One year ago, Nathaniel was completely non-verbal. He could point, grunt, cry & scream to attempt to make his needs & wants known. He had almost no pretend play skills that were obvious to anyone. I still think that inside his head, he had all kinds of imaginary scenarios going on – I mean, some “non-functional” play may seem unimaginative & without purpose, but I gotta say that some of the things he expects his toys to be able to accomplish has got to be because of some sense of imagination. But I digress a bit.
In the past several months, Nathaniel’s language skills have grown, from being able to imitate isolated sounds to single word labeling and requests, to two-syllable words, to three, to two-word phrases, to full sentences. Each step along the way has been amazing. His pretend play is pretty darn impressive, if I do say so myself. He’s also come a long way in his ability to handle things that used to be instant meltdown-causers.
This morning was a shining example.
For Christmas, Nathaniel received a train table for wooden trains (from Santa with a little help from his older cousin and uncle). It was set up pretty simple, a wooden track with some ups and downs, loops and a sloping bridge pass. To reduce frustration, only a few trains were included at this time – Thomas & Percy from the Thomas & Friends series, plus a black engine, two simple train cars and a truck that came with his previous wooden set. He played with it a lot in the beginning, but had points of major frustration, where he’d throw the tracks & the trains and stand on the table & generally freak out if the slightest thing was off. It was pretty frustrating for us & we kind of stopped encouraging him to play with it.
This past weekend, Nathaniel’s uncle, my brother, gave him a new train for his set, which had belonged to Nat’s cousin as well. It was Toby, from Thomas & Friends. Nathaniel was ecstatic and has been playing with his set again multiple times per day. He and I now have a set arrangement – I push Thomas with two train cars and he pushes Toby.
The progress of this morning, you ask? We played for about 25 minutes with him not getting upset by anything – Thomas & the cars fell off the track multiple times. I put the two train cars in a different order behind Thomas & he didn’t even seem to notice for quite a while. He turned Toby around and had him go in a different direction (yes, this is a big deal). The bridge piece fell off multiple times. Thomas crashed into Toby. And each time, Nathaniel just smiled or laughed or cheerfully remarked on what had happened. (By the way, when Nathaniel says “bridge,” it sounds like, “bitch,” so he is frequently saying things like, “train go over the bitch” or “bitch fell down.” Tee hee.)
And my favorite part of all of this? When we first started playing, my Thomas train passed his Toby train and Nathaniel said without hesitation, “Hi Thomas!” as if he was pretending to be Toby’s voice and beginning a dialogue. This is big – dialogue between toys in pretend play scenarios is something that has been worked on in therapy repeatedly for months.
Some other highlights: Nathaniel kept pausing his train and mine here and there, and saying “red means stop” and “green means go,” as if there was a signal there (which there isn’t). He was also clearly racing my train and giggling if I started to catch up. Also, there’s a point in the track where the trains can meet at a sort of crossroad. If our trains were about to meet, he’d make a production about getting out of the way so there’d be no crash and once again, said as our trains passed, “Hi Thomas.” If my train wasn’t there when he got his there, he’d say, “No train today” or “Train not here now.” This is like what he says when he leaves preschool – because there’s a couple sets of train tracks on his way home and once, a train passed by. Since then, he apparently frequently remarks something along the lines of, “No train today.”
I’ve never had so much fun playing trains with the kid.