“That is a strange phenomenon. People pretending to be other people.” Andy Samberg
From the earliest days of my own childhood, I can recall “pretending”. Pretending to be an actress, a model, a singer, a mommy, a salesgirl in a dress shop, an ice cream truck driver, a teacher, a real estate agent a doctor. Playing house was the basic “go-to” play all the girls in my neighborhood would do for fun. We’d find a corner in our living rooms, grab old blankets, set up our “house” with our dolls as babies and who knows what kind of dialogue we’d exchange, but the fun was in the set up and the props.
What little kid would not want to drive the ice cream truck? Or in my case, ride the popsicle cart bike around, and sell frozen treats to the neighborhood kids? As I got older, the play would imitate things I wanted to be or do. Eventually, I pretended to be a newscaster. I grew up to intern at television and news stations. Somehow, I ended up turning left and going to law school, something I never wanted to be, but I digress… If you pretend it, you’re dreaming it and you can make those dreams come true. But first, you have to dream…right?
Tootles is different. Save for the “programs” he was taught in ABA, he has never engaged in self-initiated, neurotypical-type of pretend play. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he says “a big boy”. Asked specific occupations, he agrees with anything. “Do you want to be a chef when you grow up?” “Yes,” “Do you want to be a doctor when you grow up?” “Yes.” No real input.
In ABA programs, he was taught pretend play with the subjects of firefighters, “Handy Manny”, playing kitchen, and cowboys. He would learn the script and happily play along. But when it was over, it was, pretty much, over. He never transferred these skills by initiating such play with his peers or in playing such things on his own.
Toots has become very interested in playing kitchen on his own. You may remember this video that I posted after he did the pretend play “kitchen” program, with his tutor:
That was last spring. The whole kitchen thing went dormant until recently.
What changed? This:
The truth is that a friend of mine (and fellow autism mom) Flannery, came across my Facebook news feed, as “liking” a page called “Toca Boca”. Being curious, I looked to see what Toca Boca was, downloaded the apps, and the rest is history. Thanks, Flan!
I am not one to push products of any kind, on this blog. I never have. I just don’t do it. It’s not my thing. I don’t get paid to say I like anything in particular and I’ve never been asked to try out a product for review. With Toca Boca, I’ve not been asked to review anything and the company does not know me at all. But Tootles knows Toca Boca and every single day since the downloads, he has played the Toca Boca apps on his iPad.
Now, Tootles plays differently. He’s never been a conformer. He does not do things “as instructed”. Ever. In Toca Hair Salon, there are people and animals to style. Toots likes to cut off all the lion’s mane and then blow the blow dryer on him. He’s not styling anything.
But he’s much more interested in Toca Kitchen, where there are people and animals to feed. Toots likes to put hay in the food processor and, instead of feeding it to the animals, he repeatedly tries to feed it to the little boy, who, consistently says “yuck”.
Then, he asks me what shape the hay is after it comes out of the food processor. (It goes in as a rectangle and comes out as an oval, just in case you needed to know.)
Toots has become a bit obsessed with the Toca Kitchen and the hay. He repeatedly asks me, “Do we eat hay?” He knows we don’t, but it’s become his go-to script to obtain an interaction while playing the game, no matter whether it is negative or not. Trust me, we’re working on alternative language to the hay script but nothing “takes” so far. Toots loves to cook the hay in the food processor, in boiling water, to saute it in the frying pan and to put it in the microwave.
This obsession, despite its rebellious edge, has morphed itself from a two dimensional iPad world to the 3D world he inhabits. Since Toots was a little, little boy, he has had a a pink wooden kitchen with a fridge and oven. For years from the time he was 3.5 to now, he’s had no interest in pretending to cook in that kitchen. Eventually, we managed to put it out in the garage and were ready to give it away.
Then, in the middle of last week, after a fairly lengthy “Toca Boca Kitchen” session, Toots asked for his pink oven. And now, it sits in the breakfast nook so he can cook inside it when his mama is in the kitchen cooking too. He’s pulled the little toy microwave out of the oven where it was stored and “locked” away. He had been terrified of it for years. No matter what I did, he would not let me or his dad anywhere near the tiny purple, blue and red microwave.
Today, he’s “cooking” in it.
Thank you Toca Boca. (Luckily, we have no hay in the house.)
As long as we can keep hay out of the house, Easy Bake Oven may be in Santa’s bag for Christmas. But with the pretend rebel in the house, who knows? He may smuggle some hay in. I think I’ll take my chances.