Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Electronics vs. Traditional Play: What the Mom Thinks

Since this is turning out to be somewhat of a "loose series" of posts, I hope you're all caught up with me.  But just in case, here's Post #1 and Post #2 if you need them.

If you read yesterday's comments, Karen from Solodialogue pretty much stole my thunder (!) and summed up how I feel on this issue.  But since I'm rarely at a loss for words, I'm fairly certain I can add a couple of things to her point.

Our speech therapist is of the opinion that ABA has removed the joy of simple play for Lily.  While she is totally aware that the Bird has motor planning issues that impair her ability to play, she still thinks that ABA has turned play into a series of tasks for Lily to just get through so that she can then engage in "real" play - aka, electronics.

But here's the problem - this opinion makes the assumption that Lily would know what to do when presented with some objects of simple play.  That she would understand what to do with the toy and would understand that playing with that particular toy is fun.

In other words, Lily has to learn that play is fun.  And in order to learn that play is fun, she must be taught.

Take music for example:  Most kids do not think learning the piano is fun, especially in the beginning. Much of what they are learning initially is just stuff you have to get through to get to the fun.  Scales. Hand position.  Foot position.  Memorization of key locations.  You've got to play a lot of Chopsticks before you can master Beethoven.
Or sports:  I'm going to assume that most high school football players don't think that two-a-days and strength and conditioning work is all that much fun.  But I bet that playing on Friday nights in front of a huge cheering crowd is pretty fun.
Do you see where I'm going with this?

Some things, even some of the things we most enjoy, are things that we had to learn we liked.  We had to learn it was fun.

Lily is the same as any other kiddo in that regard.

But where she differs is that much of play doesn't come naturally to her so it's a little more difficult for her to understand the fun.  And takes a little more teaching time.  In other words, she needs more Chopsticks time before Carnegie Hall or more strength and conditioning before the Friday night game.

But she'll get there.


It's hard to teach what just comes naturally to many children.

When my big girls were Lily's age, I could hand them each a big chunk of play-doh, a rolling pin, and some cookie cutters and they would go to town for hours.  I never really sat down and demonstrated what to do.  They were making clay cookies, decorating them with fake sprinkles and running a bakery, all without my "teaching" them a thing.

Not so with Lily.

I have to sit at the table with her.  I have to show her how to pound the dough.  How to roll snakes.  How to use the rolling pin or the little wiggly rollers that make designs in the clay.  How to make shapes with the cookie cutters.  I have to show her how she can "hide" little plastic bugs in the dough and then "find" them.  I have to demonstrate how to put the dough in the extruder thing and squeeze it out like spaghetti.  And I have to be very careful of how much "hand over hand" work I do with her because... let's just say she's not always open to my help.  And of course, play-doh will be sampled at least ten times.  Even though she knows it doesn't taste good, she still keeps checking!

And sometimes, it takes me longer to get out all the supplies than the actual playtime lasts.

So we'll keep trying.

And we'll still limit iPad time, especially as a reward for play.   Instead, after a good play session,  I'm turning on the TV to play a couple of youtube videos that I choose and Lily can't fast forward, rewind or search since it's on the big TV and I have the remote.  It's still electronic but at least I'm in charge.  She can dance around, hop up and down, and stim all she wants for a little while, then we move on to something else.

Bottom line?  Lily needs to learn that play is fun.  And the only way she's going to learn that is by being taught how to play and then practicing that play.  By engaging in some simple, traditional play and then getting a brief "brain break" as a reward for that practice.

And no matter the reason why Lily can't seem to understand the simple joy of play, whether it's the fault of ABA, DTT, inferior motor planning, or something altogether different, the fact remains that she needs to learn how to play.

And on that fact, "the therapist" and "the mom" agree.

So we work.

To play.

And maybe, just maybe, one day this baby girl will approach me with a decorated clay cookie and ask if I want to buy it from her bakery.


  1. This is NOT an easy path that you're choosing. I will tell you that from the outset. Teaching your child to play -- when others are capable of figuring it out themselves so easily -- is downright frustrating. Been there. Done that. Have the t-shirt -- and continue to ear more t-shirts on a regular basis!

    But it's worth it. Oh, my God -- is it worth it. The simple pleasure of sculpting something with that nefarious play-doh and hearing it named by a small voice... seeing the item walked across the table for that first time (even though it was *supposed* to be a Christmas tree and Christmas trees don't walk!) is golden.

    I wish you all the best in your new direction and offer my support -- if you want to vent or share a success, I'm gonna be reading. And I'll offer a little tip that you already know -- keep pinning. When I am absolutely burned out ant at the end of my play rope, there is always a great idea out there on Pinterst!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Karla! I can't wait to see some progress. BTW - when it happens, will you send me a t-shirt?? :)

  2. I'm mostly on board, I think. Maybe I completely agree in principle, but disagree only with your examples. Here's what I mean. . . "most" kids like playing musical instruments. They don't care if they make music. . . they like to "play" them. My oldest daughter would blow noteless raspberries seemingly inexhaustible into my old trumpet for as long as I'd let her. She would bang on drums, she would pound piano keys. . . and it was fun. She had no interest in "learning to play" the piano, or trumpet, or drums. When *I* was a kid I loved playing "football" on the playground, kill-em, mostly, where you gave the kid the ball and everyone tried to tackle him until he pitched the ball to the next kid who everyone would try to tackle and so on. Actually lining up and learning plays, and drilling, and being constrained by the rules. . . made the play less fun.

