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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Just Chill Out

Right now, somewhere out there a Mom or Dad is desperately trying to redirect their ASD child from a burdensome fixation or obsession.  They may be at their rope's end trying to curb that obsession and break through to that mystical, elusive land of "typical play" or "age-appropriate interests".

I want to share a story.  I share this story not as a therapist, doctor or expert in the field.  I share this story as a Dad who has been there.  I share this story as a Dad who has made mistakes and spends every waking minute of every day searching for the right answers.  I share this story with full confidence that many will disagree.

There once was a boy.  Let's call him, "Eric".  Eric was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2.5 and, like most kids on the Spectrum developed limited and deeply intense interests.  Eric became fascinated (fixated, obsessed) at a very young age with Sesame Street characters. 

By the time Eric was 4 or 5, his Daddy started to become seriously concerned with his fixations.  Terms like "age-appropriate" and "typical imaginative play" were Googled regularly.  Eric's Daddy started to grow desperate to break his fixations.  Eric's Daddy started making mistakes that caused pain for Eric and had no success in curbing these fixations:  Mistakes like hiding Eric's favorite toys and becoming angry with his son for not playing typically. 

Then Eric's Daddy had a break-through and decided to try a new strategy:  Just Chill Out.  

Eric's Daddy decided that "age-appropriate" was over rated and "typical play" was an elusive, nebulous concept that only served to add tension and anxiety to his family.  Eric's Daddy decided to accept his son's quirky fascinations rather than attack them.

Well-meaning friends, family and experts quietly questioned this strategy.  Hell, Eric's Daddy regularly questioned this strategy.  But they plowed on... Just Chilling Out.

Eric's interest slowly began to expand to other animated characters.  But "typical play" remained elusive as Eric's preferred activity remained lining up his favorite characters, inspecting them, and stimming on them.  Eric's Daddy now questioned the wisdom of not nipping these fascinations in the bud early on.  It wasn't easy, but he kept on Just Chilling Out. 

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Eric began to show signs of imaginative play.  Stimming sessions began to morph into detailed models of favorite scenes.

Soon, Eric began to incorporate dialogue into his models and they grew into complete re-enactments.  His style of play expanded to what any expert would recognize as "imaginative" and "typical".  

Then something even cooler happened.  Eric started to deviate from the scripted re-enactments of the scenes and pursue his own narratives, incorporating and intermingling different characters in a way that was unmistakably "imaginative."  

Finally, Eric began asking his Daddy to join him in his play.  He began seeking out creative ways to expand his play using props and craftsmanship that blew his Daddy away.

That's where Eric, now turning 10, and his Daddy are today.  Having fun, imagining and learning from each other... and continuing to Just Chill Out.  

To be continued...


  1. Eric's daddy sounds pretty smart :)

  2. I love this Eric sounds just like my son, hoping he progresses like Eric did��

  3. Dear Eric's Daddy,
    This story sounds so familiar that it makes me teary-eyed. I came to the same conclusion: just. chill. out. My addition is "follow his lead". And that's made for a happier little bear and a happier mommy.
    My son seems to be on the same trajectory - he's fixated on Pixar characters and uses them and their scripted lines to express his thoughts and feelings. Within the last month he's been using Nemo in imaginative play and going "off script". Nemo even has his own voice. Thanks so much for sharing your story and techniques. :) Peace and love to you and your little guy.

  4. Well done Eric's Dad! I wish ALL parents would learn to "chill out" and let the children play. Great read! –Concretin Nik