Kate E. Reynolds

  • ParaJude

    Yesterday my son reappeared from his bedroom wearing his school uniform, or, at least, some of it. Both trouser legs were cut off in the ragged style only a child would manage and there was little left of his shirt. instead his belly was showing. on one foot he had a school shoe, on the other, nothing.

    "I zombie" he said, smiling broadly.

    And so he was. My son dragged his legs towards me and held his arms aloft. I can thank 'Paranorman' for this - and te bill for trousers and shirts!

    Jude's father asked me how I'd responded and I had to admit to being quite impressed with his zombie imitation. Even two years ago my son wouldn't dress up as any character. We attended a pirate party and Jude only wore a pirate waistcoat because I sewed it onto his T-shirt. The pirate hat, sword, earring and parrot were thrown aside in the car on the way to the party.

    On his diagnosis aged three, Jude had no imaginative play. In fact, when I was desperately trying to discover what was different with him, I'd approached a speech and language therapist, who gave me two tasks to do with him. At the time, having no concept that Jude's behaviour was anything at all to do with autism, I meekly obeyed what she said and set up each task. One was to set up a pretend picnic with plastic cutlery and food. I was to sit down with my son and make believe we were having a picnic. This seemed so easy. Without knowing what she was looking for, I expected my son to do exactly as my daughter would have at this age - join in, or even demand 'proper' food!

    Instead, Jude sniffed at the plastic table cloth, rubbed the food against his face and took no notice whatsoever of my imploring him to pretend to eat, or cut the pizza with the plastic knife. It was this stark example of his behaviour that persuaded me (if I needed persuading) that something was significantly wrong. Of course, now I can easily see the speech and language therapist had given me a simple exercise to assess Jude's imaginative play, of which there was none.

    How and when my son developed imagination and make-believe play is hard to pinpoint. The very furst time I remember seeing an element of it was when I watched him reproduce a scene from Toy Story 2, which he adored and viewed repeatedly. It was the scene when Woody almost gets run over by a lorry (truck) at the petrol station. Jude sat in his large plastic car, having laid his Woody doll on the patio, and drove at speed, his feet like characters from 'Wacky races'. He abruptedly stopped, then slowly, slowly rolled the wheels until they almost touched his Woody. At this point, he lept out and started exclaiming in a way that was totally not Jude but completely Woody, as he picked up his Buzz doll and reinacted the fight scene. I cried as I watched.

    The rest of his imaginary world grew bit by bit from this first episode. DVDs and movies at the cinema have been the basis of almost all his play of this type, because he had such poor communication skills that playing with another person was out of the question until recently. When I hear parents complain about screens, I wonder where we'd be without them for Jude.

    So when my son cuts up his clothes to be a zombie, I tell him we don't do this and show him it costs money to replace his clothes. But I don't moan about it. I'm grateful.

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Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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