Today is the 4th of May and is lovingly deemed ‘Star Wars Day‘ (May the 4th/”May the force…” you get the idea). For J this is bigger than Christmas and he has looked forward to it ALL WEEK!
I thought today would be a good day to talk about why we use J’s Star Wars obsession to support him. I know that family and friends have told me and my husband that we ‘feed his obsession’. To a degree I agree. We do buy him Star Wars toys and we do talk about Star Wars with him. I let him watch Star Wars everyday (the cartoon, Youtube videos, Lego Star Wars clips not just sat in front of the movies) when he asks for it. But isn’t that the same with most families? If your child supported a specific football team wouldn’t you buy them the kit, or buy them a lunchbox with their team colours or emblem on it? If you’re child has a favourite band or singer you’d buy them posters, the albums etc. The difference is that we use Star Wars to help J and to give him skills he needs for the outside world. We acknowledge the fascination exists and make most of it.
There are limitations. I keep his bedroom ‘Star Wars free’. His bedroom is for sleep so I keep it calming. We also have a ‘no Star Wars after 6pm’ rule and we spend that time playing board game, with his other cars, books etc. Basically it’s a wind down time and opportunity to do other things.
For those of who read my blog all about obsessions and why children with Autism often have them you’ll know that this has been a progression over the last 3 years. It started from an interest in mechanism, to cars to Star Wars.
Here are some of the cars which kick starting J’s Star Wars fascination.Once we realised that this was more than just a ‘favourite toy’ and more than a basic interest my husband and I talked about which aspects to encourage and which to avoid. We decided that we would detract from the guns and killing side and we fast forward any inappropriate parts of the films/tv series. When we pretend play we will focus on helping each other, keeping people safe, capture but escape etc. After all, J is only 3.
One of the things that fascinates me with J and Star Wars is how it’s brought out such an amazing talent. It has shown his incredible memory and recall. He knows almost all the characters in every movie series, all the spaceships, droids and planets. He can recall the plots from all the films he’s seen. This leads me on to one of the first ways we use Star Wars for learning…
To be honest, J started this one. He got sticklebricks for his birthday a while ago and he started to build Star Wars spaceships. This led onto an interest in all construction resources such as Lego and Duplo. Construction activities supports:
- Fine manipulative skills (strengthening finger, hand, wrist control).
- Shape knowledge (naming them, 2D/3D, how they fit together)
- Spatial awareness and positioning (language, use of space etc)
- Imagination (thinking of ideas of what to make).
- Concentration (staying on task, exploring, carrying on even if bits drop off).
J has shown a talent for recreating spaceships from Star Wars. He can build them from memory and tells me what they are. I often google to see how accurate he is and I’m really amazed.
The next step which we are working on is encouraging J to build from imagination rather than memory. Imaginative skills is an area that can often be challenging for those on the autistic spectrum. This can be because of the unpredictability of it all. It’s not scripted. It can also be lack of play skills which affects imaginative play. For J, I think its the former.
J has always enjoyed books however it can become quite routine and we end up reading the same book over and over. Having a selection of Star Wars books means we can break the cycle and read a star wars book instead. He has story books, ‘fact’ books (ok, technically not factual but its about the characters and planets not a storyline) and magazines (which are great for taking out and about when I need him to stay still and be engaged for a while, eg: doctors waiting room). J even loves to ‘read’ the back of the packaging his Star Wars toys come in!
By looking at Star Wars literature we support:
- Language skills (adding new vocabulary, practising speech sounds).
- Social communication (sharing the story, having a conversation etc)
- Concentration (spending time looking at the pages)
- Physical skills and book skills (turning pages, holding it the right way round).
- Reading skills (when ready it supports reading, sounding out the letter sounds of the challenging and new words, tracing words/sentences).
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
J uses PECS to support his social communication. J has a lot of words and is slowly getting clearer. His main issues with speech are around the social aspect. He won’t direct his speech to a person, it will often be out loud to the room and you have to assume it’s to you or hope you heard him. J will talk about his interests and will expect a particular response. Then repeating his words/question until he gets his answer.
By using PECS it enables J to have a way to structure his speech and a visual reminder to share it with someone. I created Star Wars pecs by cutting out pictures from his magazines (thank you Star Wars Lego magazine). J can create ‘I made’, ‘I see’, ‘I have’ sentences and it ensures the adults around him know what he’s talking about. After all how many of you readers came name all the spaceships and characters? Would you know what J was on about?
This helps J to open his world up to others.
Small World Play
I am a bit of a bargain hunter. Star Wars can be an expensive interest to have when it comes to buying toys. All of J’s toys have been found at car boots sale, Facebook for sale groups, Poundland and other discount shops. I buy J these toys so that he can explore them, look at the mechanisms on them (he still has his interest in knowing how things move and how they work).
The exception to this is his wooden peg figures. I brought this from Manic Mumday Makes because I am a big believer in wooden toys. I think it’s important for children to have toys that don’t do anything. They don’t move or make noise. This means children have to use their own movements and play skills.
Daddy is often the one to play these with J. He will re-enact story lines and make up funny noises. J will often take over and then start to lead. This is another area we are developing as J will give you a character or a toy and will get upset or meltdown if you try and change it. I think it goes back to that sense of control and predictability. But in the real world J has to learn to take on other peoples ideas and needs so this is a great way to bring this into practise. If I tried it with other activities such as puzzles, pretend shop etc J would just walk away. As this is his favourite activity he is more likely to stay.
Other areas small world play can help:
- Language skills (making up dialogues, talking about their play).
- Imaginative play (Thinking of story lines, pretending the toys can fly etc)
- Physical development (moving around, using fine manipulative skills to control the toys).
- Social skills (sharing games and play space with others).
Mark making is an area I have written about previously and discussed how J isn’t always eager to join in. I have used Star Wars to encourage J to make marks and to draw pictures. Often I’ll start and draw my own characters and then J will either ‘correct them’ or start to draw his own. It may look like squiggles but any time you can get a child to enjoy writing/drawing will help them have a positive attitude to literacy when they start school.
We have drawn:
- On the light board
- In mud with sticks
- Making pictures for family
- Drew around his toys
- Used magnet drawing boards.
- Chalk on the pavement.
This has led to J trying to copying the letters of his name and ‘write’ names of who the picture is for so it has led to non-Star Wars mark making too.
Interacting with the outside world
We are lucky that there is a local Star Wars group which dress up and go to events. We went to visit them so J could ‘meet’ his favourite characters. It was 50:50 whether J would run and hide, or be super excited. Well J LOVED it. He was straight over to the ‘dark side’ characters as if they were long time friends. He was exploring their weapons (he was fascination with Kylo Rens lightsaber), their helmets and was telling them the story lines their characters was involved in (with me acting as translator as J was difficult to understand).
I had to support J dealing with the social side. He would just walk over to them even if they were having photos with other families or busy. He was not happy if he couldn’t see where Kylo Ren was at all times and he was totally unaware of ‘stranger danger’ and was happily trying to walk away from me to follow them around. But J had a great time and still talks about it. In fact we are off to see them again later since it’s Star Wars Day, how could we miss it?
So, whatever your child’s interest is, it can be used to support lots of learning opportunities and supporting skills children will need outside of there fascination. I don’t know how long J’s obsession will last. But as long as it makes him happy and he is continuing to make progress then I’m content to keep supporting it. I’d love to hear what your child’s interests are. Do you children like Star Wars? Are you a fan? Let me know…
…may the force be with you!