My son has gone retro. It’s happened before. It’s a stage where he pulls out old toys from his younger days and begins playing with them again. He is nearly five years old. He still has toys from when he was first learning to walk. And they’ve made a comeback.
Don’t even bother telling me to give those toys away. Trust me, he knows his inventory. If I even think about moving one, let alone giving it away, even if I do it in a stealthy manner, he knows. Inevitably, he will ask for the toy, the moment it is gone. After the first few times this happened, I quit giving things away.
Why, you ask, am I so weak? Well, my son is different. It’s not a matter of pitching a fit. No, it’s not that simple. He is an interrogator. He will question me like a prisoner at Guantanemo about the location of the missing toy. I can give a thousand answers which are unacceptable. Even if I give him the truth and say I gave it away, he will ignore that answer and question me again and again and . . . you get the picture. It’s not like it’s just a few minutes to an hour. It goes on for weeks. And just when I think he’s occupied with something else, he will ask yet another question about the missing toy. It’s just not worth my sanity.
So, we’ve been sick with this virus that’s going around and I’ve been trapped in my house for 48 hours with my son. During this time, we’ve been each other’s only physical human contact, other than brief, special guest appearances by my husband, who pops in and darts out, knowing my mood. I have been treated to the soulful tunes of Leap Frog’s Fridge DJ, including such greats as Itsy Bitsy Spider and Take Me Out to the Ballgame. I’ve heard “Sing along as we stroll along” about 250 times and I’ve listened to cars rev’ing engines, and emergency vehicle sirens, between a child screaming, “CLEAN! CLEAN!” while running to me with snot all over his upper lip and hands.
It’s not just the toys. He’s pulled old books off the shelf and requested to watch “Oswald”, a Nick Jr. cartoon he has not watched in over a year. He made an offhand comment about an old babysitter, two days in a row, one who abruptly left with no notice and no goodbyes. “Is Miss Megan a girl or a boy?” he asked. Even the question relates to a concept we were introducing about a year ago, trying to develop his ability to distinguish gender. So, while my wild, sick, child has been running around with his snotty nose, breaking the sound barrier, I am wondering why he is bringing up the past, in his own special communicative way with me. He is, in fact, reminiscing.
I wrote a post, not long ago, about listening to my child. All this retro toy, book and TV show stuff is telling me something. I had no idea what so I decided to do a little searching on line. When I did, I came across an article about how children learn and their thought processes. There was a discussion in this article about how a child comes to achieve his autobiographical memory. In other words, it was about how a child remembers stuff about his own past. And this put my son’s recent actions into perspective for me.
The article discussed the forming of autobiographical memory. It said:
“It is difficult to imagine everyday social interactions taking place successfully among adults who do not possess a mature understanding of their own and others’ minds. Yet social interactions do take place every day with preschool children who are only beginning to develop an understanding of mental states. How does having a more developed understanding of mind enhance children’s social interactions and their cognitive development? Conversely, what types of social interactions are most beneficial for developing children’s understanding of mind, and what is the social process through which children gain an understanding of mind?”
. . .
The argument is that children must possess some basic understanding that they can only remember events they have personally experienced; thus they must understand the link between personal experience and personal knowledge in order to have autobiographical memory.” (Mother-child reminiscing and children’s understanding of mind, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (January 1, 2006) Reese, Elaine; Sutcliffe, Emily).
Another portion of the article said:
“Children’s understanding of mind may itself enable true recollection to occur, but parents’ reminiscing style may simultaneously promote children’s autobiographical memory and their understanding of mind. Finally, conversations about past events provide preschoolers with a stage on which to display their developing understanding of mind, with the spotlight entirely on the contents of their own mind and others’ minds in the form of memory.”
These concepts are so innate to us as adults, that it is almost difficult to follow them as drawn out in this type of article. I have no scientific agenda. I’m just a mom, trying to communicate with her ASD son. But, I have a disagreement with the proposition that my son, just because he is on this spectrum, does not necessarily have an inability to have an understanding of mind, if that is the implication.
I think my son’s impairment, and I can only speak for him and no other child, is in the communication of that understanding of mind to others in part. The other part is in recognizing the emotions and minds of others. The impairment is partially mine if I do not make every effort to understanding his communication to me.
I am a mother who reminisces about past events. I remind my child of those events. We go through picture albums and talk about what we see in the pictures. I ask him if he knows where we were or what is in the picture. He does seem to remember and understand he was part of these past events. I know there are children on the spectrum who can remember what the weather was, given a date in the past. Or that can recall what was going on during a particular date in the past, again random facts. Which is amazing in and of itself but it’s not autobiographical – about their own past.
Currently, my best understanding is my son’s retro-filled couple of weeks must have been triggered by something he is having difficulty communicating. I’m hoping he is not remembering a specific day in the past without associating himself into that memory. Maybe he is remembering singing one of the songs he heard at preschool recently in earlier times on his Fridge DJ and making that association. Perhaps, he is remembering preschool itself, which he left just before ABA started 7 months ago. Or maybe it is the virus coming on and now in full attack that reminds him of an earlier time that he was sick, last year. The best I can tell right now is that he is going through this stage as a method of communication and reminiscing.
He has the understanding of past events involving himself. So, I wonder about all this scientific theory. Should I feel (A) I could not possibly understand what they are talking about since I have no PhD, or (B) that I know my son well enough to know his attributes and his shortcomings and that he is, in fact, by using these toys as tools, remembering his past. I believe it is (B).
So what have I learned? I learned I have to keep learning. Now, that I’m listening to the clues he is giving me, and understanding he may be trying to communicate by reminiscing, I need to flesh that out by helping his association to form those past memories of self by eliciting responses from him about past events. In that way, I may feed his ability to form the autobiographical memory that can help him with social interaction in the future.
But enough of the scientific/philosophical musing. My priority just now is to wipe his nose again. This kind of memory, I, personally, can do without.