Over the last several months, we've seen Ben's skills in imaginative play blossom. It's been amazing and encouraging and just really fun to actually pretend things with him, and while he mostly sticks to a script from a story or video, I see him improvising more and more often. Once in awhile, he just goes for broke and invents something out of nowhere.
It's also been a bit exhausting. His insistence on fidelity to the book or video we're acting out means that we have to stay on our toes and make sure we get our lines right, strike the right pose at the right time and not forget our blocking. He has been known to shove me into position saying, "Mommy stand there and do this." Sometimes I feel like our house has become a summer stock company where Knuffle Bunny, episodes of The Backyardigans and the collected works of Ezra Jack Keats are playing in repertory.
But a few weeks ago, Ben began to do something that made it seem like he was trying to hold his imagination in check.
In the midst of acting something out he'd stop and say, "No, no. I'm not Pablo and you're not Tasha and we're not robots. You're Mommy and I'm Ben and we're at home."
Soon he was saying this every time we began to pretend, and with a tone of slight anxiety. I wondered: just who is he trying to convince - me or himself?
He is clearly such a creative and imaginative kid. Is some part of his brain, perhaps the concrete and literal - and more autistic part - trying to clamp down on the freewheeling, improvising artiste that is emerging as part of his personality? Is it just a battle between his right brain and left brain (or has that concept been finally discredited)? Is the surge in his imagination overwhelming for him and is he just struggling to process what it means to pretend?
In any case, I didn't want him to feel afraid of his imagination, and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to need some Talking Points for this one."
Talking Points, at our house, work exactly the same way they work on Sunday morning political talk shows. I need to get a complex point across, but I can't actually have a conversation with Ben. So I choose a simple and concise phrase that I can repeat each time a situation presents itself. Talking Points are worded in such a way so that Ben can 1) process them 2) memorize them, and eventually 3) internalize and understand them.
Here's what I came up with for when Ben started to show anxiety about our identities:
"We're always, always Mommy and Ben. Even when we're pretending."
I think it's working. Lately, Ben is starting to act out stories again without shutting down the show. He also will remind himself by repeating the line, "We're always Mommy and Ben. Even when we're pretending," if he does stop himself.
He didn't pick it up immediately. But I knew we were making progress when once, after he gave me the "I'm Ben and you're Mommy" lecture he said to me, "Remember...we're always pretending to be Mommy and Ben."
Yep. I guess we are.