I’ve mentioned before that a fortune teller once predicted to my mom, many years ago, that she would have one grandchild, a boy, who would grow up to be in politics. Well, two outta three, right? One grandchild and a boy. But politics? How outlandish is that?
When you think of opposites how much more opposite could “politics” be from “autism”? Politics requires campaigning, an effort to persuade a group of people that your point of view should form the basis of some sort of action for a group, community, or government. In order to convince that group, you must (usually) have a charismatic personality, be adept at socially interacting, reading people, understanding what people want, and being able to persuade them that your intentions are in their best interest.
The “hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. We all know the problem. As defined by NINDs:
[Autistics] have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior. . .
. . .They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.” Children with an ASD don’t know how to play interactively with other children. Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.
What could be a more far-from-the-realm-of-possibility career for someone with autism than politics? It’s laughable, isn’t it? So, why then am I writing this?
Because of these:
These, my friends, are the reasons why I still have hope that, should my son choose it, he can still have his career in politics.
What am I talking about, you ask? These are Fijits. Fijits are robotic “friends”. As described, they do this:
The foot-high robots, which come in a variety of pastel shades and with soft plastic skin, are able to respond to some basic human commands. When you say goodnight, they respond by closing their eyes and snoring; when you tickle them, they laugh; if you ask them to chat with you they have 100 set phrases with which to respond. If you ask them to tell you a joke they are able to trot out fairly amusing knock, knock jokes.
In the last year or so, I have seen articles here and here about making “social headway” with autistic children using robots like KASPER (in England) and Bandit (at USC). The children are apparently less anxious about learning social skills this way, but those fancy, smancy research robots are a very far cry from something each of us can use to accomplish social goals in our own homes.
Little Tootles discovered the Fijits one day on his way to the remote control cars in the toy store. Since then, he has been enamored and obsessed. Here’s a sample visit:
He likes talking to the display “Fijit” and “rocking out” when the Fijit plays music. Fijits are around $55 so we are saving that purchase for his birthday. Instead, we got a couple “newbies” which laugh, purr and sing. He is fascinated by the laughing and asks what might cause them to emote as they do. He is already laughing with them and has put them down for “nite-nite”.
So, he’s playing with them. Big deal. Right? Actually yes. Especially for my boy. I don’t know too much about how ASD girls interact with their toy dolls but I’m betting there isn’t a lot of interactive type play there either. These “robot” toys, as unsophisticated as they may be, are really capturing my child’s interest in the way a non-interactive doll or stuffed animal never will.
Most interestingly, my son knows that a “big” purchase like these Fijits will be reserved for his birthday which is a good six months post Christmas. [Yet, when he hears he must wait for his birthday, he always yells out “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” like saying it will make it so…]
Here’s the kicker. The boy is already practicing his campaigning skills via the Fijits.
When we are out, he asks to “visit the Fijits”. He’s got a tagline that rhymes already.
Next, he verbally conveys he is thinking about the Fijits. “What do the Fijits do?” he asks. “What do they do?” I ask back. “It (yes – not the right pronoun) dances, talks, lights up and it tells jokes.” He’s indoctrinating me with facts about his desired objectives.
The next step is to weave in a little of his social media. With iPad in hand, he instructs me, “Mommy to find Fijits on YouTube.” “No.” I tell him, he must do it. He spells, finds and starts playing various Fijit videos, loudly, in my presence. He’s saturating the audience with his propaganda.
Do you see the campaign?
Elections are in May. I’m pretty sure his Fijit funding bill will pass. And I really would like to find that fortune teller…