Saturday, February 22, 2014

How to Get Your ASD Kid Involved in Extracurricular Activities, or, 101 Ways to Increase Your Stress Level and Feel Like a Failure

First, there was gymnastics with a three year-old Sky who darted in and out of tumblers doing floor routines at breakneck speed (something that hadn't improved much when we tried again at 7). He was the only boy, and also the only kid who adamantly refused to get out of the pit full of foam blocks. Then, there was T-ball, which he hated and turned into an exercise in daisy seeking and butterfly chasing.  After that was basketball which seemed to have  just the right amount of sensory overload to send him pin-balling off all the protective mats covering the walls and surrounding the goals. And, soccer which sent him pin-balling into other children. Swimming went okay until the instructor turned out to be a jerk. Tennis seemed promising one summer, but the next summer, the other kids were older and not at all patient with a boy more interested in studying how the balls bounced than he was in hitting them.

The only athletic endeavor we've tried that was immediately and (so far) consistently successful is trampoline. Sky loves trampoline. He begs to go to trampoline--which makes perfect sense for a kid who was born to bounce. I'm very grateful for trampoline because it introduced the possibility that sometimes things can just work.

Most times, though, they go like it did with piano....

(If this was a movie instead of a blog, you would now see images and hear music that would alert you to the fact that we are going back in time--to the beginning of a very long story.)

When Sky was four and we still lived in Tokyo, he tried piano lessons for the first time. I had a hunch he had an ear for music because he could pick out the separate instrument lines in a song from the radio. Plus, he seemed to have perfect pitch. So, every Wednesday, I stuck a helmet on his head, strapped him onto the back of the bike, and pedaled him through the heart of Ikebukuro, around the station to a back alley near Sunshine City and a Suzuki-style piano school.  Besides the harrowing bike ride, what I remember most is that Sky was much more interested in figuring out how the piano worked than in how to play it.

Four months later, when we left for the US, we stopped piano and didn't start again until Sky was in second grade. This time, there was no baby grand piano and therefore less temptation to peer inside. Despite the fact Sky seemed to pick up the concepts quickly, he hated practicing, and some days we spent $14 just to watch him slide off the bench onto the floor, play hide and seek, and fiddle with the metronome.

So, when we moved (again), we stopped lessons (again). Only, this time, I was pretty sure we'd go back to it because he really did seem like a natural. Still, I didn't want to push it and decided not to start lessons until taking them was his idea. I waited, and then I waited some more. Then one day not all that long ago, I  was greeted at the door by a Sky who excitedly proclaimed, "Mom, I've taken up piano again. Listen!"

He'd taught himself to play "Ode for Joy" and played it for me from memory.

Not long after, Sky started taking lessons again--this time, with a college student named Abby. When we were showing her his old books, I discovered that "Ode to Joy" was the last song in the second book, which meant that Sky had gotten through two years of books in eight months of lessons (and pretty much while I wasn't looking).

This go around, I think I have a better idea of what does and doesn't work for Sky when it comes to learning to play the piano. What does work is giving him the basic concepts and letting him figure out the rest. What doesn't work is trying to force him to sit still and focus through 30 minutes of piano instruction. The first lesson, after I told her this, Abby asked Sky what song he wanted to try, and then proceeded to help him figure out how to "compose" the first several bars of (surprise, surprise) the Star Wars theme song. The second lesson came right after a major but completely unrelated meltdown at home. When Sky refused to go to piano (because he was so upset), I pointed out that playing music might make him feel better. And it did.

I have no illusions that piano will always go as well as it has the past couple of months (though I hope it does). After all, it took three tries over five years in two different countries and two different states for him to finally enjoy it. That's the thing, though--sometimes it can take a really, really, REALLY long time for something to click with Sky. But, when it finally does, it's golden.

1 comment:

Chris 'n Rachel said...

Fabulous! I'm a firm believer in having the child lead (with a bit of help when needed) and paying attention to what does and doesn't work. We are nowhere near your situation but I do have an exceptional child who has some sensory issues and anxiety. If you can find what works for them, it can help in other aspects of their lives.