One of the hardest moments for me during lockdown was when T broke down in tears after seeing the playground wrapped in caution tape.
I still remember the pain and anguish in his voice as he asked me why everything was closed?
Thankfully, playgrounds reopened two weeks ago. I’m mindful there is a possibility we may go back a few steps in lockdown, so I’m enjoying these moments with T as much as we can now.
It was a pleasure seeing him run full speed towards the playground.
“The disease is gone!” he exclaimed when he saw the caution tape is gone.
“Not quite,” I explained we still need to be cautious but playgrounds are open for now. It’s best to keep the preamble simple with kids like T!
The smallest things always feel the biggest as a parent. T scaled across the monkey bars, from one side to other – something he was not able to do nor was willing to try the year before.
Playgrounds for me are a place of great joy and heartache.
It is a joyful place when I see T play with full abandon. There are seldom times when he finds a connection with another child and they have fun together.
But more often than not, T is playing by himself. Running around excitedly, pretending he’s either a race car or a dinosaur. Making loud revved-up noises or growls.
These moments may seem cute but it is also these kind of behaviour that scares off or keeps other kids away.
Earlier this week, we had gone to the playground after dinner. There were a dozen kids – a few years older than him. They consisted of several groups of siblings who knew each other.
T, as he often does, started circling the kids and ran around them excitedly.
On this night, he pretended to be a robot. Eyes wide open and walked like one. When he got close to the kids, he started making his noises.
I sat nearby on a bench and I was both amused and cringing. One of the girls had this amusing look of fear at this strange little boy.
So naturally, they went off on their own to play.
When the oldest kid initiated the group of kids on a chase, T started running with them in parallel play. Chase is T’s favourite game.
But the kids didn’t pay attention to him. When T started circling them again and made his usual dinosaur sounds, one of the older kids shouted at him to go away and leave them alone.
I watched from the park. I was tempted to get up and intervene but as a parent, I remind myself to give him the room to learn the skills he needs to cope in a social setting.
For children with an invisible disability like T’s – a prognosis of at-risk FASD and recently medicated for ADHD – understanding how to effectively navigate a social situation is often challenging and making and maintaining friendship is often a lifelong struggle.
Giving kids with special needs the skills and tools to navigate a social setting is very important.
The hubby and I have learned so much – and continue to learn – through the advice of our wonderful supports, like a child psychologist and behaviour therapist, the many ways to help T build his play and social skills.
One method is role play.
Watching T play, I often want to go up to him and tell him to stop acting weird and to use his words instead. He has a sweet voice and when he turns on the charm, it is quite endearing.
But I don’t do that, because I don’t want to make him self conscious or to lose his personality.
So I made a note to do more role playing with him of pretend scenarios with other kids. And to encourage him to use words to ask other kids to play with him. Just keep reinforcing it until it becomes second nature to him.
And that is why it’s so important to put T in social settings to play and interact with other kids – during these pivotal development years – and something that weighed on my mind during the lockdown months.
I know he’s capable of doing it, because I’ve seen him do it before – like playing wonderfully with a group of kids at a pit stop during our roadtrip. And I recently saw him do it again.
On a recent evening, T and a little girl played together. It was a simple game of running up and down the slide, making a contest of it.
Then they played chase with each other.
The sun was setting, it was way past his bedtime. But I let them keep playing together until the girl went home.
T went home sweaty, hair all messy and clothes all dirty. A good sign of a fun evening of play.