Little kids love repetition a lot. Hearing the same things over and over again when you are 1, 2 or 3 years old is simply wonderful. It’s how young brains learn. As a speech and language therapist I was very aware that the quantity and quality of language my kids heard when they were little was going to be a major factor in their own language development. But as a parent, I found that it can be a bit of a challenge to do yet another round of “The wheels on the bus” when you have so many things on your to do list, and when singing a nursery rhyme is the last thing that you feel like doing.
I remember when Leila was just under 2, I had sung “Wind the bobbin up” to her and she shouted “gen” which meant “again” for readers unfamiliar with toddler speech! So I dutifully sang it again at the end of which she shouted “gen” again. I was curious to find out exactly how many times she would want to hear me sing the rhyme. I never found out because after 25 rounds and no signs from Leila that she was growing tired of my tuneless renditions I had to surrender from the pain I was inflicting on myself.
A lot of autistic kids like to repeat routines and Edward is no exception. Routines can bring certainty, you know what is going to happen next, there’s a real comfort in that. When Edward was a little boy we had a fairly complicated bath time routine but sticking to it meant that we were able to end most days, even if things had gone really pear shaped, on a reasonably calm and happy note.
When they were very little Edward and Leila shared a bath. Leila always came out of the bath first and once she had been dried and helped into her pyjamas it was Edwards turn to come out. Edward had a great fascination for water, he still does. Woe betide anyone who tried to get him out of the bath before he had watched the last drop of water go down the plug hole. Watched is an understatement. He would swoosh water towards the plug hole, studying in detail the way it flowed in a circular fashion around it before disappearing forever, at which point he would get very excited, bouncing up and down in an empty bath. It was kind of comical to watch but also pretty frustrating if you were in a rush. Once all the water went we had to go on to the next stage of the routine.. the dinosaur egg phase.
Edward would be wrapped up in a large towel. I mean completely wrapped up, no part of Edward visible to anyone outside of the towel. He would then curl up on the floor in the towel and he was no longer Edward he was a dinosaur egg. Every night for years I had to do the dinosaur egg routine which went something like this.
“Oh wow, I can see a dinosaur egg”
“I wonder what kind of dinosaur it is?”
“I think it might start to hatch”
“I can see it wobbling” (Edward would start shaking slightly)
“I think I can see it’s little leg coming out of the egg” …. (Edward slowly stuck out one of his legs from under the towel….. you get the picture).
Eventually the dinosaur would hatch and then he would happily have a cuddle for a few minutes before getting into his pyjamas.
Sometimes if I was preoccupied with something, or in a rush for one reason or another I would try and skip through this routine but it would unsettle Edward and then I would be annoyed with myself. It was always worth just trying to slow down and play this little game because on bad days this was a peace offering, our little act of reconciliation.
I can’t remember the last time we played the dinosaur egg game and I certainly didn’t realise during our very last dinosaur egg routine that it was the finale; maybe I would have savoured the moment more had I known.
There were times when Edward was little when I wondered if he was on the autistic spectrum, (I have written about one of these in another post “A deer with glorious antlers”), but when he engaged in imaginative play routines and happily cuddled me, I reassured myself that he wasn’t. I had too narrow an idea about what autism looked like and as a preschooler Edward didn’t quite fit my assumptions. It meant that it took a long time for me to seek an assessment for him.