Playing with toys is an integral part of childhood. It’s never been that simple at our house. Monkey doesn’t really play with toys, and looking back I realize he never really did.
When he was little he only played with toys to illicit some sort of response from them. The only ones he enjoyed were electronic in some form, often emitting a way-too-loud, obnoxious noise or tune. He would push the buttons repetitively to hear the same sounds over and over until I was ready to throw the toy out the window. Often, he would run the batteries out of juice in mere days. We used to spend obscene amounts of money on batteries until we finally wised up and decided to let the batteries die and stay dead.
Even though he didn't talk much, we would hear him mimic the various toy sounds all the time. It drove us nuts, but we were happy that he was happy. Of course, we didn’t know what echolalia was back then. He was our first child, and we didn’t understand that his type of play was not considered typical. His intensely sound-driven play got to be pervasive and unbearable at times. I had to ask the family to no longer buy any gifts that required batteries or made any sounds at all. Any contraband toys we received were re-gifted to another family who could use them or else given to charity.
There was another way that he played with toys that wasn’t typical. I have lots of pictures of Monkey lining up his toys across the living room and down the hall. He was meticulous about making everything perfect. Titan and I would run around with the camera, ecstatic with his attention to detail, capturing how amazing our little boy was. We thought this kind of play was revealing his gifted intellect.
Along the same lines, Monkey used to stack wooden blocks and interlocking Megablocks into tall, singular towers as high as he could reach. He would climb onto the coffee table and continue stacking them as high as possible, taking much time and effort to do so. Then, when Titan got home from work, Monkey would get help to make the tower even taller. I have pictures of Titan holding Monkey in his arms as they worked diligently to make the tower climb even higher without knocking it over. We were so proud!
We had no idea that all of these forms of play were signs of autism. We continue to be proud of our son and see some wonderful gifts in him, but we also understand him better now. Diagnosis helped us connect the dots of all of his quirks, talents, and areas of struggle.