Children on the autism spectrum are socially delayed and therefore, they do not understand that this is not necessarily the most acceptable form of play. They do not understand that other children are not able to understand the scripted play that they engage in. They do not understand that other children use their imaginations and when they play Power Rangers, those children pretend they have on the costumes. They pretend they are fighting against the bad guys and use their hands as the fire blowing missiles.
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Being on the Autism Spectrum usually includes not showing social or emotional reciprocity. This can be identified by a child who prefers to be alone, does not participate in social games, and uses other individuals as tools in their play. In other words, these kids do not necessarily play with others and when they do, the other children are there only because they serve a purpose in the play taking place.
It’s not that I don’t play well with others…Others don’t know how to play by my rules.
In our family, we have often joked that D is the teacher. He plays school, but he makes the worksheets and he teaches with repetition. “Spike, 100+100=200. Spike, 100+100=200. Spike, what is 100+100?” Spike of course (if she knows what’s good for her) replies with “200, D.”
We have joked that he has written movie scripts for them, or has memorized the scripts to certain movies and has taught the girls. “Spike, when I say, ‘blah blah’, you say ‘pop pop.'” And, after hearing it (repetition, remember?) umpteen times, she learns to say “pop pop”.
All play time with D is very scripted. He studies a scene in a movie, he learns every word, every move, and then it becomes a part of his life. He teaches the parts to one or both girls and
expects them to demands that they play exactly as he has taught them.
He thinks, most of the time, that he is playing very nicely with them. He has little understanding of being too rough. He has almost no understanding that they can play something without being in full costume. He believes that if they are playing Power Rangers, they must be in full Power Rangers costume. The same is true for Star Wars, Doodlebops, High School Musical, or anything else they play.
In addition, D does not understand that the girls, or other children he plays with in the neighborhood, at the park, etc., are doing their best. He does not understand that these children simply cannot remember every sword move or words. They simply cannot do the back flips, back handsprings, and cartwheels the way D can. They are not intentionally trying to ruin the playtime, but in D’s mind they are doing it just to provoke him. His little brain just cannot get past the fact that they are doing their best, just not what he expects of them.
Playtime, though very much necessary for development, is often one of the most stressful times for children on the Autism Spectrum. Depending on others to play by the rules that are in their heads, though they are not able to verbalize them, can cause panic and social awkwardness.