You’ve seen this baby toy, haven’t you? You push down on the top and the mechanism spins and the balls fly around and around and around. If you never bought one for your baby, chances are they played with one in a church nursery or daycare or at a playdate. We encourage baby to press the top and see the reaction. It’s fun! Baby is happy at the wonderful confusion, cause and effect. This is good for baby, we think, and encourage it. But then something happens. At some point we become displeased at a child-who-is-no-longer-a-baby who continues to play with it over and over again. “Why is he playing with that baby toy?” we wonder. “Is something wrong with him?” The thing that was so good and happy for baby has a black cloud hanging over a child doing the exact same thing. Why?
I joined Pinterest a little bit before I became pregnant with Lady Bug. I loved all the baby and toddler sensory fun things. When she got old enough I made a DIY light table and a water table and other Pinterest ideas, and I was confused that the boys had as much fun as, if not more than, 2 year old Lady Bug. These were toddler things! They were too old for them! Why were my boys acting so immaturely? I silently judged and worried and outwardly sometimes would even forbid them the activities because it wasn’t supposed to be for them. There was something inherently wrong and fearful about my older children wanting to do things that I saw as baby/toddler things. Why?
Push button play table, easy puzzles, baby board books, preschool tv shows; all these things my boys have continued to show interest in long after the unwritten interest expiration age. Early Bird was 4 years old when Lady Bug was born; it had been a while since they’d seen the baby toys. Maybe it was just the novelty? But that didn’t explain it four years later when they still show more interest in them than she does. And it didn’t explain why I had such a visceral, upset reaction to it.
Now I know about autism and SPD and sensory needs. Now, even though the water beads are a birthday present for Lady Bug, I’m not stressing over the boys playing with them; as long as they don’t crowd out little sister. We’re all sad about our children growing up, but I guess we’re all secretly terrified that they won’t grow up. And anything that doesn’t look like forward progress looks like danger.
This is also an example of why a diagnosis is important even if “they don’t seem that bad.” Realistic expectations for the parent and a greater understanding of needs makes everyone’s life better.