I love Caillou. For those who are unacquainted, this is a cartoon show about a little boy by this name, geared to toddlers. “Yes,and….” you might say. Well, my twenty-five year old daughter loves Caillou, too.
That statement might seem unusual in the world of “typicals,” those whose wiring is neurologically consistent with what is called normal. It is NOT unusual in in the world of Autism and other special needs. Many, many people with Autism and/or Intellectual Disability have a deep affinity for toys, music, TV shows, books that are geared to younger kids. While this may be common, it’s often discouraged.
My daughter, whom I call Bink when I write about her, is a young adult who lives with Autism as well as Obsessive-Compulsion and a good deal of anxiety. Bink has long loved kid’s music, and stuffed bunnies and ducks. Dolls didn’t really pique her interest until she was about twelve, but since then she is enamored with them, as long as they have pigtails. She is fiercely attached to her bed dollies (always two) and her car dollies (one in my husband, Super Guy’s car, one in mine). She also loves shows geared for toddlers, like Caillou, Peppa Pig, Dora the Explorer and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. For those proclivities alone, she has probably heard the word inappropriate twenty times more than your typical 25 year old. Her behaviors have elicited many dozens more, but that is another chapter, for another time.
Stamp it out?
Where has all that aforementioned discouragement come from? Well, in Bink’s case it was teachers, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Speech Therapists. A few caregivers, and a significant family member. Sometimes, the disapproval even came from me, her mother, Chief Advocate and Interpreter.
Parenting a child with special needs is a process, a lifelong journey. I, like most of my special parent peers, started out overwhelmed, impressionable, uncertain and scared. It was easy, then, to fall into believing the “experts” and overriding my instincts. I was desperate to do anything possible to help my child. And all these authoritative Others made it clear; it is NOT OK for a 10, 16, or 20 year old to love toddler songs, rubber duckies, dollies and TV shows made for ages 2-4.
While I tried, at times, to curtail some of this love for all things toddlerish, I never totally embraced the notion that Bink shouldn’t have anything geared to much younger children. She’s always had access to some of her very favorite toys and shows, though I did try to broaden her horizons, to expose her to books and activities and diversions that typical children her age tended to like. And she did and does enjoy some of these things. She likes Pavarotti, and Frank Sinatra, cookbooks and cooking shows. But she loves her comforts; dollies, rubber ducks, and, well, Caillou.
Truth is, many adults like toys and books and movies geared for children. I enjoy stuffed animals. Some are wild about Disney movies, or Matchbox cars, or model trains, Why should we hold our kids with special needs to a different standard? Why are we so hell-bent on trying to make them so different than who they really are, by making them more like us?
So, my gentle attempts to limit her time with child-like things didn’t last too long. The past five or eight years or so, in particular, I have encouraged Bink to be in charge of what she watches and plays with and listens to. She works hard to get by in a world that is fairly hostile to her kind. I want her to have as much of what she loves in her life as possible. But I digress. Let me tell you about the initial inspiration for this writing, which is…
Bink records things on her old-fashioned tape recorder. Things people have said to her, bits of her scrawled journal notes written in her own creative language. It’s not, then, unusual to hear her pouring forth streams of words from the living room where she watches TV. One day, though, I noticed something different. I heard the characters on TV say something, and she seemed to be saying something back to them. There were verbal volleys, two or three or even four sometimes, going back and forth. Over the next several days, I paid closer attention when I heard these exchanges, and also casually wandered into the living room to check this out. Caillou. Bink was talking back to him!
TV Caillou Mom: ” Come on, Caillou, it’s time for bed.”
Caillou: “ Oh, Mommy, I want to read my book!”
Bink: “ It’s OK, honey, you can read it tomorrow.”
Caillou’s friend: ” Let’s climb this big tree!”
Caillou: “ OK”, as he begins to climb and then to lose his footing.
Bink: “Be careful, Caillou.”
Much of this is language lifted from the show. But it’s appropriate, it’s in context, and it is teaching Bink new words and the ways of voice inflection. And she loves these shows! A win-win, for sure.
The sports thing
Bink does not like group sports, or crowds, or lots of noise, and so she avoids them when she can. So when her day program let us know about an upcoming trip to Rhode Island to see the Pawsox play, a veritable trifecta of sensory sandpaper, she quickly opted out. No surprise, and this was fine with us.
Superguy and I walk a line these days, between encouraging her to try new things and respecting her right to choose. We talk to her about how things change, we change, and something we didn’t like in the past might feel quite different to her now. We also appreciate her slow growing self-awareness and ability to express herself, and honor that as much as possible. So I informed the staff at her program that she’d be sitting that trip out. A few weeks later, Bink spontaneously said ” I will try Pawsox.” !!!!
After I picked my lower jaw up off the floor, I praised Bink for trying something new. My assumption was that the staff at her program had been working to convince her to change her mind. In fact, they had not even mentioned this to her. Why the change, then? In our world this stuff just doesn’t happen much. I gently probed for clues, told Bink how great it was that she decided to be flexible, asked in a few different ways why she’d changed her mind. No answers came forth. I stopped wondering and decided to just enjoy the surprise.
Several days later…
Bink was sitting at the table eating. She’s serious about her food, folks, rarely wants to talk or listen when she is welcoming meals or snacks into her body. I was doing one of the hundred things I do in the kitchen, and I heard the words, addressed to no one in particular: “ I decided to try Pawsox because I saw it on Dora.” Insert! more ! exclamation! points! here!
Me:” You saw Dora playing baseball?”
Me:” That’s great! Did it look like fun?”
Bink:” I didn’t know if play it or watch it.”
Me: “Oh. And you learned that you would be watching it, and that it could be fun to watch?”
Bink: ” Yes. There is popcorn and music.”
After telling her there may not be popcorn at Pawsox, and there may or may not be music at times, I decided to just let it be. And so did she. Thank you, Dora! Thank you, Caillou!
To those who want to tell me about how inappropriate it is to let my adult daughter watch her toddler shows, I have some advice. It’s pretty much the same words I’ll offer anyone who sees fit to tell me how my daughter ought to be, and how I ought to be parenting her: Inappropriate THIS!