One of the biggest challenges we have right now is finding ways to keep Oliver engaged. There are few things that will really hold his attention. On a good day we can keep him focused on an activity for about five minutes. Left to his own devices Oliver will cruise around the house, moving from place to place and not really focusing on anything for more than a minute. It gets worse when he is really tired. Knowing that this is a problem, each of us takes a turn at playing with him during the day and evening. Sometimes this means one minute of puzzle-making and 30 seconds of catching him and trying to re-engage him to put in another piece. I feel bad sometimes because I catch myself thinking what a lot of work it can be and then I have to redirect myself to remember that it must be a whole lot more work for the little guy.
And then there are the self-stimulating activities. I mentioned before that one of Oliver's stims is to interact with his own reflection. Another one is to run around the perimeter of the playroom, or between two rooms, while shaking his head from side to side as if he were vehemently saying no to something the rest of us aren't privy to. Another are what I call hand puppets -- when he puts his hands right up to his face and watches very intently as he moves his fingers into shapes. I have to admit that the stims drive me crazy. It isn't that they bother anyone, particularly, but rather that I can't help but think that he just shouldn't be doing it. He should be doing something constructive. Something social. Something developmentally appropriate. I see him doing these things and I think that I'm not working hard enough to engage him so that he won't need to.
But lately I've come to realize that to completely cut Oliver off from his stims will both drive me to exhaustion and will send him the wrong message. Although I don't completely understand it, I know that he enjoys these activities, takes comfort in them, because he needs the sensory input that they provide. One day, perhaps, we will find a way for him to get the same experience in a more appropriate way but until then I suppose I have to find a way to think about them in a positive way more often.
Another thought I had was to see if I could make the stims into a social activity. At first this might sound peculiar, but I thought that it would at least be a way to meet him in the middle. The first one I tackled was the reflection-gazing. Last night I hung a large carnival mirror in the playroom hoping that we can all spend time being silly in front of the mirror with Oliver. He showed about 30 seconds of interest last night but today I saw him start to make the mirror a stop on his cruising rounds of the house. It always takes him a while to warm up to new things so it is too soon to tell if my plan will be effective. At the very least, Sam seems to like it and the bottom corner of it is now adorned with his slobber.
Now about the head shaking and the hand puppets I don't know. One thing at a time, I guess.