A few days ago, my husband, Beth, and I pulled up to our house after grocery shopping and I heard the familiar request from Beth in the back seat. “Drive, drive, drive!” she insisted. Hubby unloaded the groceries from the car and I took Beth for a little spin.
Driving in the car with her favorite music blasting is a sensory passion for Beth. She loves to watch objects move by, feel the sensation of driving, and hear the music as it surrounds her inside the car. I recently made Beth a new playlist, and her favorite track is a song called Butterfly by Alex & the Kaleidoscope Band (1), because it has deep, full acoustics. We were driving around the back roads in farmland near our house, listening to the Butterfly song over and over, when Beth exclaimed, “I want to see the butterflies!”
Huh? I had her repeat her statement, and again she exclaimed, “I want to see the butterflies!” She has never asked to see butterflies before. Beth showed mild interest in a couple butterflies outside our house last year, so I went to great lengths to expand on this interest. Last summer I took Beth to butterfly houses at nature centers and showed her butterflies emerging from cocoons in our own butterfly house (http://www.amazon.com/Insect-Lore-Live-Butterfly-Garden/dp/B00000ISC5/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365436873&sr=8-1&keywords=butterfly+house). Last May I even took her to a butterfly field, shown in the video below, and I caught a few butterflies with a net and released them in the car so that Beth could see them up close (2).
Beth didn’t seem impressed with any of our butterfly adventures. But here we were a few days ago, driving by the field where I took her to see butterflies one time 10 months earlier, and she is insisting, “I want to see butterflies.” And all I could think was, damn, you never know what makes an impact. That is the wonder and the frustration of autism.
This brings me to a core question that frustrates me on a daily basis. How much do I push Beth to do things that, on the surface, she doesn’t seem to appreciate, given that she can clearly expand her world with such “parent-led” activities? As much as possible I try to use Floortime, which means I let Beth initiate activities, follow her leads and interests, and use internal motivation to gently guide her up the developmental ladder. It makes sense, because following her lead is the path to least resistance and it is the most respectful way to relate to her, given our completely different neurological make-ups and the communication gap. But sometimes I use more of an applied behavior analysis (ABA) approach, where I initiate the learning task and may even use external motivators to achieve a specific goal. And occasionally, ABA has led to self-initiation of the activity later so that I can do more of a Floortime approach with her to expand the activity even further. Clearly there is a balance in using child-led and parent-led approaches. Applying this idea of balance to the butterfly situation, I took Beth’s mild interest in butterflies and I used parent-led outings to expand her experience with butterflies. It took awhile for her to express her further interest to me (10 months!), but I am so happy she was able to tell me what she was thinking as we were driving by that field.
So, even though Beth would rather just drive in the car and not end up anywhere in particular most of the time, we will be going on nature hikes to expand her world again this spring and summer. Outings are tough for her, especially if the place is not familiar, if there is a lot of walking (she tires easily), or if there is water that she is not allowed to jump into. But, as you can see from these pictures from last year’s nature outings, which are set to Beth’s Butterfly song, I believe it is worth it in the end (3). I will consider the nature outings an ongoing lesson in adaptation and communication for both of us.
1. You can catch Alex and his band in the Philly/NJ/NJ/NY area. His music and concert dates are here: http://www.kaleidoscopesongs.com/
2. The road next to the butterfly field had a small shoulder and was very busy, so it wasn’t safe for Beth to exit the car. I released the butterflies back to the field once we were done observing them.
3. Locations in the photo collection: Evansburg State Park, Peace Valley Park, Morris Arboretum, Tyler Arboretum