On an unhurried summer day, at last, we stopped at a favorite playground. For my son who has cortical visual impairment (CVI), favorite playground means ample tree shade (photosensitive, though he won’t always admit it). It also means a good selection of slides, such as “curly slide.” Slides have been his preferred playground play for some time. Slides are downhill, his favorite. Slides are fairly easy, once you figure out how to navigate to the top, which is not always accessible or obvious to a child with CVI. Ladder can look like lots of different things.
This playground easily became a favorite. On a few occasions we have randomly met other kids, usually younger, who were quick to befriend Jasper. We are endeared to any place that comes with friends. And friends tend to be younger, or girls, or bring their own differences, just like Jasper.
The play structure has a unique, far from intuitive, vertical wooden climbing structure. One time, with a constant stream of encouragement and support and verbal direction, Jasper managed to climb around on it, without making his way to the top of the play structure. Climbing is hard, climbing anything is hard. Scrambling over rocks and boulders is hard. Activities that a typical boy could do in the blink of an eye, without giving it a thought. Low rocks often require the stability of being on all fours, in addition to slow, careful motor planning.
Other physical activities are hard. Jumping is hard, Jasper works on jumping at aquatic OT (visual fields). Swings, monkey bars, and turning a cartwheel at gymnastics is hard. How do you explain cartwheel to a child with CVI? (complexity, latency, movement)
Jasper has always loved downhill (movement). As a toddler, we would go to parks and seek out small grassy hills for him to run down, mommy waiting with outstretched arms at the bottom. Now as a little boy, he loves riding his bike downhill. He loves running downhill. Slides have been a constant for him, no matter how low or high. The best slides are at the pool. The “merry go round,” or anything that spins, is a favorite.
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On this day, we stopped to play on our way home. Actually not on our way home. The park is on the opposite side of town, out of our way, yet we made a detour for it.
As a baby, Jasper became uneasy with the movement of swings. In the last year or so, he has taken a fresh interest in swinging, and seeks them out. After exploring the play structure, riding down the slide a few times, grabbing onto a yellow monkey bar (preferred color) before retreating (visual fields), he made his way over to the swing set.
Half a dozen other kids played on the swings. One mom pushed two kids on the typical swings. Some other, older kids took over the chair swings that are supposed to be reserved for children with disabilities who need core and trunk support. They stood up on the blue plastic swings, jerking them back and forth, side to side, violently.
Jasper hung back, in the shadow of the trees, and waited and watched quietly. A few times, he walked along the low concrete wall or “beam” as we call it (gymnastics, comparative language, Roman). It struck me how unusually calm and still and patient he was, watching the other kids, waiting. It was hard not to notice how the shade separated him from the other kids, laughing and playing together in the sun.
Jasper had been waiting for some time, when two of the kids made their way over to stand by the typical swings. The kids on the typical swings were aware of their privilege and were reluctant to give up the coveted swings and took their time doing so. As soon as a boy ambled off, the girl waiting right by the swing, in the sun, moved to jump on. Jasper stood still, watching this, from his spot by the shade. He was not one to confront a kid on the playground. He would often give up his favorite playground spinner at the request of another, often older, kid (except when momma grizzly bear is hovering nearby).
He watched and did not say a word. So I did. Hey, Jasper’s been waiting over here in the shade, it is his turn to swing. The girl gave up the swing and Jasper walked over.
Jasper is big enough now and looks like he could easily pull himself up on the swing seat, but he cannot. With instruction from mom and holding the seat down behind him, after a while he managed to wiggle himself up onto the swing. The other kids saw and watched Jasper’s difficulty, his difference, then wandered off in search of more play.
In spite of lots of practice, swinging is hard. Once he gets on, Jasper cannot propel himself on the swing, and needs help. Not just help getting going, but the whole time. So if you stop pushing him on the swing, he will not take over and do it himself, he will eventually slow down and stop.