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Saturday, 18 February 2012

Patterns of Occupation

I had another opportunity to observe some differences in the boys' ability to occupy themselves today. It was evident almost right away after meeting them that Kitch (3.5) possesses a great imagination, and quickly becomes absorbed in activities much of the time (with some definite exceptions, but overall, it is enjoyable and satisfying to watch him enter into play). Lute, however (4.5) very rarely sticks with anything for more than 2-5 minutes, rarely concludes a play scenario (this also includes leaving made-up stories dangling), and even then, there is little creativity or variety in his play (which usually involves a matchbox-type car). He abandons efforts pretty quickly when something becomes challenging.

When playing independently, he constantly comes over to provide commentary on what he is doing, ask us questions, ask us to play with him, etc. (this is despite efforts to spend specific time playing, interacting, etc., and can even be worse when he has had lots of direct play with us). Even with all the hopping around he does, Lute can play on his own for some time without a lot of direct intervention, but he does need encouragement to stick with things and focus on the moment, rather than constantly talking/wondering about what is next (he does this with any daily activity, and can make it difficult for all of us to immerse ourselves in something, or linger over a moment).

Certainly there are times when Lute chooses and sticks with something constructive for a while, but I have not seen as much progress in this regard as I had hoped starting last summer. With a companion, especially an adult who is guiding or teaching him (he loves technical and scientific knowledge, and academic learning), Lute can be quite engaged for reasonably long periods of time. He will even sit for quite a while and have us read to him from fairly advanced books. He has a thirst for knowledge and zest for life that is remarkable, so I don't mean to paint him as disinterested or disengaged with the world around him - the trouble seems to lie in committing to one focus for a period of time, perhaps because he is always aware of other possibilities, and once the thought of "what's next" enters his mind, he cannot become involved enough in the present to relax and go with it. Too many choices may also be part of this, and he likely does some of his best play during rest time, when he has one toy at his disposal, along with books.

When left to occupy himself, focus and productivity often crumble quickly. In the presence of others, he will dive into the midst of adult conversation, zooming toys in front of people's faces, interrupting conversations, sometimes jumping on people (although thankfully, this seems to have abated quite a bit recently - but if you initiate any kind of physical gesture, even a handshake, be prepared...). He has some difficulty joining same-age peers in play, is very directive with his siblings, and gravitates toward older kids and adults when given the choice. Lute rarely assumes an alter-ego - typically he plays as himself, again, offering commentary on what he is doing without fully immersing himself in a role.

Kitch can, of course, demonstrate some of these qualities as well, but not much that seems excessive for a 3 year-old. (His issues lie more in regard to task focus when it involves anything other than play, and a general lack of thoughtfulness regarding possessions, where he puts them, how to find them, whether to pick them up, etc.). In a store, for instance, Kitch is most likely to wander, start playing with something, etc. Lute, however, might start tearing in circles around the stroller with no warning at all, or grab a container of honey off of a grocery shelf and start shaking it vigourously.

Anyway, Lute does seem to be the more extroverted of the two boys, and more sensory-seeking and generally physical in his play, which would explain some of his need for frequent interaction. He appears uncomfortable not being the centre of attention. Kitch can zone out in front of a movie, while Lute looks for any excuse to hop up, moves around frequently, and is rarely playing attention by the end. When sitting on my lap, I often have to remind Lute to remain still, be gentle, etc., while Kitch melts into me.

So, this morning we headed to a local library for the first time (yeah, I need to become better acquainted with such facilities). For quite a while both boys were well-occupied with the toys and computers (Caye immediately sat at the kids' table to draw, and then puttered around with toys and computers the rest of the time). Eventually, though, I honed in on Lute a bit, realizing he was falling into his pattern of restless movement between activities, not really settling with anything for very long. I intervened when he started appearing very disorganized, literally wandering without apparent purpose to glance at something, floating away, and even developing a wobbling, almost drunken gait, kicking (unknowingly) at a toy in his path, etc. I had him sit with me at the little table, and asked if he could describe for me what I had seen, what he had been doing, etc. He had no idea. I suggested he sit with some drawing or choose a few books to re-focus. He agreed, then stood up and started walking around/away from the table. I asked what he had decided to do, thinking he was headed for books. He stated that he was going to draw, and yet he had just risen from the seat directly in front of the crayons and paper, and was now on the other side of the table, appearing totally unaware of himself.

Hmm. I realize that some of the boys' differences simply reflect who they are, and that is fine (and some of my frustrations with a child who has difficulty initiating and sustaining play are likely more my issues, and call for creativity on my part in anticipating and managing them). But...some of this seems worthy of additional attention. I have a few ideas to manage the physical/impulsive stuff, and we have seen some progress (I think some of it was actually just about teaching some basic social skills and practising restraint). I need to keep brainstorming the aimlessness and restlessness, though, as I still feel a bit helpless to help Lute in this area.

I use timers occasionally, and after seeing him grab the most convenient little car for the 4th time in day, I will sometimes re-direct him to choose something else, like a puzzle or building toy. I am not sure how much to intervene when he spends a nice amount of time building a train track, and then walks away from it without actually moving on to play trains.

I could write a whole other post about some of Kitch's play quirks, like his apparently complete lack of interest (or confidence?) in drawing and fine motor work, and the eternally mind-numbingly frustrating distractibility (both natural and contrived - sometimes obvious, sometimes hard to sort out) when it comes to accomplishing routine tasks. Perhaps sometime I will tackle that one, but I wanted to think through some of my observations about Lute today, as the disorganized/overwhelmed behaviour at the library really caught my attention.

At this point, little Caye (nearly 2) is showing great promise in regard to fine motor and drawing (sat for two hours earlier this week, with markers, paint, Play-Doh, etc.), and imaginary and constructive role play. I suppose my interest in these particular areas of development say something about me, and what I value when it comes to the kids' pursuits!

Ok then, I don't really know how to wrap this up, so perhaps I will just call it a night.

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