is the likelihood of meltdowns? How many people will have meltdowns? Will they be really, really bad meltdowns, simultaneous ones? Maybe I'll be really lucky and they'll just ignore me, or not get it, or be indifferent? I strategize timing factors, variables such as their current mood, their absorption in their activities, as I don't want my 'intervention' to become an interruption or present itself as a transition. [translation = stop one thing and start another]

I dither a wee while until the moment presents itself. They are at the table for dinner. I have read several picture books to entertain them and distract them from the hideousness that is dinner. They are mellow. [ish] I tentatively suggest a change of tactic, a minor diversion from story telling, a little joke, a tiny one, just for their delectation. There is a fluttering of apprehension, dissent, minor protestations followed by resignations. I capture three pairs of eyes and sputter my way through the lines. I smile. I wait a response. I count. I include ‘ands.’ Brains in small craniums process words, retrieve others, connect the dots. I can hear them whir, the brains that is to say ….…….

“PERwinch me!” spews junior spraying us all with half masticated wieners as he guffaws.
“Ah!” bellows senior, throwing himself back on his chair to collide with the dresser, hurling sweetcorn kernels in a shower of amusement.
“Huh?!” frowns my daughter……

I pinch her, gently, just because I can.

[note 1] Although I already had a daughter, as far as the medical profession was concerned it was so long ago that my body believed it was the first time I was pregnant. Like a virgin all over again!]

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Ear wigging

[translation = listening to other people’s conversations]

Senior son, now seven and a half, is considered to have a speech delay of approximately two and a half years. Because he is also autistic, he has many of the classic impairments that distinguish autistic children from the rest of the population. His ability to tune in to the subtleties of sophisticated communication would appear to be limited to a casual observer. [translation = not so the crazed mother trawling for evidence to the contrary]

He tries to show her his report card from school. [translation = impart the pertinent details, the winning of a prize for ‘adequate’ behaviour]
“Do I get a prize too?” she whines to her brother.
“Yes, but first you gotta do yer chores.” [translation = magnanimous,pragmatic]
“What chores?” Clear evidence of reciprocal exchange where two people communicate with each other.
“Er, um, lemme see now. You gotta tidy yer toys and er, um, what is it, oh yeah, right, clean yer teef and er, um, oh yes, oh yes, put yer perjamas on.” I am stunned to further silence, the right tasks in the right order, and he's telling her! The same little phrase that I repeat daily, that I have repeated on a daily basis for nearly four months to deaf ears! [translation = wrong again, it does eventually penetrate, lodge and take root] I await further news. He continues in his deep baritone, “when yuv chosen yer prize then we can play together.” Her eyebrows knit, “you're askin me to play with you?” The superior tone of a California girl, is fully developed. [translation = no I didn’t think it would ever happen either dear]
“Sure! You gotta problem wiv dat?” he snaps back, with no delay, the appropriate tone and volume, and yes he was looking at her eyes when he spoke. I check that I'm in the right household.

I am.

“No. I've not got a problem, you're the one with…..” she peters out just in time, whilst I bite my nails down to the quicks.
“Good, so…..get on wiv it den, yer wastin time! Don cha know it's nearly time fer bed?”

I think I had better go and lie down myself! [translation = before I fall down]

Ref 1] At ages three, four, and five a child’s vocabulary rapidly increases, and he or she begins to master the rules of language. These rules include the rules of phonology (speech sounds), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence formation), semantics (word and sentence meaning), prosody (intonation and rhythm of speech), and pragmatics (effective use of language).

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