They're not the first descriptors that come to mind when you think about autism, are they? And yet, Bud is all these things. He has always had great pretend play skills and an active imagination. He rarely tires of toys because he continually finds new ways to play with them. When he wants to play-act a particular scenario and he doesn't have the right equipment, he will happily find a way to use whatever he's got. Want to play Little Bo Peep but find yourself short on sheep? No worry: toy dogs and elephants can fill the roles and learn to say "Baaa." What? No Bo Peep doll? The Fisher Price farmer would be happy to step in. At the beach with no toys on hand? This big rock can be Bo Peep; these twigs can be the sheep.
I was surprised, then, when Bud approached me the other day and asked me to help him make the dancing bear from a favorite Teletubbies segment. I knew that if he wasn't content just swapping out a different toy to create the scene, then he must have had a particular image in his head and he was certain that I could deliver. I, on the other hand, was less certain of my abilities.
I was familiar with the segment, of course. In it, a cylindrical circus-tent looking object drops from the sky into Teletubbyland:
The Tubbies gather around to watch as the sides of the tent part and a little bear emerges wearing a hat and vest, carrying a cane, and dancing a soft-shoe:
"I need the dancing bear and the tent," Bud told me. "Can you help me make it, Mom?"
"I'm not sure how to make it, Bud," I said.
"With paper," he said. I was resistant and could not imagine what he was envisioning. I found a little toy bear among his collection and hoped that it would be enough to satisfy him. It wasn't. He clearly had something else in mind.
"Okay, Bud," I said. "Tell me what you want me to do." And he did. One step at a time, he told me what we needed to turn this plastic bear into the magical dancing bear and I scoured the kitchen drawers to find supplies that would do the job. Twist-ties from the bread became the requested hat and cane. A torn paper towel became a vest.
"He needs shoes, Mom," Bud said. I ripped tiny pieces of blue painters tape and stuck them to the bear's feet. Bud thought it was a perfect solution.
"Now the tent, Mom," he said, once again walking me through the stages. We didn't have a picture in front of us, so I just followed his directions about what it was supposed to look like. I don't know what sort of picture he had in his mind when we began, but he grew more and more delighted with each completed phase of construction.
In the end, our collaboration yielded this:
Bud is thrilled, and has had the bear performing all weekend.
I don't know for sure, of course, but with this sort of innovative vision, eye for detail, and collaborative work style I'd say that Bud's got a promising future in the film industry; I'm guessing Production Design. And it looks like we've got our first entry for his portfolio.