TROETELS, and The Magic of Motivation

What on earth are Troetels? Click on the link and find out.

They are these tiny little fuzzy animals that you get when you go shopping at a certain store here in the Netherlands. For some reason Ezra totally loves them. They have done amazing things for our family. One of Ezra’s biggest challenges with autism is of course that he doesn’t want to interact with others, and thanks to his ADHD if he does interact it’s for a  very limited time. His attention span is maybe 5 minutes (typical is 5 min per year of child, so he should be able to concentrate for 25-30 minutes). I still remember the time where he held toys for less than a second, before moving on to the next thing. Since the Troetels came along however, he has developed the ability to sit down and just play with them in various ways. True, for the most part he just lines them up. There is this new game however that he loves to play. I sit somewhere in either his bedroom, playroom or living room, and chuck/hide the Troetel somewhere while he closes his eyes. After I hide it he opens his eyes and asks me where it is, and I give him clues as to where to find them. He will play with me for as long as I am willing to play. This is just the most amazing development. My autistic boy is wearing me out, wanting to interact with me all the time, to the point where I have to say: you know what, I need a break! It’s just incredible, how motivated he is by these little creatures.

The risk here is of course that one can get tired of playing these repetitious games with him. I however see those Troetels as the greatest key to Ezra’s learning: MOTIVATION. And more than that it is a doorway into his world. If a child has fun doing something, if he/she is motivated, then it isn’t work at all. Learning becomes easy, and interacting becomes fun.

Here are just a couple of ideas of how I’ve built in things I want to teach Ezra with this one game of hiding troetels.

Variation 1

Goal: following complex directions. I give him hints in varying degrees of difficulty.

  • Easy: It’s next to the red ball
  • Medium: It’s next to something red and plastic
  • Hard: It’s lying next to something that is plastic
  • Harder: It’s on a flat surface between something round and something made of concrete
  • Harder still: It’s next to something that I could use to knock over bowling pins

Variation 2

Goal: Taking turns

Taking turns is still a challenge for him. I try to have him throw the Troetels so I can go find them, but he usually runs to them himself. In this variation we can teach how to wait.

Variation 3

Goal: Asking simple questions/Answering simple questions

Ezra has only just learned how to ask questions. In this variation we would play like a 20 questions game, where the person hiding them gets to answer yes or no, and he, who is looking for the hidden troetels could ask simple questions like

  • Is it on the bed?
  • Is it on something red?
  • Is it next to the window?
  • Is it behind the curtain? etc…

This is a huge challenge for Ezra and with this game alone we would really make a huge leap in development.

Variation 4

Goal: whatever you want. For example, right now I’m working on teaching Ezra how to greet others and say goodbye. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It has to be said loud enough for them to hear, we have to figure out if it’s hello or goodbye, hi or see you later, etc. Handshakes need to be firm, we have to look the person in the eye, but from an appropriate distance, and not get freaked out by someone else touching our hand etc.

So, I play the game exactly the way he wants to play it, to keep his motivation up, and then before I do what he really wants me to do (which is hide the Troetel), I ask him to do a greeting, shake my hand and look into my eyes.

Variation 5

Goal: Peer play, turn taking

Simple. I just add Micah, and have them take turns.

Variation 6

Goal: Translate what you hear into spacial awareness

Version one: Play hot and cold game. Say warm when he approaches the troetel, and cold when he moves away from it.
Version two: Have him listen closely when he closes his eyes, so he can locate the Troetel just by hearing where it has been thrown.

Those were just a few variations on what I do with the Troetels in that one hiding game he likes to play. Of course there are so many other games I can play, using this motivation. Just a couple of examples:

  1. Use the Troetels as figurines in typical board games. GOAL: Turn taking, playing a board game
  2. Make several cards with formations on them. Take turns lining up troetels under time pressure. GOAL: Lengthen interactive attention span, reproducing a visual cue, turn taking. Motivation: lining up troetels, seeing a timer count down.
  3. Troetel basketball. Throw troetels in a basket from varying distances. Goal: physical participation, hand-eye coordination, turn taking, interactive attention span
  4. Troetel Math lesson: Have the troetels be the math objects, or pretend play math lesson
  5. Troetel pretend play. Create stories using the troetels.
  6. Imaginative play: if you want to play pilot, or zoo keeper, or tourist, whatever, just incorporate the troetels.

I could go on and on. Perhaps you’re wondering, but shouldn’t he be able to play with other toys too? Shouldn’t we encourage him to branch out? Surely such fixation isn’t healthy. The answer is of course: Yes, he should be able to, and yes we can encourage him, but the point is, he is autistic and isn’t able to do a lot of things that other kids can. And of course we encourage him, but we use whatever he is motivated by to include ourselves into his repetitious games. Our ultimate goal, and the goal of the Son-Rise program is to teach him: humans are fun to play with. WE are the most interesting toys! It feels good to be a part of this world.  When an autistic child learns to want to interact, not because he has to, not because we expect or want him to, not because he is less human if he doesn’t or he’ll be judged, but simply because it’s fun and it feels good, then he is on the way to recovery. And that is what we have been seeing more and more, thanks to these little troetels.

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