Sunday, August 26, 2012

Talking, Talking, Talking… About Tins

I think that parents of children with autism tend to appreciate things more than the average parent. For us, progress often comes slowly, if at all, so we never take anything for granted. In our case, this is particularly true of our son’s ability to speak.

When Kai was a small child, we weren’t sure how much he would ever be able to talk. Progress came slowly for a long time, but we now have a boy who speaks pretty well. And as we know other autism parents who would love for their child to speak even half as well as Kai, we appreciate that we are blessed that Kai has come this far.

And so it would be wrong to feel anything but elated whenever our son speaks.

But, sometimes…

On our last few days of summer break, we visited Kai’s grandparents.

It is amazing how much he interacts with them now.

Bubbe knew how Kai is now obsessed with rocks and minerals, so she gave him some sample containers including pyrite, copper, quartz, and amethyst.

In turn, Kai told Bubbe all she ever wanted to hear, and more, about rocks and minerals.

But that was nothing compared with how much talking Kai did with his grandfather.

Regular readers may recall that Papa is a collector of old tins. He has quite a collection displayed throughout the house.

About a year ago, Papa gave Kai some tins to start his own collection, and since then, every time we visit, Papa gives Kai a few more tins.

On this occasion, Papa had just returned from a trip to a collectibles show. Kai took great interest as Papa showed off his new tins and other old containers and explained their significance to Kai one by one.

It is quite cute to see Kai get excited about these old containers that some people, including, ahem, Bubbe, may consider junk. I am guessing that none of Papa’s other grandchildren are so interested.

But sometimes Kai’s enthusiasm goes too far, crossing well over the line into obsession and greed.

When Papa gave Kai a choice of five tins on the first day, Kai was happy. For about eight seconds. Then he began lobbying for more tins.

“How I can earn more tins?” he kept asking Papa.

Sometimes, he didn’t exactly ask.

“You give me tins for Hanukkah,” he said in a tone that was more demanding than asking.

Over the next couple days, Kai seemed to notice more of Papa’s tin collection than ever before. He noticed that Papa had old containers of peanut butter and popcorn and other food items.

“I don’t have any food tins, Papa. Maybe you can give me a food tin sometime.”

I told Kai that Papa had heard him so that he did not need to keep saying the same things over and over. I said that Papa knew that Kai wanted more tins, and might give him more sometime. But, I explained, he should not be greedy, and he should appreciate that Papa had already given him several tins from his collection.

I told Kai that Papa had worked hard all his life so that he could collect tins, and that it took him years to gather so many. If Kai wanted more, he should set a goal to study hard, get a good job, and earn enough money to buy his own tins someday.

Kai had a different idea.

“What happens to all the tins after Papa dies?”

Oh brother!

Everyone laughed when he said it. I did, too. It was funny to see Kai’s mind at work.

But I also tried to teach him that he shouldn’t say things like that. And I told him that Papa wasn’t going to die for a long time so he had better come up with a different idea.

Later on he declared that when he went to college, he would stay at Bubbe and Papa’s house. But the reason was not that he enjoyed being there so much, though I know he does.

No, he wanted to live there so that he could be near all of Papa’s tins.

It was great to see Kai bond with his grandfather. But is it wrong for me to want Kai to please just stop talking about tins for a few seconds?

To try to get a break from Kai’s incessant talking about tins, we played Qwirkle, a game of skill that involves matching tiles of different shapes and colors.

Kai is pretty good at the game, but lately he has become more obsessed with winning.

He got mad when someone else scored well, and when another player put down a tile in the spot he wanted for his next turn.

“Give me a chance!” he yelled.

I tried to explain that is how the game is played, and that he could still win the game if he kept searching for good places to play his tiles.

“No fair!” he screamed.

Papa told him that if he did not play nicely, the game would end. And when Kai kept whining, Papa declared the game was over.

I did not like Kai’s attitude. We are trying to teach him to accept defeat graciously and to be a good sport. But, our words don’t seem to sink in with him.

I was glad that Papa spoke up during the game. I don’t know that his words had any more effect than ours, but perhaps hearing it from his grandfather will eventually have more impact.

Later on, we played another game, Rummikub.

Kai started to get upset when things did not go his way. Papa spoke up and told Kai that he was keeping an eye on him.

Kai held his anger in check.

He did not win the game, but he did not lose his temper.

And when it was time for us to go home, Papa gave Kai one more tin for being a good boy on his last day.


  1. Oh, what a great post. I enjoyed reading it so much. Yes, you are so lucky that Kai talks but I can also appreciate wanting him to stop at times. lol. I also love the way grandpa and grandma are with him...even stopping a game if his behavior was unpleasant. Good for them! And good for Kai in earning another tin right there at the end! :)

    1. Thanks, Betsy! This was the first time that his grandparents spoke with him about his behavior, and I think it was more effective hearing something like that from them for the first time.

  2. It is much better that Kai learns how to play well now...rather than to have potential playmates turn against him later. He will eventually learn that a reputation is lost easily...and very hard to regain. To be thought of as someone who is somehow undesirable to be around...and so, shunned by his far more painful.

    I am sure he will soon learn that to learn to be a good sport is to not fear losing...and that in itself...leads to more winning (as he will willingly enter more games or contests).

    1. You are absolutely right. But it is hard for Kai to understand that. All he seems to be able to think of in the moment is that he wants to score more points. It has been challenging to get him to think about long-term consequences of anything. Hopefully, over time, we can make progress on this.

  3. Good going Papa! Yuji, I completely relate to your feelings of ambivalence. Our little one has made tremendous gains in speech compared to even a year ago, and he uses what vocabulary he has to point out cranes, forklifts, trash compactors, and vacuum cleaners (currently his favorite machines). When we play "I see" game he will point out the cranes around some neighborhood construction multiple times! At school though, other kids aren't as interested in these machines...

    1. Jane, a big part of me does love that I can converse with my son, even if the topic is not one that I have a great interest in. Thought after hearing the same thing for the 100th time, that fondness fades. :) I am hoping, though, that his skills will also apply to conversations about things that others are more interested in... but, I guess we still need to work on empathy and other aspects of social skills, huh?


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