Recently my son Jeremy gave a talk to staff of Kids Included Together (KIT) about what 'inclusion' means to someone like him. Jeremy's sensory challenges as a child and his need of assisstive technology to communicate meant that being 'included' was not always easy. But mostly, it was not easy because after-school 'inclusion' meant trying to have Jeremy do what 'normal' children were doing and to act like them.
It is important to try and teach children on the spectrum appropriate play skills as a way of connecting with other children. However, they aren't always interested in what neurotypical children consider fun. For example, Jeremy never liked typical birthday parties, and when asked preferred to have two of his friends or favorite people over at a time, not a big group celebrating, running around, making noise.
We need to realize and resepct that not everyone finds the same things fun. We need to give our loved ones the time and space to do what they consider fun. Many parents and professionals spend an exorbitant amount of time, money and energy trying to get children on the spectrum involved in what we non-autistic individuals think of as fun. Then they spend just as much time, money and energy trying to get them to be less obsessive (translation: passionate) about whatever their special interest is.
What is important, is that we don’t destroy their ability to be passionate, because their passion will help them find their career path in the future. Of course not every obsessive thing a child does is proof of an inner talent, but we also need to consider and honor the ‘fun-factor’. We need to look at this from their point of view and try to engage in or be supportive of their fun.
Many non-autistic adults (parents and educators) have a hard time realizing that being passionate (neurotypical translation : obsessive) and engaging in topic of interest is that autistic child’s way of having fun.
I mean really, is what we neurotypical consider ‘fun’ really sound like fun? Consider these activities originally listed in Autism Life Skills (Penguin) that are usually considered enjoyable, recreational activities by many non-autistic adults, and tell me they sound attractive:
You get the picture. If someone landed here form another planet, they wouldn’t really understand why these activities are fun.