Since my son was able to walk, regardless of his ability to verbally communicate, he always made it clear what he liked and didn’t like. And it’s always been that what he likes, he loves. What he doesn’t like, he despises.
Truthfully, I’ve always respected this part of his autism. I guess it’s because he learns so much in whatever subject happens to capture his interest. Yes, there is an endless loop of repetition, but every one of us uses repetition to learn some things, don’t you think?
I just do not consider his interests odd or detrimental. (Okay, maybe a little odd, but whose interests aren’t?) The intensity of interest helps him learn. It facilitates his language and speech. He has fun and he plays happily on his own when he gets into something.
I’ve mentioned here how he has a new interest in Elvis. He put that together with his computer skills over the weekend, and he googled Elvis. He called me over and voila! There was an old black and white photo of young Elvis on my computer screen. That was pretty impressive. He didn’t ask me to spell or get him to a search engine. He did it by himself. And, although he’s been searching on You Tube and Amazon for quite some time, he usually will ask for spelling. This one was solo. For a 5 year old, I think that’s pretty amazing.
Another way I see his interests help him learn, is by using them to refresh his knowledge of things to which he is exposed in kindergarten. For instance, right now, his kindergarten class is heavily involved in phonics. He taught himself how to read years ago (when he was about 2) and I had either forgotten or really never understood how it came about. Now, I’m seeing how it must have happened.
How? He pulled out his baby toys. Most of the toys he demanded (through tears or meltdowns) when he was a baby and toddler were electronic. They were “phonics” toys. They taught how to sound out words. Think of any of the Leapfrog and V Tech toys that teach the alphabet and letter sounds. This was how he taught himself to read and sound out words.
Now that his class is going over this sounding out of words in school, he has pulled out his “phonics” toys, and he’s using them like a DJ scratching a record. He will repeat the same word or sound by pushing a button over and over again, 20-30 times in rapid succession. This can go on for 2 minutes to 30 minutes at a time. Then he will abruptly stop, look away for a minute (up and to the left or right) and then put away the toy.
Honestly? It looks like he is engaging himself in a refresher course. Or going back and saying to himself, “Oh so that’s how I taught myself to read.” It’s a strange thing to watch but fascinating nevertheless.
Tootles is the kind of boy who is very interested in mechanical and computer related things. He will spend hours on the computer, video games and playing remote control cars. While his playing is different, I have come to appreciate that in every obsessive, seemingly strange “play” type behavior, my son is teaching himself something.
First, he taught himself to read and spell. Next, he used those skills to navigate the internet and search for things he desires. If I look, I can see learning taking place in just about everything he does.
He plays video games that teach him coordination, perspective, competition, more and less through how many points he earns, winning and losing, beginning and endings, and turn taking. He runs remote control cars with ease and knows his left from right, how to turn, spin, back up and take a corner with a toy car.
When I let him play what he wants on his own, instead of forcing him to do a task (homework, therapy, do a chore) he is still learning, like his mind is starving for the input. When I get too hands-on, he seems to freeze.
When I brush his teeth, he has always closed down his mouth. I have to keep prompting him to open and to brush. The other day I walked in, and there he was, by himself, on his little stool brushing his teeth!
When I sat by him as he was to write his numbers on some homework, he froze. When I walked away to answer the phone and returned, he had done a whole set of numbers by himself.
As he learns, so do I. When I step back and let him self teach, he’s learning all by himself. I’ve come to realize that he’s always engaged in learning. He is asking hundreds of questions each day (many the same question over and over). I’ve taken to calling him “professor”. He will ask me fill-in-the-blank questions to which he knows the answer. They drive me crazy, partly because they are repetitive, but even more so when I get the answer wrong…