Yesterday, the doorbell rang and Mr Postman delivered ‘Rush Hour - Traffic Jam Game’, Junior Edition by Thinkfun TM. I had read a recommendation by Jennifer O’Toole of Asperkids and decided to try it. L has become incredibly wary of games and generally now refuses to play them. I think that he sometimes struggles to comprehend the rules but the bigger issue is the stress caused by adversarial games where social niceties such as turn-taking are essential; patience and a non-agressive response to being beaten are required; and competitive big sister M cannot be persuaded not to gloat when winning and wail when losing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve encouraged L to play a game for quite some time. Recently, however, when M and I set up a Lego game, I noticed that despite claiming not to want to play it when invited, L sidled furtively up to see what we were doing and then joined in (albeit in a slightly scary fashion which involved him building all the Lego hens, throwing the die wildly at the wall when it was his (my) turn, and cheating slightly and us not daring to challenge him for fear of precipitating meltdown).
Anyway – I threw caution to the wind and decided to order Rush Hour. When it first arrived, L was angrily suspicious and wanted nothing to do with the package. After I unpacked it and he saw all the little cars he did this…
Yep – he lined them up. After lining them up, he became very territorial about the cars for a day and wouldn’t let anyone touch them. He loves the cars, especially the Police cars. The next day, when asked if he wanted to play, he refused.
I decided to see if M wanted a game as she had been the model of self-restraint for the last day but clearly wanted a go. The initial possessiveness had diminished a little and L ’allowed’ M to play. We set up the game on my bed and instantly, L appeared and virtually within seconds was smitten. After ten minutes more, M and I no longer got a look-in. If you’ve never heard of Rush Hour – it is genius in its simplicity; fiendish in its difficulty; and totally, totally addictive and the best thing (for L) is that you can play it on your own. The junior edition has a grid and then 40 cards that each have a pattern of trucks laid out which you have to copy onto the grid. Each card gets progressively more difficult. The idea is that you push the vehicles backwards and forwards (you can’t lift them) until the ice-cream van is free to move along, unhindered, to the exit. In simple terms, the ice-cream van is blocked in by a traffic jam and the player has to move the traffic to free the van.
The game has so many elements that L loves. I’ve already mentioned the little cars and in particular the police cars. Then there is the Lego-like element. L is very good at Lego. On his birthday I was amazed to watch him building his Lego Batman Cave by just glancing at the page and seeming to have an almost photographic memory of the layout of the bricks. M and I, faced with the same page, would have been using our finger to count how many spaces to leave before adding a piece. So, he LOVED following the cards to build up the traffic jam. Very quickly it became clear that L was really very good at this game. He was somehow able to see the bigger picture whilst M and I were bogged down with trying to move one vehicle. After taking it in turns well at first, L became increasingly frustrated with our ineptitude and was obviously itching to step in and rescue us as we made our jams worse. The excitement levels mounted as L saw the way out time and time again.
Eventually, L became rather hyper, flushed with success as he was, and jumped madly around the bed shouting, ‘I’m an Aspergerkid and we are superheroes’ (something he’s brilliantly picked up from the Asperkids sites). I was touched. His self-esteem which has been struggling recently, was soaring through the roof. He was also identifying himself proudly with Asperger Syndrome and seeing that he could do some things well and that maybe autism could give him some kind of advantage. Even M became drawn into the general atmosphere of excited abandon and was generous in her praise of her little brother, forgetting her usual desire to be best at everything. She so clearly loves him and was delighting in his success. We were all swept up in a tide of goodwill.
The downside of all this was that it was getting late, the routine was shot to pieces, there was no way that L was going to go to bed without doing another ten cards and the turn-taking had totally broken down as L found it so hard to spectate from the sidelines. I suggested that he take five cards into his bedroom. He took them in and told us that we weren’t allowed to disturb him or say anything but that he would shout ‘banana’ every time he completed a card. Five bananas later and L got into bed, tired but satisfied. The game was a resounding success. Unfortunately, L now rather sees it as his game. So M had to wait until he was busy pursuing his MI9 special interest on the computer this morning to sneak the game into the kitchen and have a go, and when L realised what she was doing she had to agree not to go any further than the cards that he had completed.
So we settled down this morning, still giddy with success, to a celebratory breakfast of pancakes (I had batter left over from the weekend), except that I didn’t have enough batter left for L’s second one and he wasn’t having any of it when I said that the spoke effect looked like a cool spaceship. ‘I’m not having that’, he cried in disgust. I offered to make him a pitta bread with honey instead (one of his favourites). He looked even more disgusted when I passed him the pitta bread. ‘Mummy, you KNOW I don’t like ROUND pitta bread’, he yelled. I had tried an organic brand of mini wholemeal pitta breads and it was indeed smaller and rounder and browner than his usual white, oval shaped pittas. Life’s never easy in our neurodiverse household but it’s never boring and at least we now have a game we all love.
P.S. I would just like to add that any reviews of games or mentions of books and authors have arisen out of my own experiences as a mum going through autism diagnosis with her son. I will only write about products I’ve loved which I think may be useful for other parents. I’ve not been paid or asked to write any reviews. I do however want to help avoid parents having to re-invent the wheel and struggle for helpful resources (and I personally think Rush Hour was fab, Jessica Kingsley Publishers are a brilliant resource and Asperkids is an excellent idea – and I can’t wait for the book)