Play is something that we all need to indulge in, particularly when we are children. Play is how children learn about their world. It is also something that our friends on the autistic spectrum may not know how to do intuitively. Sometimes, play must be taught.
When your child is first diagnosed there is often a flurry of trying to get him/her into the right classes, therapies, feeding clinics, etc. These are all necessary things but sometimes we over schedule our kids and forget that they need time just to be kids. I am just as guilty of this as the next mom. I clearly remember the summer that Boo was five. He was is summer school, horseback riding, friendship classes, OT, and speech. I think I spent all summer in the car driving him from one appointment to the next. There is such pressure on parents to get in all the therapy that we can when our kids are little and the brains are still plastic. I was told over and over again that if Boo did not start speaking before the age of five he would never speak at all. Granted, this was 2007. Talking to one of his PCAs recently, who is also a SLP, she was horrified that a specialist would tell me this. For one thing, the information is wrong and another thing it made me feel horrifically guilty when Boo did not begin speaking that I had just not tried hard enough. Maybe it is easier for kids to gain speech if it happens before age five, but that is not a hard and fast deadline. Kids develop and speak, or don’t speak, at their own rate. Anyway, back to the summer of 2007. I had Boo in every therapy under the sun and it was just too much. By August he was fried and so was I. We went to my parent’s 40th anniversary out of town and had a week off. It was only when we were out from under that I realized the pressure that we both were under. Ultimately, it was just not worth it. I think ESY (extended school year) is a great thing because it keeps our kids current on the skills they fought so hard to learn during the school year. But, ESY is also a lot of fun. The kids play outside, swim, cook, attend music classes, and work on their IEP goals. It is a nice mix. If there is another activity that your child likes to do after school I would recommend that as well, but please don’t over burden him/her. Children, like all of us, need time just to chill, to relax, to play.
At this point Boo has a nice summer schedule. He attends ESY from 8-2 and then spends several hours hanging out with his PCAs and sometimes other kids. They ride the light rail, go to the mall, go to the zoo or go to the beach. They learn how to interact with the community. One of our lovely PCAs has a brother who is the same age as Boo and is also on the spectrum. Alyssa decided to take them bowling one Saturday evening. Judging from the pictures that she texted me all concerned had a wonderful time. It hit me that this was so incredibly right. Here is was, a Saturday night, and my teenage son was out bowling with a peer. He was grinning ear to ear. This is what a neurotypical teen might be doing on a Friday night, hanging out with a friend. This was a first for Boo. I nearly wept for joy and thanked Alyssa profusely. She said that there were many dates to come and both the boys had a wonderful time.
In the rush to get all the possible services we can for our kids we forget one important fact: they are kids first. Yes, they are on the spectrum, but they are kids first. And, like all kids, they deserve to hang out with their peers and do fun stuff, like go bowling or to the beach. Childhood is fleeting, kids grow up fast. I want Boo to have good memories of going to the zoo or the beach with friends, not being hauled from one therapist’s office to the next. In a sense, childhood is sacred. My child needs services to help him grow and develop but he also needs time just to be, to chill, to hang out with friends. My goal for him this summer is to honor this time.