Special needs mom and Inside Schools blogger Marni Goltsman discusses how her autistic son has gained social confidence through playing games like 'Simon Says'. Goltsman also writes of her hopes for her son's acceptance among his friends despite his social challenges.
My son, Brooks, who has autism, found a new game he likes.
So after dinner, my husband and I now often hear, "Simon says put your hands up in the air." And we enthusiastically raise our arms. "Simon says put your hands on your head." And we put our hands on heads. "Simon says stomp your feet." And we stomp our feet. And then, in his playful, high-pitched voice, he sings: "Simon didn't say-ay!"
He can read chapter books while some of his classmates are still working on identifying letters, but he doesn't understand this simple game that his peers easily mastered long ago. He will understand it in time, with enough support and perseverance (both of which he thankfully has in abundance), but until then, how do we intervene?
This is an especially tricky question in light of his newfound confidence on the playground. Recently, for the first time ever, I watched Brooks play with not one, not two, but three other children. And he was the leader -- he made up this "monster" game which involved running back and forth and then making scary noises to the grown-ups.
This outdoor play date wasn't a complete success, however. "Monster Brooks" wouldn't stop roaring at a little girl because he didn't understand that she was scared, so I had to step in and prompt him to apologize. And when he continually pulled on his new friend's arm, the friend continually pulled away. I stayed out of that one, hoping that they could negotiate it between them, which I guess they did because the boy continued to play with Brooks, and I could see that they were enjoying each other's company.
As I watch my son take these new risks with people his own size, I am humbled by his accomplishments. After all, not so long ago he was a silent 2-year-old who could barely tolerate a single social interaction with any other child, spending his playground hours repetitively kicking a soccer ball around the perimeter.
But I also worry about what happens if the monster game leads to Simon Says. Will his friends start making fun of him? We've been spared that until now, but as he gets older it
certainly gets more likely.
I'm going to try not to worry. I am comforted by the responsible adults around Brooks who
will protect him: They will make sure that typical kids understand that just like them, Brooks has
a combination of strengths and challenges. And I will trust that my son's budding social confidence will continue to grow and finally start sprouting friendships.
And maybe when he plays Simon Says with those true friends, they won't focus on whether or not he understands the game. Like my husband and me, maybe they'll be charmed by the sheer joy he experiences and shares when he plays it in his own silly, quirky, wonderful way.
And maybe, just maybe, one of his new friends will be able to teach him how to play the game properly. And maybe he'll reciprocate by helping that friend read longer stories. Wouldn't that
Marni Goltsman, web producer at the Paley Center and blogger at Insideschools.org, is currently writing a full-length play based on her experiences with autism.
Insideschools.org, a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, features independent reviews of all NYC public schools, plus timely information on admissions and other education policies important to all families. Check out the website for the latest news on public schools, go to the News & Views section to read more posts by Marni, and be sure to click on the Special Education tab for even more valuable advice and resources.
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