10 year old Q has freckles across the bridge of his nose. He’s tall for his age. People think he’s older.
He’s a “sensory seeker” and will press his body into tight spaces, walls, curved surfaces and into you. Last week, he was standing on something I was leaning against and suddenly, all 100+ pounds of him was standing on my shoulders.
He’s got a blissful sense of adventure and we get the chance to be part of it almost every week.
Q starts sessions with a “staff meeting.” Calling the meeting to order by pointing his Nerf sword, we discuss how the afternoon should proceed.
Yesterday, it was decided that one teen volunteer and two staff members would compete in a “cage match fight” while he, the fight commissioner, would ride around on his horse and tell us the rules.
“To the costume room with you!” He shouted. We marched to the room where we hold the riding helmets, the books and toys, and the ever important costume bins.
Holding costume elements up to Q, we asked him if he’d like to don a knight’s cape.
“Put it on that one.” He gestured to one of us.
While we found a riding helmet that would fit him, he outfitted us with Hawaiian leis, ballet tutus, a wizard hat, a grass skirt, a halloween table cloth that was to be worn either as a “cape or a turban.”
“This is the humiliation phase.” He told us. “I will humiliate you with these stupid costumes so that you will be angry enough to have a real fight.”
“Choose your weapons!” He proclaimed.
Becca snatched a book from the bookshelf. “My weapon is LITERATURE and KNOWLEDGE!”
I grabbed a paint roller on a 6’ extension arm. “My weapon is ART!”
Our teen volunteer has only been here a couple of times. She’s a brainy kid that just wants to be around horses. She was taking it all in as best she could.
“You need a weapon!” the commissioner told her.
She came out with an action figure and held it up.
Q looked at her, blinked twice and ordered her back to the costume closet. “Try again!”
Uncertain of what she’d done wrong, she looked at us – adults wearing grass skirts and wizard hats holding books and paint rollers. She almost panicked. We really are a strange bunch around here.
She came out holding a giant orange inflatable ball with a handle.
“Her weapon is PLAY – the power of PLAY!” we intoned.
The commissioner was pleased and the teen was relieved that she’d not failed a second time. This kid is going to go places in life – she’s super cool.
We put Q on his trusty horse and proceeded to the the battle ground (aka- the arena). From his horse walking circles around us, he ordered us to “fight, but don’t kill and no hitting in the head. Well, maybe in the head, but you have to be gentle about it.”
PLAY versus KNOWLEDGE went first. It was a good battle with PLAY swinging the giant orange ball wildly while KNOWLEDGE spun around spouting facts. Every minute or so, Q, the fight commissioner would demand that the fighters FREEZE and he would bestow a new rule.
“New Rule” is a common theme we invoke around here. By giving the child the power to direct, he learns how rules affect outcomes, level or skew the game. In psychologist jargon, we are presenting “Theory of Mind.” Without an understanding that others experience the world differently than you might, communication is difficult and isolation is crippling. Traditionally rules get taught by rules being imposed on a student. With autism, this rarely works and can cause the child to shut down – because it feels oppressive, because it triggers anxiety. Here, the autist sets and enforces the rules. The outcome is effective and refreshing for everyone.
The game went on and sometimes ART would prevail, but the showdown continued to be PLAY vs KNOWLEDGE. Eventually, both players were physically exhausted and, against the wishes of the commissioner, who, atop his horse continued to direct the battle – decided that they should make a pact – that PLAY without KNOWLEDGE got obnoxious and that KNOWLEDGE without PLAY was just boring.
Q recognized that his fighters were tired and decided that the final winner would be decided by one round of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
The girls laid down their weapons and squared off.
Round one; both rock. A tie.
Round two; both paper. Another tie.
Round three; both rock again! Tension mounted.
Round four; PLAY wins with a scissors on KNOWLEDGE’S paper!
There was dancing and celebration.
Q swung one leg over the horse sitting side saddle, placed his sword upon his lap. “Do you know who the supreme monarch of the hive is?”
“Of the hive?” Becca quipped “Well, that would be the queen bee – right?”
“Well, the queen is important, but you don’t know anything about Beezus…..”
Follow the child. Enjoy the adventure. Your life will be richer for it.