We moved to a new place back in February of this year. Much like anyone would expect, this meant going through all of the old belongings to sortout what was coming with us, and what we could donate to Salvation Army. In the process we got to go through all of the kids’ toys, and clear out the ones with dust on them.
That is the moment the magic happened! Monkey, reacquired a prized possession of his youth – his Leap Frog Scribble and Write!
This was the very toy that we used through most of his childhood. I say used instead of played with, because it was a tool for Monkey to spell virtually anything and everything that we came across. We spelled out signs, objects, names- Basically, if he could point at it, his brother and I spelled it! It would be the same words over and over again, for days and days. Then we would move on the next set of curious objects and logos that Monkey came across. It got to the point where his little brother and I would spell just as many words as we spoke in the day. This had his little brother kicking butt on the first day of school. Teachers thought he did one of those early reading programs. When asked about it, I replied “No, we just got him an autistic brother.”— And then the teacher stood there feeling very uncomfortable about what to say next- good times 🙂
Then one day- Monkey lost interest in the toy.
This cheap Leap Frog toy was never used for communication, or expression. Monkey simply found it fascinating to know how things were spelled. There was never any purpose behind the motive. This all started with an ESPN Tee Ball set that his little brother had. One day he noticed ESPN on the TV, right after seeing the same letters on the tee ball set. That’s when it all clicked. For him, it was the first time that Monkey seemed to notice that words and letters were a thing. Those lines on screens, buildings, and signs- they all meant something!
I attempted to make it a tool for communicating needs and wants, and even potty training back then. However, Monkey had no interests in such things as communication. Not when he could point and drag people around the house by their finger. Between home and his school, we collectively tried everything, and communication just wasn’t going to expand beyond pointing, and physical direction.
Eventually he lost interest in not just the toy, but spelling altogether. Which means his brother and I slowly quit spelling everything we came across. In the end, Monkey’s communication, despite efforts to teach him new methods, remained an unopened box of possibilities.
The lack of any sort of communication, or sense of being able to kid around with my son, has always bothered me. When your child resists and prevents literally any form of communication, or thought sharing- it creates this awkward gap in the relationship as a parent. Moments of closeness or bonding are limited to brief moments of eye contact, and half smiles. I enjoy these moments, and basically take what I can get. It doesn’t change that this kind of relationship with your child always leaves you yearning for a just that little bit more. A couple of weeks ago, I was used to this being as good as it gets, regarding that part of Monkey’s relationship with his family.
Maybe the years of accepting this reality is what makes the changes this past couple weeks so sweet to experience.
Since this is real life- and not a movie. The decision to keep his Scribble and Write wasn’t prophetic any more than it was significant during the move. I decided to keep that particular toy out of the donation pile, because it’s one of those special objects from my kids’ childhood. I certainly didn’t think it was going to be used again. It was more of a fixture that made Monkey’s room complete.
So there it sat on my son’s book shelf, from February until a couple weeks ago. It got moved for dusting, and picked up a couple times during a tantrum or two, but mainly, the toy was a piece of his room’s decor. That’s the purpose it seemed to serve, until-
Monkey wanted batteries. He approached me midday with the lifeless toy in his hand as if he wanted to play with it. I figured, fine, and got the batteries put in, and sent him on his way. However, he didn’t walk away to ignore me and hide in his corner of the house. Instead, he stood next to me, and showed me just how many words he remembers how to spell from all those years ago. Furthermore, he began showing me just how many new words he has learned how to use. This time, he is using this toy to actually ask for things.
That means he is communicating!
Over the past two weeks I have been experiencing the first, and ONLY, experiences I’ve ever had with talking to my 14 year old son!! And- it’s been amazing.
Apparently he took to spelling on a text to speech device at school this year. This has never happened before, and is attempted each school year as a sort of ritual. A ritual in which, the outcome would inevitably be that it was more productive to work on life skills that don’t involve such direct communication.
Apparently, this year is going to be different. So much so, that Monkey decided he wanted to use his Leap Frog toy to talk to us at home. This time around we aren’t just spelling signs, and naming objects. He is suddenly asking for things, and communicating things he likes. So far, this has involved mostly– pizza and his favorite books.
The massive difference that makes this feel so different, is that he is leading the way on what gets said, so to speak. He isn’t pointing at something, then waiting to hear us spell it, only to repeat it back. Now he is spelling two and three word descriptions, and making unique request for food, or to go to the park. He’s even begun using this cheap old toy to argue when he wants something.
What does all of this mean?
For me, I finally get to talk with my son on some level. He’s even making jokes. Granted they are simple, but he intends to be joking, and waits for my response to laugh. For the way my family works, that is a big part of bonding. It appears that my son is finally starting his trip down the road to relationships. He is using this silly toy from childhood to examine, and test, what responses he can get from others.
No longer in such a thick bubble of his own existence.
He has had a very rough year, as I’ve describe in other posts. Years ago, I learned that the really rough periods of aggression were typically followed by some new skill, or interest. Something that would catapult him ahead developmentally. I hoped this past year or more would produce something significant. I never imagined it would be this good! For once- I couldn’t be more surprised and elated to learn that communication is not only a possibility of his future, but a reality that we are experiencing as a family today.
Since he his home from school for the week- I have to get going. I swear he has spelled Arby’s about thirty times since I sat down to type this. I’ll see what he has to say about getting spaghetti at home instead 😉