At what point does a child learn that sometimes you can only LOOK but you can’t TOUCH? I don’t recall ever thinking about this with my older boys, but yesterday, at the South Carolina State Fair, this issue came up for Peter, and it was a difficult concept for him.
Last week, we received a notice from Autism Academy of South Carolina that they would be taking the children to the State Fair. I immediately thought, “Oh, boy! This should be interesting.” We have taken Peter to the State Fair in the past, and it has never been an entirely successful experience (think: Sensory Overload!). However, the Academy was requiring a parent to attend, so my husband and I decided we would both go and hope for the best.
Peter surprised us! He had a great time! His therapist, Rachel, suggested that we first visit the animals since they’d been talking about animals at the Academy. Peter seemed fascinated by the cattle. Then he had a super fun time on the slide (accompanied by his Dad, who ended up sweaty and exhausted after 4 rounds), and he even tried the Caterpillar roller coaster with Rachel. Though startled by the initial “drop,” he loved it so much he didn’t want to get off!
Throughout the afternoon, Rachel used a Token Board and Peter “earned” treats such as french fries, donuts, and trips down the slide. We watched her calm his frustrations with an amazing “Cool Mouth, Cool Hands” routine which we plan to apply at home. We were struck by the therapist’s sincerity, her energy, and her clear connection to Peter.
It was a great day… UNTIL…
Background information: Peter currently has an obsession with elephants. He watches elephant videos, plays with elephant stuffed animals, and at the Fair we learned that Rachel makes funny elephant noises which he loves.
So… we decided to walk to the game area of the fair, where you play games to win prizes. Namely, stuffed animals. Namely… ELEPHANTS. Huge, soft, fluffy stuffed elephants! They were hanging everywhere. Peter strolled along with an amazed, excited look on his face. Then he grabbed his Talker, said “Elephant,” an made a beeline for the nearest elephant hanging from a vendor’s booth.
Well, you can’t let a child play with the prizes at the Fair. This is frowned upon. Nor can you expect to WIN a huge stuffed elephant unless you plan to stay there for hours, playing by yourself and forking over about $75 in cash. So we had to tell Peter that he could only LOOK at the elephants, but he could not TOUCH them.
This was not acceptable to Peter. It just wasn’t. There was a lot of flopping on the ground (ugh – fair ground!) and refusing to get up and repeated requests for “Elephant” on the Talker. No amount of reasoning got through to him, so after about 10 sweaty and stressful minutes, we all realized we just needed to leave Peter on the ground and let him cool off. He finally stood up and we were able to lead him out of the Elephant Temptation area.
Luckily, his behavior improved and he was able to earn one more trip on the slide (poor Daddy).
This was the first time, I believe, where Peter was confronted with this idea of “LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH.” He just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t play with the stuffed elephants. I’m going to have to research some strategies for teaching him this concept.
In the meantime, I’m looking on Amazon for huge, fluffy, stuffed elephants.