Pancakes Gone Awry
When my son, Danny was diagnosed with high functioning autism a year and a half ago, the doctor asked if he had any "special interests." I knew what he was asking; I had heard and read plenty about "passions" or "obsessions" or whatever you want to call them. I know they are relatively common among children with autism.
At the time, I couldn't really identify one specific passion of Danny's. And to be honest, I was a bit relieved to know that there was one autism criterion that my son did not meet.
Shortly after that doctor's visit, Danny discovered Legos, and our whole world has been engulfed in a cyclone of those pesky multi-colored blocks. To say that Legos have become Danny's "special interest" would be a gross understatement.
The kid is completely, 100% obsessed.
He talks about them, plays with them, reads about them and surfs the Internet to find more Legos to covet. His face lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees the Legos logo or hears someone talking about them.
One time, while walking home from school on a sunny day, Danny asked me, "Wouldn't it be cool if when it rained, Legos came from the sky instead of rain?" That pretty much sums up his attitude towards Legos.
I'm quite certain that my son thinks about Legos a good portion of the day. In fact, judging from his conversations, I would have to surmise that Danny thinks about Legos at least 80% of the time.
The other 20%? Well, that would be when the kid is sleeping.
Not only can Danny spend a great deal of time talking about the wonders of Legos, he assumes that the rest of the world's population is equally smitten with the things. When someone's birthday is coming up, Danny wants to buy that person Legos. It doesn't matter if we're shopping for his 65-year-old grandma or his 1-year-old baby cousin, Danny is convinced that Legos are the perfect gift.
If he's not playing with Legos, then he's surfing lego.com, looking at all their products and playing one of their many games. Other times, he reads Lego books, including his newest favorite:The Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary. My mother thought we were crazy buying that for him. "It's a dictionary, Patty," she said. "Will he really read it?"
Oh, yes, yes he will.
To be honest, I have struggled a bit with how to handle Danny's development of a special interest. Although I speak of his love of all things Legos fondly, I haven't always felt this way. I have worried that this obsession makes him somehow more "autistic" and less social. I have been concerned that it would hamper his ability to fit in.
And I wondered what I should do about it. Should I try to help him branch out more? Limit his access to the Legos, so he plays with other toys or talks about other topics? Should I just encourage it and enjoy the fact that my son can quietly entertain himself for hours with his new interest?
I'm still not entirely sure what the correct approach is, but here's how we have been treating it so far.
We have used Legos a lot as a bargaining tool. Danny knows that before he can go on lego.com, he needs to finish his homework, chores and therapy. He also knows that if he misbehaves badly, lego.com is likely to be taken away.
When we started iLs (Integrated Listening Systems) therapy with the kids for their SPD, Danny was less than enthusiastic. So, I we bought him a special Legos set that he can only play with when he's doing his iLs therapy. After he's done the exercises, he continues to listen to the therapeutic music while be plays with his Legos. Before we know it, Danny has completed his hour-long therapy session, with nary a complaint!
Bil has discovered that Legos are a good bonding tool. For some reason, Danny sometimes has a rocky relationship with his dad. Though Bil is a fantastic father, he and Danny butt heads a lot. I think a large part of that is due to the fact that because Bil is not home all day, he doesn't always follow the routine. This tends to annoy Danny who often subscribes to the idea that there is only one correct way to do things. Since Bil is not aware that I cut up Danny's hotdog before microwaving it, for example, there have been some major upsets in our house when Bil changed the routine.
Playing games on lego.com has proven to be an immense source of fun for both Dan and Bil. It's the one time of the day when Bil is not forcing Danny to do his homework or therapy or chores. They can just relax and play and enjoy one another's company. I have seen a marked difference in their relationship. At times, Danny will ask me to join them in their games, but I refuse. I really think they need something special that I am not a part of.
We have looked for ways to make Legos a more social activity. Legos are not exactly the most social toy out there. Danny can spend long stretches of time building structures without talking to another soul. Social skills are already a difficult area of development for Danny. As with most kids with autism, socialization does not come naturally for him, and sometimes he just avoids it altogether.
I knew that if I could combine Legos with socialization, it would be a winning combination for my son. Imagine my delight when I discovered Lego board games. Santa brought Danny the Minotaurus game, which requires that you build the board and then play a game with up to 4 people. Playing it as a family has become a favorite pastime.
I'm also planning on throwing a Legos playdate for Danny where he gets to invite a couple friends from school over to play Legos and eat fun snacks. We'll see how that goes.
I don't know if the way we have handled the Lego obsession would meet with the "experts'" approval, but it's been working for us. Though Danny is still as interested as ever in Legos, he will take long breaks to go to the park and meet friends to play. He hasn't been getting angry when we make him turn off the computer. He may always be in love with those blocks, but I feel like he is slowly gaining some balance in this area. Maybe it's because he knows we respect his interest and often join with him in playing. Maybe it's because we don't make a big deal about trying to "cure" his obsession.
Who knows? One thing I can say for sure, though, is that once I let go of the stigma in my mind, I was better able to see how we could use Danny's special interest to our advantage. And I have been more relaxed so I can enjoy this interest with Dan and recognize that it's not the special interest that's the enemy here.
*****I was not compensated in any way by Legos brand or lego.com, but if any Legos execs are out there, I sure wouldn't turn down some major discounts on those little blocks. There's a 7-year-old boy here who would experience paroxysms of joy if his mom were able to purchase more Legos. Oh, and also, if you could come up with some kind of robot that cleans up Legos, or if you could just magnetize the blasted things, I'd be forever grateful. I'm sick to death of picking those blocks up in every crevice of my home.