The Denver Autism Wheel

Keeping activities sane

Posted on: August 11, 2010

Busy coatrack

This is our coatrack midweek. As you can see, we have a lot going on.

The school year is starting up again, and for most kids, that means getting back to the regular routine of going to bed at a normal hour, remembering to put your lunch in your backpack, and of course, the dreaded…..HOMEWORK! But if your kids are like mine, they do more than go to school. Luke plays football; Chris has gymnastics and an extracurricular math program. And both of them are in Cub Scouts with Karl. And both Karl and I work full time, too. I’m on the kids’ PTO board this year, and Karl’s taking some classes at Metro. So when do we have time just to hang out??

It’s a challenge, keeping active and engaged humans with different interests plugged in at home, too, but it’s probably the single most important thing any family does. Yes, one of us has the additional complication of being on the Autism Spectrum, but we’re a family unit, and the time that we spend together informs, recharges and grounds each of us during the week. We each need a safe, sane, relaxing place to be at the end of a busy day.

First, I should emphasize that Chris doesn’t get “therapy” therapy anymore. We were able to get a lot of early intervention work done (OT and Speech at Children’s Hospital and in small groups) while he was still a preschooler, so he’s able to function at a fairly age-appropriate level academically. Emotionally and socially, he’s still a kid with autism, but we try to find activities which present the opportunity for social interaction with other kids his age, without making him The Kid with Autism *all* the time. Living a meaningful life is more important than spending all your time trying to learn to be “normal.” We’re all weird about something, and, as I posted earlier, “normal” is a setting on the washing machine, not a personality trait.

Karl and I made a decision early in this parenthood career: each boy could do an academic activity, an athletic activity, and a community service activity (something for the mind, something for the body, and something for the soul, as it turns out). We didn’t want to get into the frantic mode of the Football on Monday, Karate on Tuesday, debate team on Wednesday followed by archery, drive one kid here and the other one there and pick up fast food on the way…yikes! How exhausting! This way, everybody gets to do things they enjoy without needing to hibernate at the end of the week.

Now, that’s not always how it works out, week by week. There are times when Luke has a play at school that he needs to rehearse. There are times when Chris has a research project on Henry Ford that takes up more time than the regular routine. There are times when school events conflict with extracurricular activities. That’s when it’s time for a gut check. School usually trumps other activities at our house, and homework takes precedence over extracurricular activities.

So I guess where I’m going with this is that it takes some thought and some organization, but it also takes perspective to try to keep this stuff in balance. We’re not perfect at it, either (my running theory is that sleep is for quitters). But we try to be realistic about what we’re capable of, leave some time to just flop on the couch and eat ice cream instead of booking ourselves wall-to-wall each week. Every kid needs to be organized and learn how to navigate a busy world. But he also needs time to ride his bike aimlessly around the neighborhood, sit in a tree, build a go-kart out of leftover pieces of wood, or spin around on the lawn. Come to think of it, adults could benefit from that kind of quality down time, too.

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