I have always known that my Aspergian son Alex plays in a very unique way, but I only know that because I have spent so much time playing with him and observing his tendencies. We know that he is academically brilliant yet socially delayed and he is passionate about routine and consistency yet terrified of transition. So how could we incorporate these circumstances into his life thereby allowing him to “face his fears” without spinning him out of control?
Some wonderful lessons we have both learned and taught come from family game night.
Board games are fantastic teaching tools for many reasons. They have rules! Rules force structure and “fairness” which are 2 things that kids on the spectrum crave. Alex is the first person to read the instructions to any game and believe me, those rules are followed…to the letter! But what that process does is put him in control of the situation. He knows what could happen and how it will be dealt with. (an observation which has taught me a lot about parenting him. If he knows what that we are consistent with how we handle outcomes, he is more willing to take risks because he feels safe.)
It also allowed Alex to practice dealing with transitions…taking turns and moving around the board at random paces helped him to realize that things can vary and we can stop our turn at something and still have the ability to come back to it until it is completed or resolved.
There was a time when he would throw a game board across the room if someone moved the wrong piece by accident. But by not giving up on him and recognizing that one of his “gifts” is he needs control and order, we can say to him: “Alex, put the board back the way it was and let’s move on.” If we had spent the last 5 years being afraid to play with him because of what he might do he would never have learned the skills to know what is the right thing to do.
Another way I love to play with Alex is Lego type cities and worlds that the child builds and creates with. They are great for that “alone time” and they are also fun to play together with family and friends. I like them because it allows Alex a “pretend voice” with which he can try out different conversations, responses and circumstances and if someone reacts poorly to them…he can say “I was just playing”. But he has learned valuable lessons about communication and being a friend through those interactions.
I think the biggest lesson for me and one that I would teach to every parent on the planet if I could is that children learn through play & by watching us. I believe our most important job as parents is TO PLAY! So in a nutshell…I believe that the best things you can give to your Aspergian child to play with are the things you are willing to play with them.
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