It’s funny how what we view as ‘enjoyable’ or ‘fun’ is essentially just defined by our own idea of happiness. When I was a child, I loved playing on the all the equipment and meeting new children. This made me happy. When Tom was 2-4 years of age, his idea of fun at the playground was to drive his trains around the concrete kerbing of the playground. He wouldn’t interact with other kids much or even play on the equipment most times. He was just happy driving his trains around the kerbing in his own little world. Initially, this made me so sad. He looked alone and seemed to be missing the whole idea of coming to the park – to play with others! But is there only one way to have fun? I’ve learnt though that there are many ways to be ‘happy’ and that I should not expect my boys to necessarily find joy and happiness in the same things I do.
Tom loves organising his mini-figures in his room and creating complex scenes with them. He likes to do this alone, in quiet and with his door shut. He also loves riding his scooter and doing laps of our neighbourhood block, timing himself. He also loves ice packs but isn’t big on affection. James loves video games, tanks, pirates, chewing gum and ice. He likes to cosy up beside you on the couch for a ‘smooch’ and he loves a soak in the bath. Both boys love the water! Some of their likes are a bit left of centre and not for everyone (including me!) but these are things that make them happy … and that’s OK!
So what’s my point in all of this? In my job, I’m so often told that it’s concerning that an ASD child won’t join the other kids in the yard at play time – that they would rather read a book or go to the library. Some parents and teachers are almost insistent that children should be in the playground because that’s “normal” and that’s what every child should be doing. This is wrong!
Many ASD children find lunch times very overwhelming – so many noises, so much movement, all the smells from the various lunch boxes and the huge social demands that come with ‘free’ time. I would argue that whilst it makes some kids ‘happy’ to run about and play with others, that many other children would prefer to have ‘time out’ from all of that. They need to quieten down, spend some time pursuing their interests and regulate themselves. Some children desperately need to go outside, run, play and burn off some energy. Other children have absolutely no energy left by lunch time and need some quiet time to hit the re-set button and re-energise. It is just not appropriate to always apply our own “happiness” filter to circumstances and situations with our kids.
You know how we always teach our kids in classrooms that we all need different things to learn – some kids need glasses, others need sensory tools, some need visuals and some need laptops? Well happiness is no different. We all require different things to be “happy” and that’s OK! The challenge for us all is to remember to take off our own “happiness” filters and let our kids find their own joys in their daily lives.