Monday 13 June 2022

The Theory of a very basic, Willow-relating nutshell...

Well, the holiday's are done and the new school term is here.

I booked a whole host of Willow-appropriate activities for each day of the holidays (and more on why I really hate having to book specific time slots for things another day!), just so we had something to focus on.

But with all of the activity-doing, there comes this little niggle at the back of my mind, always wondering, slightly stressing about how busy and crowded places will be...

But before I delve fully into the why's of this, I want to make it clear that I obviously know I'm not here to be providing the scientific facts, lecturing, getting all deep and philosophical -  I'm certainly not clued up or knowledgeable enough for any of that.

(I mean I actually should be, I do have a Psychology degree and could stick qualification letters after my name don't ya know...but, well, seeing as how I graduated way back in 2005 I reckon any useful, psychological knowledge I did have has now been turned to mush and is scrambled in the far depths of my brain somewhere, just hiding itself)

I'm just here trying to better understand the situation we're in, learning as I don't shoot me if I get things wrong.

Right, so why these "oh god how busy will it be out there today" thinkings?

Well, writing about that and the idea behind this post actually came about after I reached out and asked for help within a whats-app support group I'm apart of - AWARE (what a lifesaver this charity has been, even before the diagnosis).

But what did I ask for help with?

Well, over the past few months Willow has really struggled with other children.  I mean she always has done really to an extent - her smacking phase went on at playgroup until she was much older than the "typical" age-range; she totally lets me know when she's had enough of people and needs an out (hence our preferences for less crowded places!)...

I mean don't get me wrong she loves speaking about other children - friends and family - she loves seeing them, she loves being around them, but she seems to still hit this limit, and then she's done.

But not "done" as in, "Right, it's time to go home now Mum", more "done" as in "I've finished being nice now, so I'm going to swear at you/wind you up/be "mean" to you", and it's awful for me to see.

But not awful as in I'm thinking anything negative towards Willow, more awful in the respect that I know she wants to interact and play with the other children but - obviously - once she starts throwing up all the "undesirable" behaviours, the kids just become fed up of her and walk away (and I get why), and awful in that other parents get so very obviously and openly annoyed with her, and awful in that I just don't know how to help her through it all apart from constantly uttering the usual...

~ "Kind hands Willow"

~ "Remember we don't use swear words"

~ "Let's be kind to people please"

...more in a hope that others will sympathise and realise it's not actually her fault than getting her to take on board what I'm saying (because she zones out and doesn't hear a word of what I say anyway!),  and obviously because I want to keep trying to remind her that hurting other's will never be OK.

But it doesn't matter who it is, where we are or what I say, once she reaches that point then that is it.

And then actually getting her to leave the situation is near-on-impossible too, not without a throw-herself-into-the-road type meltdown anyway, because obviously she wants to still play and wants to still be in the park with the others.

School have mentioned similar scenarios too - Willow will constantly go over to her friends and shout "tig" before running away, obviously playing Tig.

But if the other children don't follow or they say no, Willow will continue to shout "tig", either until they join in with her or until they get really fed up with her.

As part of Willow's recent autism assessment screening she was observed in school interacting with her friends and it was found that, well basically, she doesn't have the language understanding to be able to carry play on past a certain level.

If she is in a role play situation for example they noted that Willow will need to be shown, and almost be taught a script over and over again of "what we say when we are playing in the shop" -  not having this deeper language understanding is what is causing her to just walk away from play.

She wants to join in, but can't.


And this obsession with the game"tig" - apart from the fact she likes chasing of course - "tig" is a very easy game to grasp with very basic rules - tig, run, tig again - it is very safe and understandable for her so she will seek to play it over other things, especially when she is approaching a child...

"The child is there, I want to play with them, I understand tig, I will go and tig them"

Now with all of this information mashed together, it's obvious why I wanted to try find a way to help her relate to other children a little bit, just to make our visits out a little easier for her, and this is why I sought out a little bit of help and it was through this help I was reminded of The Theory Of Mind.

Now what on earth is that?

Well, in a very vague, I'm-still-learning-all-of-this-myself type nutshell, we all have a Theory Of Mind and it is this which lets us understand that we all have different opinions to each another, we all see things differently and (amongst other things) that what I see and think will not be what you will see and think.

I have known that Willow struggles with this concept for a while actually, and, now that I have looked into it a little bit more, I know it is something many autistic people struggle with.

She will, for example, ask for "the programme" on TV but will become very cross, very quickly when I don't know exactly what programme and which episode she is thinking of straight away.

To her, because she is thinking of it she expects my mind to be thinking of it too.

Having a Theory Of Mind is crucial for a lot of things...

~ being able to show empathy towards others and understand that although they may have a smile on their face, something that has happened - that name you called them or that push to their arm you gave - could have actually made them feel really sad inside.

It allows us to understand that people's reactions may not necessarily match up to how they feel inside.

~ being able to make friends and relate to others because we understand that everyone thinks in a different way and we can then make allowances for the feeling of other in the things that we do or say.

And it was actually this point that really hit home for me - Willow doesn't understand or have the capacity to grasp things like this...

~ just because she enjoys playing "tig" her friends may not like it at all, but in her mind she loves it and so must everyone else.

She won't grasp that other's are annoyed and getting angry with her when she continually asks again and again for them to play it because, in her mind, everyone loves playing it.

~ when she asks an older child in the park to play and push her on the swing she won't understand that they have different thoughts so may want to go sit with their other friends - she wants to play on the swings, therefore everyone must want to do that too.

~ when she wants something another child has, snatching it will seem like nothing - she wants it, therefore everyone must want her to have it...

And this is what other people - adults too - don't ever seem to grasp.  All they will see is a spoilt little girl taking the ball that others are playing with - and I get it, I'm not silly - I probably thought like that myself not so long ago.  Now however when I see her running around trying to join in with others playing football and then I see her bend down and pick up the ball and stand still, holding it to her chest, I realise this is her way of joining in.

She wants the other children's attention, she's not quite sure how to play the game or to get the attention in a positive way, but grabbing that ball means all eyes are on her and she's well in with everyone now...

...although the reality of the situation for everyone around her is that now the children really don't want her to play and would rather she went away, because she's spoilt their game; Mummy's stood at the side trying to coax her into putting the ball down and then - like we experienced at a playgym this week - a Grandad I don't know is now shouting over at me to put the ball down and now he's coming over and has bent down and is stood very close to me, looking straight into my eyes telling me to put the ball down...

- Yes, adults can be worse than the kids in their not understanding - I mean who approaches another child and eyeballs them, diagnosed condition or not... -

I suppose "the Grandad" wouldn't have done it again if Willow had had really lost it - but that level of upset really is not fair on her...

(Mummy told him straight anyway...!)

 There is nothing I want to change about my little Whirlwind, but there certainly are things I would love to help her with - changing other's attitudes being the first.

I think there are things to help develop a Theory of Mind though - activities to role play and scripts to basically teach what to say and how to act in certain scenarios, but I'm yet to begin delving into all of that.

But I will.

But, just do me a favour, use your Theory of Mind for a second and put yourself in Willow's place - imagine how confusing and daunting simple things like playing in the park must be for her...

It sort of put's her actions into perspective a little bit doesn't it...


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