Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Recklessly Driving to Central Office

Last night I witnessed this very fun scene:

So after learning about Joaquin’s brand new motivation for traffic tickets, I thought of a game that involved the stamps he’s loving so much to create a traffic ticket template to give him tickets, and then charge him for them in “eye contact dollars” (an idea I read this week in Tali Field Berman’s book “Play to Grow”). I was planning to prepare the game and play it at the Magic Room, but attitude trouble hit me a bit today and the game ended up happening in a funny spontaneous way out of the playroom.

GOAL: Sustained eye contact
MOTIVATIONS: Traffic tickets, stamping, new props and “jobs”.

Joaquin takes over my ticket book, fills out all my pre-made ticket templates, and decides to make his own.
He is very motivated by stamping with these new tools. I knew he would want to stamp his own templates for the ticket book, and I loved the idea of showing him one new thing he could do with these in addition to the street signs he’s been making for the last three days.
189 eye contact dollars!, he excitedly shares with me, not yet knowing what it means to pay with eye contact dollars, he he!
Joaquin’s rate chart. He keeps increasing the amount of eye contact dollars charged with his traffic tickets. I’m laughing inside bubbling with curiosity about whether he’ll actually pay one of these.
Pure excitement. Meanwhile, I’m baking myself chunky nutty blueberry muffins. Evaluating possible reasons for my grumpiness, I decided to give myself a cozy afternoon.
Knock knock!… I introduce “Central Office”, the place where he must pay for his traffic tickets. The cardboard prop is a puppet theater I had started making back on July 4th and hadn’t finished. What a great opportunity to put it to use now!
After I play the role of the Central Office person receiving his tickets, payment, and then stamping the ticket paid, he decides that he wants to be Central Office and takes a seat behind the window. Compulsive chewing started while he was paying for his first ticket with eye contact. Interesting!
He actually pays a ticket for 80 eye contact dollars (revealing to me how much of a challenge it is for him to sustain a look; one second and he’ll look away. The longest I get to count at one time is five seconds). His restlessness is expressed in constant movement and even holding his breath (as if under water). So I join him holding my nose while counting and looking at his eyes, to tell him I’m with him, patiently and lovingly appreciating every second he looks at my eyes—and also when he needs to look away.

. . . . .

Surprisingly he wanted to repeat the experience three or four more times. I was not doing committed play time and we were not in the playroom, so he actually initiated this every time, and when asked if he wants to play this again tomorrow, he answered yes.


I’m honing my skills and intuition as a Happy Detective. It’s fun to be so aware of Joaquin’s every move and be able to offer him ongoing new experiences that he is so ready and excited to take while feeling very intentional on my part. He’s open like a sponge right now and I’m directing this program in a more intense way than I have before.

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