Monday, December 19, 2011

Copy Cat

     "Copy Cat!"  I remember the taunt well from grade school.  It was used with highest disdain.  But really, we all start out as copy cats.  It is what children do as they learn and grow, from infancy on.  Think about Peek-A-Boo and Simon Says, both eternally popular children's games.  For the typical kid, that is.  Atypical kids, kids on the autism spectrum, kids like mine, often they can't do it.  Alex would never play Peek-a-boo.  Believe me, I tried.  Every time he freaked out, and tried to hide or get away.  This is one of those red flags.  He never copied either.  I would show him something to try and get him to look, to copy a simple eye gaze, and he would turn aside.  If I went so far to move his head so he could see something cool, he would look down.  If I tried to get him to copy a movement, it would be time for battle.  It is nearly impossible to make someone copy you, this I know from experience.
     Typical kids love to copy.  They will copy and copy all day long.  That is how kindergarten and first grade work.  Of course it is not perfect for every child, or every day, but the majority of time little kids are happy and excited to try something new.  Not my kid.  No wonder he needed a 1:1 person to guide him.  It is not that he was mean about it, it just made no sense to him and did not feel good to do.  He had no "automatic copy" in his programming, and while the other kids were copying he was coming up with something else to do.  Something super easy and comfie, like rocking back and forth, or spinning in circles, or flapping his hands.
      Babies start copying their family very early.  From eye gaze, to noises, to grabbing things, to "Soooo big".  My son did none of that.  He also did not show any interest in things just because someone else was interested.  Interest was more of a repellent.  Conditions had to be perfect for him to show interest.  He needed something familiar, presented by someone super safe, in a very mellow manner.  Newness was a repellent too.  He did not open up a new present on his own until he was about five, maybe even six.  We used to have stand-ins open presents for him on his birthday.  Overall he was a real trooper through many of the rites of childhood.  Things most kids grooved on he just endured.  Birthday parties, organized games, pre-school, carnivals, play dates, kids activity day at the Nature Center.  He did those things simply because we wanted him to, not because they were fun for him.  Zero to eight is a lot of years of not copying anyone.  And it makes it almost impossible to navigate the social world.
     The social world when one is small is all about copying.  Moving from doing your own thing next to another kid (aka Parallel Play),  to actually interacting with other kids and directly copying them is a huge play milestone.  That is where the social world really takes off, and it usually happens in preschool, from age 3-5.  The little kids start to copy each other, and then the bigger kids, who copied the bigger kids ahead of them.  This is how certain things live in the preschools and grade schools, independent of anything else.  The same jokes you heard in preschool are still there, and it is not because the teachers or parents promote them, they are alive and well on their own.  In grade school games live on the playground, no one is teaching the kids to act like a dog and play puppy school.   They get it from older kids, or they get it from each other in a shared consciousness second grade developmental leap.  And it evolves.  I have watched the games the second graders are playing this year on their own get more and more complex.  They copy intricate movements and rules, and then they initiate changes and modifications, present them to the group, and see if they take.  If they take, then the group recopies the new trend.  It is a mini-version of the fashion industry, or the gaming industry, or even scientific research.  In a way we spend our whole lives in society copying what has gone before, choosing to keep what we like, and change what we don't.  Copy and initiate, and copy and initiate some more.  Someone who can't copy is destined to be out of the loop, and it is doubtful that they could be savvy enough to create their own loop.   They just end up alone.
     So, copying is big stuff.  Huge.  And we have been out of the loop.  We, being my son and his fan base.  We make the best of being alone much of the time, and he really does not seem to mind, but we have also been working the last few years to make in roads to the ability to copy, and initiations as well.  I have forced him to play "copy me" games.  We sent him to school to be with typical peers, and have encouraged interaction on all levels.  He has been constantly prompted to use his words and express himself with the adults that guide him in life. This last summer we sent him to camp with the main purpose of helping him to learn to initiate conversation and games with young peers.  He has been through four sessions of Stage Play Theater to learn the lingo of professional copying and how to be a beginning actor/ copier.  And he has been getting it, a tiny bit at a time.  A bright spot here, an initiated conversation there.  A request for something he wants, but has a hard time asking for.  An expression of an emotion without prompting.  Games played with kids at school on the playground without intervention.  He is the tag master.  He is trying hard.  He still can't ask a kid to play a game in class that involves language, or hold a kid conversation, but he is trying and learning.
     And tonight, something that prompted this entire ramble about copying.  As he was getting last snuggles before bed I tapped a four beat on his little butt.  He laughed and copied it on the bed.  I made another beat, and he copied that too.  Four more and he copied them all.  Then I said, "Your turn" and he initiated beats for me to copy.  And more, and more.  We went on for several minutes.  Or maybe only two, but it felt like ten.  Such a small thing, but really so huge.  After years of trying, and giving up, trying again and learning how to prompt.  Being aware of the deficits and trying new ways to approach them.  Prompting again and prompting some more.  Finally a truly spontaneous copycat session, hopefully a marker of a door that is opening without my noticing it before.  Perhaps it was a Christmas Miracle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What the Heck

What the heck should I write about in my Christmas letter?  There are so many options to choose from.  Should I write about everything that has happened in the last year, boring people to death and taking up four pages?  Oh, that would be a problem because I didn't write a letter in '10 so I would have to do Two years and Eight pages.  How about a short and funny poem that encapsulates the whole family?  No, I am just no that talented.  How about writing about the day I write the letter, doing a snapshot of life in our household.  Hmmm, possibly but I can't be sure.  Then there is the question of the tone of the letter.  Light and fluffy, deep and serious, cynical and crass?  Or really confuse them and do some of each.  How about gratitudes?  Gratitudes for hearing returned, learning continued, new jobs, or new wood stoves?  What about horn tooting our collective horns.  There could be business updates, a blerb on volunteer work teaching a financial class, 1000 words about North Shore Community School, or all the hard work our son has done just growing up.  There could also be building project updates, pet updates, and garden updates.  Oh so many options...  I think this year I will go for humor.  The rest can wait.