If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know I’ve been tutoring my 9-year-old nephew, Christopher, this summer. He’s on the autism spectrum (ASD, aka A Sweet Dude). Christopher has many strengths, narrow range of interests, and has floundered in school. Lacking appropriate early intervention, combined with a tumultuous family life, academics and social relationships have been challenging.
This is where Bowser comes in. You can’t teach social skills in isolation. And we need a fall guy, someone who cannot keep up with Christopher’s newly emerging language and reasoning skills.
As a powerful rascal and consequently a source of delight to powerless Christopher, Bowser provides me ample opportunity to develop a closer relationship to my nephew while exploring my nephew’s world of crime and punishment, idiosyncrasies, and failures. Since he excels at video games, it would be natural for Christopher to gravitate to a Boss. Bowser is the winner that Christopher wants to be, the embodiment of success and power in a predictable digital world. Yeah, like lots of us, Christopher is a rule-bound judicial expert entangled with anxieties, competitiveness, and despair.
While Christopher is learning to replace finger sucking with pencil toppers (more in next post), Bowser engages in silly taunting, risk-taking, and surprisingly, academic support from his “protege.” Christopher is learning skills that Bowser can use. Bowser remains powerfully wild and ridiculous, but allows us to explore winning and losing, taking turns, answering complex questions, and exploring those gray areas of real life.
I imagine Christopher’s brain as one filled with a LOT of carefully filed information on video games, for instance, but little connection to real world problem solving. He hasn’t grasped how the physical world operates and has a limited vocabulary outside his digital life. He can identify social problems but gets stuck at sequencing and cause and effect levels. My goal has been to broaden his connections, taking the jumbled information he already has and helping him to place it in “folders” for easier access. Christopher’s idiosyncratic responses are diminishing as I prompt him to use categories for analyzing problems. And Bowser? He makes Christopher laugh with wildly improbable comments and behavior. Bowser continues to rock and roll as Christopher makes sense of the world.