In the last couple of training sessions I have noticed a theme that has come up amongst our volunteers, and that is the thought that they feel responsible for entertaining Ezra. Often times this concern comes after a session where the volunteer expressed not having a very good time.
Autistic children are in fact masters at entertaining themselves. That’s exactly the problem! They are totally content in their own world. We might think it mind-numbing to bark like a dog for an hour, jump around in patterns, flip through pages of a book just to read the numbers over and over, draw planets for months, but they are happy, completely and utterly absorbed in their activities to the exclusion of the entire world.
I can see how the issue might be confusing. When Ezra is ready to interact with us, and we get green lights from him, we absolutely attempt to lengthen his interaction with us by being as entertaining as possible. Being entertaining and entertaining are two different things though. When we go into the playroom expecting to entertain Ezra we really pressure him to be entertained. We judge whether or not we are entertaining by his reaction. If he looks bored, we interpret that as we’re boring. If he doesn’t want to play the game we brought, it’s because it was boring, and so we judge ourselves, because Ezra isn’t responding. In my experience whatever we accuse others of, we probably don’t like about ourselves. When I hear someone say, he wasn’t entertained, or I can’t come up with enough to entertain him, I suspect one of two beliefs at the heart of the problem:
a) I don’t think I’m entertaining or fun, or
b) I think Ezra’s games are boring, and I’m not entertained.
It could be either one of those. So essentially when we go in with the attitude: I have to entertain him, you’re really saying: Ezra has to stop acting autistic, interact with me, and play my game, for me to feel good about myself and my game.
If we however go in with the intention to BE entertaining and have fun no matter what Ezra does, and if we adopt the belief -I am so much fun that eventually he won’t be able to resist me-, we free up all the pressure we create for ourselves and Ezra, because we have already decided that we are going to have a good time. We no longer need to prove something, or have to “make” something happen or “get” him to talk to us. It is true simply because we believe it. Those are the sessions when I see volunteers come out with excitement glowing in their eyes and the question has-it-been-two-hours-already?
What we want is for Ezra to want to interact. The key in teaching him how to want to interact, is by giving him control. Leave it up to him, and then when he gives us green lights that he’s ready for interaction, we are there: ultra user-friendly, fun, pressure free, accepting, loving, silly, hilarious, you name it. The most entertaining game we can show him is how much fun human beings are, and how much fun it is to play with one of them, versus focusing on their names, birth dates, and license plate numbers.