I think I can forgive myself for not writing for 4 months. Those last couple posts, in the midst of having a tiny baby and an autistic kid, remind me that it has gotten easier now. Even as I long for the next year when it will, I think, get easier. Even as I adore my baby’s tiny chubby baby arms and wildly infectious smile, a smile that comes so simply, with just eye contact, just a silly noise.
I still have many days where I feel like I’m the dry grass prairie and my children are the fire, ripping through everything I have. But I have fully embraced the double stroller, the fact that my daughter only watches movies about video games, and we can enjoy it now more and more. Plus, the baby will sit in the double stroller with her sometimes and giggle at his sister. Plus, they play together. The magic.
The other day, my daughter used the word “Anyway” as a transition in the story she was telling me. She used it appropriately: she digressed a bit and then came back to her main point with “anyway.” It still felt a bit scripted, I could hear the youtube gamers in her voice, but that’s okay. We both enjoy the scripting, and she enfolds these words and phrases with her own in ways that empower her. The language becomes her own, but also remains scripted in a joyful way. She laughs at the phrases and laughs at using them in surprising contexts. I can use them to help her understand something new. Scripting helps make the world more accessible.
We’ve moved (also a very good reason to forgive myself for not writing) and I’ve connected with several homeschooling families, most of whom limit screen time. It makes it difficult to have a conversation. Things like staying up late, picky eating, not being able to hear me talking–when I try to talk openly about my daughter’s challenges with other parents who limit screen time, they blame the screen. But her “anyway” brought me back. It reminded me how unschooling has opened up worlds for us. No limits on screens means she has developed her own passion (or “special interest” in the autism world), that she follows it almost without limits (except needing to sleep and get outside sometimes), that we CARE about it too and we, as parents, SHARE her exploration.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be with grandparents or anyone else who wants to interact with my daughter but wants to be a “good influence” by pushing her away from screens. The number one thing she wants to share with anyone, to connect and build her relationship, is video games. So when they push her away and push her away–suggest something else and distract–I see almost visibly the emotional split between that person and my daughter. Grandma’s won’t understand the games she plays at the park if they don’t know anything about her favorite video game, because when she’s at the top of the playground she’s Bowser, when she’s racing she’s Rosalina and you are Princess Peach. When people push her away from her games, they communicate that they are not interested in her, and she becomes less interested in them. Instead, when my husband and I have time to play with her, watch with her, and facilitate her exploration, whole worlds of language and learning open up.
Our biggest learning process lately has been emotional frustration, which is huge with autism! And we are working on it every day. Mainly because I don’t like video games almost at all, and I don’t play them well. But she wants me to play with her, and then she gets frustrated with me.
With the baby and the move, she’s been hitting too much. And from the outside it might look like the games are causing the hitting, but I think the games are a safe space to have these emotions. They are also a safe space to work through them. At the library, she wanted to check out the Hands are Not for Hitting Book. I was going to put it back because she doesn’t like social stories and lectures, but she requested it and requests to read it. She knows we’re working on this. Like another autism mom suggested to me, rather than a lecture about what “not” to do that book gives you ideas of something else to do with your hands. Something simple, concrete, and accessible when frustration has your senses and physical control and words in a scramble.
We’ve also been drawing amazing drawings about how we feel. For weeks she would yell at me for making mistakes in her video game, and I would try to explain that I was trying my best. My words had no effect, and I was getting similarly frustrated. Then we somehow came up with drawing how we feel.
The visuals help her understand instantly. It doesn’t cure her frustration, but it’s calming, she loves it, and it helps. We go back and keep the drawings with us as we play, inspiring us to cooperate a little more smoothly every day.