Sunday, December 1, 2013

Building Blocks

Our first indication that Boo was unique or had Autistic tendencies was when she was between 15-20 months.  We were sitting on the floor with her playing with wooden building blocks.   The blocks were outlined in colors, ABCs on one side, numbers on the other side, complete with matching letter pictures.  She was meticulously stacking a tower as tall as she was.  

The blocks were aligned straight as could be with capital letters, colors, numbers, and pictures all following in their own suit.  We would turn the blocks upside down, twist them out of alignment, or match a number to a letter side.  She would turn around to get a new block, come back to notice our changes and fix it perfectly before she moved on to stacking the next block.  

Photo courtesy of Google Images
My husband's strongest memory comes from yet another set of building blocks.  She had a set of nesting blocks.  Here is his recount of that memory in a recent email to our Autism Lead at our school:  

"I wanted to share with you that we first noticed Boo’s behaviors when she was still a baby.  Boo was always sensitive to environmental changes and loud noises.  As she grew she was always content to play with her toys and did not require much interaction from other kids or us to keep her happy. 

One of the first telling experiences was when she was about 3 years old.  Boo had multi-color nesting blocks with numbers, letters, and colors on each side of the boxes.  Most kids would have been happy to stack the blocks anyway possible and make the stack high until it tumbled over.  Boo on the other hand would stack the blocks one at a time largest on the bottom to smallest on the top.  The numbers, letters, colors, and edges would always align and increase sequentially.  As a test, I would sit with her and as she stacked each block and turned to grab the next I would move, change the order, or mismatch the numbers or letters of the blocks.  When she turned around with the next logical block she would observe the change, pause, turn back around and place the block in her hand on the floor and return to the stack and correct all of the mistakes that I had induced.  She would then turn and grab the next block and continue the stack, each block perfectly aligned at the edge with all of the numbers, letters, and colors matching.  Anytime I would change something she would again correct any mistake and then continue to stack the blocks.  She never seemed to grow tired of this play."

Throughout the years Boo was was intrigued by any toy that enabled her to sort by color, shape, and size.  It did not matter if that toy was "too young" for her.  If she could stack it in ascending order, group it, or create an organized pattern it was a toy that kept her busy for hours.  At that time we did not know she was paving the way for our journey to Asperger's Syndrome.  

Years later while working with Boo's psychiatrist at Children's National Hospital we would learn that her fascination with patterns, detail to ascending order, and need for organization was a telltale trait of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  

We still have the wooden building blocks in a closet.  It is one toy I cannot bring myself to be rid of.  They are more than just a toy.  They are more than a memory.  They are what shined a light into Boo's soul.  They are the blocks that built a metaphorical stairway for us to climb towards answers; one perfectly aligned step after another in the most beautiful pattern you can imagine.  The blocks are a symbol of how unbalanced the tallest tower can be; crashing down with the slightest touch.   Even that is okay, we have learned from a very beautiful and gifted girl that with patience and attention to detail we can rebuild.

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