Smiler had a tough week - you know those times everything seems to go a bit sideways and your well thought out back up plans are frustrated too? That. Anyway, because he really needed the distraction I suggested to him that we choose a new toy for the school holidays, something that we could keep at the new house and he could play with when he was there.
You see, a new toy to Smiler isn't just a new toy. It's the looking, the thinking, the finding; the comparing, the concentrating, the choosing; the waiting, the planning, the anticipating. From my perspective, his excitement at deciding which toy he wants was an activity in itself - he's occupied, he's engaged, he's focused. Once the order was put in, he told his brother and his sister and his dad about the toy he'd chosen, which required a complex level of communication as they started off with no idea what he was talking about. Smiler thought about what he was going to do with it when it arrived, and even picked out where (in his new bedroom) it was going to go. Course, it's not difficult when your bedroom currently has nothing - and I mean nothing - in! The lovely wide windowsill in his gorgeous bay window is the perfect place, according to Smiler. So, he has thought things through, communicated with others, and experienced the anticipation involved with delayed gratification!
Our parcel arrived today, and when he heard the doorbell Smiler scooched along the hall to answer the door with me, rewarding the somewhat surprised courier with an unexpected round of applause when I confirmed the parcel had his new toy inside. Squealing with glee and shaking with excitement as I opened the box, he grabbed at the paper on the top but - surprisingly - listened when I asked him to wait. What he didn't know was that as well as the toy he'd chosen, I'd ordered three others too, knowing I can use these to occupy him all over again another three times, and each new toy will add more and more play opportunities as they can all be enjoyed together. But I didn't want him to see them all at once, as that would have ruined the surprise!
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Finding toys that are safe for Smiler isn't easy - trying to match up the understanding and attention span of a two year old with the strength and size of a thirteen year old is complicated. He struggles to play creatively, needing to be led by those around him, and if encouraged to play independantly tends to revert to - let's call them 'classic' methods of interaction such as mouthing a toy, banging it on any surface in reach, and turning it over and over and over in his hands.
I've been tempted before to choose toys that will challenge him, be educational, offer opportunities for him to learn new skills; but while I might wish he'd use them in that way, over the years I've learnt that those choices are about me, not him. He much prefers very basic toys, simply because he understands how they work and what they do, so I've moved on too, and through watching how he plays I've begun to understand what draws him to pick up a toy car over a toy boat (he likes to spin the wheels with his fingers); a drum over a whistle (he struggles with breath control but can make a sound with his hands on a drum); and a plastic figure over a soft toy (the solid shape doesn't trigger his tactile defensiveness the way a soft floppy toy would).
While some of his choices relate to his sensory needs, others are based on his seeking a sense of achievement, or maybe more accurately avoiding a sense of failure. Because of this, open ended toys that don't have a specific function necessarily are appealing to him - with no expectations of what to do he is free to explore as he wishes. The new toys he (and I) choose will provide him with enjoyment, which is, after all, exactly what he needs from them. Non toxic, visually appealing, tactile, safe, strong enough to survive being dropped (or thrown), opportunities for cooperative play, for imaginative interpretation - they tick all the boxes. Now all I need to do is sort some photos of Smiler playing with his new toy to share with you ... watch this space!
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