I used to dread meeting new therapists. The dread came for a number of reasons but mostly because I knew a certain question was bound to come up.
"So, what kind of things does Oliver like to do? What are his interests?"
I knew, of course, that he or she was looking for an "in" -- a way to engage my boy, to motivate him to want to participate in the session. Let's just forget for a moment that I always kind of thought it was absolutely absurd to imagine that one person could "motivate" another to do anything. Encourage, yes. Interest, yes. Motivate? I don't think so. But that's beside the point, really.
I disliked the question so much because until recently it was so very difficult to answer. Communication has opened up a world of knowing my son that wasn't possible based solely on observation., interaction and doing. And I suppose that's what this post is all about -- how we cannot ever truly know what another person is thinking, feeling and imagining unless they are able to tell us.
But previously, if asked, I would have said that biking and hiking, were among his favorite things to do. Those were safe bets but hardly transportable to the therapy room. And the other thing he likes? The water play? Well, let's just say that if you ever decide that you want to vary Oliver's water play in some kind of unpredictable and disruptive fashion? You will be the loser.
I used to worry a lot about Oliver's unusual relationship to the water. For a time I even saw water as the enemy. After awhile though I just came to accept that this is a non-negotiable part of my boy. In RDI we talked a lot about static vs. dynamic, with the idea that the more time a person spent engaged in an activity that was unchanging and repetitive by nature the less time he had available to engage in the dynamic world around him. I agree with the idea that there is much to be learned from navigating dynamic situations, especially social ones, but I have come to question the idea of labeling another person's interests as static even if it might seem highly repetitive to the untrained, unautistic eye. How can we really know what is capturing another person's interest or imagination, especially when that other person is non-speaking? And what gives us the right to make that judgement?
I've linked before to Barb Rentenbach's book: I Might Be You. Have you read it yet? You must read this book! She writes about experiencing the sensory world in a way that sounds magical, beautiful and multi-dimensional. After reading her descriptions of color and light I began to watch Oliver interact with the water in a new way and wonder what kind of experience he was creating for himself. If water and air were paint and canvas, I suspect we would call it art. I will probably never know but opening my mind to acceptance and understanding has helped me see the beauty in my son fully engaged in something he loves. That right there is worth the price of learning to shift my perspective.
Oliver had a birthday a few weeks back and this video was my gift to him. He's a hard guy to buy for but he loves a home video! It's home is on the desktop of our computer and he watches it whenever we can't get to the water. It's a poor substitute, I think!