    But I think what you mean (and say later on) is that she doesn't even know what things might be fun until she sees them first modeled for her. She doesn't know, for example, that pounding on piano keys might be fun because nobody has ever modeled that sort of fun for her before. Forgetting fingerings and foot positions. . . she's not even sure where to pound the keys?

    Because I think MY Lily is sorta there too. One of the things that got our Lily on the spectrum in the first place was the Psychologist's observation of Lily's "play skills". . . ie "none". It's not that she wasn't happy. It's not that she wasn't participating in play. . . it's just that she didn't "initiate" play.

    We told the psychologist, "She plays. . . a little girl came up to her at the softball field and asked Lily to roll the ball to her and she did, and they rolled it back and forth and had a great time."

    The psychologist said, "Did Lily ever initiate play, or did she just roll the ball when prompted by someone else?"

    We were forced to confess that Lily never initiates play. She'll respond. . . but never initiate.

    I don't know how you get a kiddo to INITIATE play. I don't know how you train a child to do that.

    Mostly I think right now we allow her "play" to be the stuff that she finds "fun". . . and if that's the iPad, so be it. It's also books, and even dollies to an extent, and it's all simultaneously sensory stuff. . . she gets playground time at school and at home weather permitting. . .

    Sheesh, where was I going with this comment? Um. . . anyway, I'm concerned that you can teach a child to play, but you can't make it be fun. If the iPad is "fun". . .

    1. You're right, Jim. I can teach her HOW to play (in a way) but I can't make something fun that she just doesn't like. The problem is she'll decide she doesn't like something without every trying it - simply because she doesn't know what to do with it. With your Lily and the ball? My Lily would not know that she is supposed to roll the ball back to the other girl. So I guess I want to show her how to do some of these age-old childhood activities so I can at least maybe ascertain if she doesn't like it, it's because it's not her thing instead of not liking it because she's at a loss as to what to do. Make sense? I'm not even on the road of initiating play - I think we've got a ways to go first.

  3. Haha! Stole your thunder?! I don't think so! Your post is eloquent and full of love. For our kids, the world is different. Opening their world by showing them alternatives to their way does not mean anything has to be given up, in my opinion - just a little bit more balanced. Adding things in that require some work to be fun can make the fun all that much more rewarding. As for the iPad, like anything else in moderation, it can be great. Overindulge and - well, you know... And btw, I want to eat those plays oh cookies you posted too - they look so good!!

    1. Balance is the key, for sure! Because we'll still be using that iPad, I assure you! It's just too much fun. As for the cookies, I'm sure Lily would be right beside you, sampling them! :)

  4. I think you're 100% right, Lana. This is the reason why our kids often have "play therapy," in Early Intervention and even in the schools. People always laugh at me when I tell them my son has that, and some have even had the nerve to make comments about the way their tax dollars are put to work and so on. I just ignore them, because as we all know learning how to play is very, very hard work for a child on the spectrum. And it's also exhausting for us parents to keep these kids occupied all the time! I think your plan to teach her how to play sounds great, but don't feel bad about giving her some electronic time too. You both deserve a few minutes to breath here and there. :) And I agree that you are doing a wonderful job!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Christy! I'm ashamed to admit that before Lily, I wondered exactly why a kid would need play therapy - though I can promise you I NEVER questioned anyone about it! But after Lily? Play therapy makes total sense. And believe me, we will still be using that iPad! :)

  5. You are spot on with this. Some kids have to learn how to play, I know this from experience. Cameron's pretend play in many ways is still almost scripted and stiff feeling but we've come a long way. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent playing dollhouse, Playmobil, and *gulp* even Barbies with him. It's not obvious he's got an older sister, huh?!

    Our biggest breakthroughs have happened with the Fisher Price Loving Family dollhouse, but I think any dollhouse is great. My original intentions were to use it for speech purposes but I quickly realized, it was perfect for social and pretend play.

    I still see no issues with some technology time. Cameron is playing iPad as I write this.

    1. I just guess I kept thinking that natural play would "come along", maybe just be delayed like so many other things are. But I'm discovering that like so many other things, it's going to take some work. I'm starting with some water play because she is SO motivated by water, then I'll move to other stuff.
      And it's funny you mention the dollhouse - I was told today to see if Lily would spontaneously choose a baby doll to play with since she has "learned" it at ABA. They want to see if it's transferred out of the clinic setting and to our house. We'll see....
      And we'll keep using that iPad! It's too much fun for her to take it away completely! And a nice break for me, too!

    2. Sounds like you've got the balance just right ;-) I think Lily WILL learn to play and have fun in time. My boy didn't have to be taught that but he DID have to be taught how to initiate play with others, amongst other things. So hard to have to teach your child something that simple that's so intuitive to other kids. He learned that it was better to simply say 'Hi' or 'Can I play too?' instead of making silly faces and noises at them. All worth it in the end ;-)

      xx Jazzy

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