March 1, 2011

Problem Solver

When he was a baby, we often remarked at how intently Moe would try to figure out how toys worked. We now know that that was likely an early sign of autism, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a good observer, at least of things, if not people. He figured out, for example, how to turn his toys on and off much younger than Jelly did.

In general, Moe is a fantastic problem solver, quite capable when it comes to things he wants to do. The other day, his favorite toy monkey was in his crib. He figured out how to put one hand through the slats to reach the monkey, raise it up and grab it over the top with his other hand. It seems like a complicated little maneuver that he just figured out how to do.

Moe has also figured out that he can move his chair under the light switch in his room so he can climb up and turn the light off or on. He had been doing this for a while when he realized that this is a skill he could use elsewhere. A couple of weeks ago, he moved his chair into Jelly’s room across the hall so he could reach her light, and it wasn’t long before he started moving all kinds of things around: the ottoman in the living room so he could reach those lights, or a drum under the light switch in the hall. Clearly, Moe likes to control the lights.

A couple of weeks ago we were at OT and, as always, asked Moe to take off his shoes. Moe can do this, as I’ve often found Moe without his shoes when I know I didn’t take them off. But I have never been able to get Moe to take off his shoes on demand. He knows what we’re asking. He’ll sit down, fiddle with the velcro, but eventually give up. Usually, I step in to help but this time we waited. After a lot of prompting and a little help, Moe did it. But we could see that it was hard for him; he doesn’t quite have the fine motor control, so he uses his other foot to help kick the shoe off. But still, he figured out a way.

We discussed why Moe wasn’t able to just sit down and take off his shoes. In this case, it may have been that Moe knew we’d eventually help so he’d just make it easier on himself and wait it out. But there seems to be a qualitative difference between the ability to do something because you are self-motivated and because you have to. Of course, motivation is a powerful thing, but I don’t think Moe could have taken his shoes off even for all the jelly beans in the world. It seems like the brain treats performing a task at will and performing it on command very differently.


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