Toots got a lot of toys for Christmas. On Christmas morning, he ripped open packages, but not with the joy of opening a present. He was on the hunt for something he specifically asked Santa to bring. In the aftermath, some really cool stuff was disregarded by its recipient, who was looking for the obsessed over item.
For instance, he asked Santa for a Batman Shake-N-Go motorcycle. When he saw a box that was the right size, he grabbed it and ripped off the paper. Underneath was a plain, brown, Amazon.com box. I was in the kitchen, getting a garbage bag for all the disregarded wrap.
He ran to me with the box, and yelled, “Open it! Ornament!” This is his mantra to get help opening boxes. I looked at it, and thought the box did not look familiar to me. “What makes you think this is your present?” I asked. He responded, “Batman cycle!” Opening the box, I discovered it was a camera for me! Surprise. Eventually, he found his Batcycle…
Christmas came and went. But during the season, I saw discussions on the issue of “age-appropriate” toys from other parents of autistic children. The consensus seemed to be that if the child was happy with the toy, it didn’t matter what the “suggested” age was. It didn’t strike me as an Earth-shattering discussion. If Toots wants a Barbie, he gets one. If he wants a “baby” squeaky teether, he’s welcome to it, as long as it makes him happy. What’s the big deal?
Interestingly, though, as I look back on most of his Christmas toys, it seemed that those he asked “Santa” to bring, were mostly age-appropriate. None of the toys raised any “age appropriate” flags in my mind.
Then came Lori.
Lori has known Toots since he was a baby. We met her at the toy store where Toots wants to live. She is an expert in toys. Lucky for us, she adores Toots and has always respected his desires. Lori was very busy at Christmas this year. Despite her schedule, she called Toots over one day, shortly after Christmas. Getting Toots’ attention is difficult, but for Lori? Easy.
She said to him:
“Toots, when everything calms down around here, I want to take you shopping and you can pick out anything in the store, okay?” He was prompted to thank her by me, after Lori and I had a
battle discussion about how crazy that was! I would not allow it! However, when Lori, lovingly told me to “shut up and stay out of it”, I did. She did not want me interfering with her gift to my son. How could I argue with that?
They made a date. He showed up with his chaperone (me). Before he got started (and outside Lori’s presence), I told him to pick out one “small toy”. He was listening because he understands that if I let him have a toy, a small one means something along the lines of a Hot Wheels car.
He started out appropriately enough, but soon, Lori had him walking all the aisles, explaining all the toys and their functions. This alone is amazing. Toots is afraid of many toys; the sounds, movements, even how they look can be sensory overload. Due to that, I relent at his desire not to go down certain aisles. Lori, on the other hand, will not just go there, but push buttons, and describe things! Toots is able to put aside his sensory overload to follow Lori’s excitement and support down those aisles and she does things I could never get away with.
Toots let Lori know he wanted to look at a “Little People” Batman. She showed it to him, showed him similar items and “accessories”, what the toy did and asked whether he liked it.
Truth? I would never have gone down that aisle, much less bought Little People. I would have (and probably did – though I don’t recall) avoided the aisle for fear of the sensory meltdown and said, “you don’t want to go there…” heading him elsewhere.
In that moment, I realized that I’d been subconsciously, censoring “non age-appropriate” toys from my son’s repertoire, though I never thought of it that way. I felt bad. I was a two-face…to myself, saying the age-appropriateness didn’t matter, when, in fact, apparently, it did.
I wondered, initially, whether I was being accommodating of his “sensory aversion” or whether I was enabling him to avoid challenges. I wondered whether I was using the “sensory aversion” to censor what toys would make it home. In any event, the censorship was over that day.
We came home with some superheroes. He “ornamented” me into removing Little People Batman and the Batmobile out of their packaging along with a Little People Green Lantern and Superman figure. Then, he asked me to find him a toy that he got when he was less than a year old, his Little People Market. Dutifully, I dug it out from the back of a closet.
We played. Batman drove the Batmobile to the Market where he bought each of the ten kinds of groceries, in increments of two at a time. The groceries were placed on the Batmobile and taken to be shared with the Green Lantern and Superman. He made conversation. He took the “balls” that were grocery items and turned them into “golf balls”, “soccer balls” etc. Batman and his friends played golf together and said, “Nice shot!” He continued pretend play for nearly 30 minutes.
He’s returned to the Little People for pretend more than once. He uses those little figures to make conversation. Most of it is echolalia, but it’s appropriate! And all because Lori really does ignore the “age-appropriate” label.
So, thanks to all the Little People. We came home with some Little Superheroes that day but we left the biggest superhero at the store. Because Lori listened to my son, my little guy is practicing his language and social skills in a whole new way.
[You may have noticed my absence over the last week. We took the biggest trip of our lives. I will write about it soon.]