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

Inspiring Deeper Interaction

Joaquin currently has a couple of games involving taking turns in the closet. Today I watched him play with Taylor, and had some thoughts on how to deepen the social aspect of this activity, and build greater motivation towards fun interaction.

In a nutshell, I think the structure of this game (numerous predictable loops doing something, and then showing it and discussing it with the other) is perfect to pursue fun variations in search for “gold” (i.e. Joaquin’s laughter).

With each loop, we could explore new actions and responses, which could deepen Joaquin’s motivation towards us and the interaction. Let’s remember that when he is having fun in an interaction and relaxes in it, his brain’s learning switch is ON, perceiving all kinds of new things, creating new neural pathways and connections, and he finds himself practicing new social skills without the feeling of challenge. Laughing brains are absorbing brains; I’ve seen it again and again.

It’s easier to brainstorm ideas when you’re watching somebody else play, so today, watching Kiki and Taylor, I thought that in this situation any of us could seek playful variations (and potentially strike gold) in any or all of these aspects:

The way how we hide

It doesn’t always have to be in the closet (unless Joaquin is controlling about this). We could have fun finding a new way to hide every time that it’s Joaquin’s turn to do his numbers. Also, we could ask him to hide in different ways too. If he needs help, we could give him vague ideas like “hide behind a wall” or “cover yourself with the balls” and see what he does. He could crack us up!… We could crack up, while attempting the same feat…

What we do while waiting in the closet

I loved Taylor’s made-up song about her dreaming of being animals. It was very unpredictable and fresh not just because of the fun lyrics (tigers, and crocs are animals of interest for Joaquin), but because of the unpredictable “musicality”… It sounded like a story with a few musical notes, clearly different than what Joaquin is used to experience coming out of the closet.

At Team Meeting I also suggested ideas different than singing, like acting like someone farted in the closet, or a bee is attacking you… staging a funny situation that Joaquin may find motivating and may come to see what’s up… or just giggle at the craft table.

Staying in the closet… or not

How about sneaking out of the waiting space hidden behind pillows, crawling backwards, or in some other ridiculous way. He loves mischief, and after a few loops, he could start to eagerly anticipate what you’ll come up with this time.

Our responses to his product

Notice how interested he is in our responses, that even with the urgency to go to the bathroom, he couldn’t wait to tell Taylor that he had written number 333 (a number he knew she wouldn’t like). Taylor’s response was his payoff: “WHAT!?” acknowledging his mischief.

Now, let’s use these loops to vary our responses. In this case, numbers don’t have to be evaluated only on whether we like them or not according to what we’ve told him about our favorite numbers. Some numbers could make us laugh, some could surprise us, some could look suspicious, some could remind us of a story, etc. We could have a completely different story and elaborated opinion about each number Joaquin presents to us.

He adores funny responses, and we have so many tries at finding 1, 2, or 3 that he finds interesting. In this video, I clearly see that more than making the numbers, what he’s interested in is checking our opinion. He asks Taylor whether she likes the numbers, and anticipates why she will or won’t.

Our product

When it is our time to do the thing to show, we could pursue related variation in order to give Joaquin new differences to perceive. We could stamp or write the numbers normally, then in surprising ways (scratched through, flipped to the left, on top of each other, vertically, with ornaments in between, they could be left across the room (not just on the table), we could paste them in a surprise spot… Every time he goes out of the closet, he could find a new surprising way to find the numbers. You will know you’ve found motivating and brain-enriching variations when you see him imitating you.

Our responses when he peeks

Rather than always reminding him not to peek, how about moving to a different spot and surprising him when he peeks out. Or attacking him with tickles, or turning into a bee, etc…

In conclusion…

The way Joaquin acts on this video shows he is available for deeper interaction. He never gets exclusive, he doesn’t seem controlling, he initiates a lot, and even while doing his number work, notice how quickly he leaves it and goes to Taylor when she starts singing “Puff the Magic Dragon”. All through this session, I saw a flashing green light to turn up the silliness, have fun with variation, and flex your child muscle becoming a social magnet.

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