I Can't Make Cooper Play

63364fa904328ddcfe7643c606267fb3If you follow my blog you know that I have SEVERE anxiety over the fact that Cooper won’t play with me. Sounds funny, right?

Case and point. We went to a friends cabin over Memorial weekend. Totally laid back with zero expectations. Our friend has 2 little kids so we knew we were in good company.

Cooper spent most of the weekend in the back of our Yukon watching movies. It was really hard to watch. The other kids played outside the whole time. They played with squirt guns and caught fish and splashed water. They ran and rode 4 wheelers and the list goes on. Cooper threw rocks for a little bit and then starting whining to watch a movie. We eventually gave in because we had nothing else to entertain him with. We were at a really rustic cabin so our options were limited. The kid loves to swing and play in sandboxes and throw balls. We had none of those things.

This was one of the harder times I have had in a while. I felt like the world was passing him by. I can’t force him to play. It’s not possible and it won’t work. I tell myself over and over that he doesn’t know any different. But, as a mom, I do. I see the other kids laughing and playing. And there is Cooper. Eating Cheetos and watching a movie like a king in the truck. Wow.

I am starting to have moments where I feel like people are judging me. I DON’T want him to watch movies at a cabin but I honestly feel like I have no choice. I want him to have fun and enjoy himself. And I have to tell myself that his fun is watching Barney and Thomas. That is what he enjoys. He doesn’t see the value in the other games. This is who Cooper is and I have to accept it. Now yes, trust me, we limit the technology time when we are home. We are actually quite strict with it. But, this was a difficult setting.

There were other hard moments though too. He wouldn’t go inside to eat dinner. Jamie had to follow him around outside. And don’t even get me started on the whole sleeping thing. Life is so much harder when you are exhausted. We actually put Cooper to bed at 7 because he hadn’t napped that day. He fell right asleep but woke up every hour from midnight to 4 and then started our day at 4:30. This is not rare for this setting. Actually, we sort of expected it. But, that doesn’t make it any easier.

I think the huge point of this post is that I need to accept Cooper for who he is. Last night  I brought out a huge box of play dough.  Sawyer was so excited and played for 45 minutes. Cooper, on  the other hand,  grabbed a ball of play dough and threw it at me, laughed, and ran away. Little shit. In my mind, that is the best I can do. And thank God I have a little kid that WILL play with me. That makes the  sadness easier to take.  photo 2


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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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  1. jenndirks on June 4, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I can totally relate. Em did that often. She still does. All we can do is sit back and encourage her. As she has gotten older (and even at Cooper’s age) we implemented a trade off program with her. Sensory issues make certain activities hard for her.

    The trade off program is x amount of time doing a non preferred activitiy for 1 show/movie/computer time. It was easier when we knew what she liked. We created a board with 2 or 3 activites she liked: reading, swinging, or laying in the sun for example and she had to pick one. Then next was what she was going to do after (so we could make the times almost 50/50) TV, Movie, Game. Then we set the timer.

    You aren’t alone in this struggle. Play is hard for kids on the spectrum sometimes. It’s finding what they like and encouraging.

    Em’s Mommy!

    • Avatar photo findingcoopersvoice on June 4, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      This is such a great idea!!! I am totally trying this. I don’t know if Cooper will quite get it yet. The pictures will help though.

  2. findingjonah on June 5, 2014 at 1:34 am

    1. Don’t worry if people judge you.
    2. Em’s mom’s idea is great.
    3. Have you ever tried a “first/then” approach? Jonah has seemed to really take to it. It’s very similar to the he above. He does one thing you ask of him first, then he gets what he wants. “You play catch with me for two minutes and you get 15 minutes of tablet time.”

  3. Cyn on June 5, 2014 at 4:23 am

    It is hard but I’m glad you let him cope in the way he needed to. The change in where he was etc must have been stressful for him.

    In terms of play and motivating him try reading up in the Floortime method. It helped my son ALOT. He has his own way to approach tasks but now after many years of dedicated people he plays. It was a long road and some days after working do very hard at school he just wants the iPad 🙂


  4. miriamgwynne on June 5, 2014 at 8:21 am

    My son is still like this at 5. We do lots of nursery rhymes with him, esopecially sensory ones like humpty dumpty. we play tickle moster games and throwing him on the bed. He has yet to play catch or tig or digging in the sand or even with toys. He is 5. You learn to adapt your style of play to them. Water play is a huge hit with Isaac. Be encouraged, you are not alone x

    • Avatar photo findingcoopersvoice on June 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm

      Water is huge with us too. We have a water table now and Cooper LOVES it. He also loves swinging and climbing on wooden play set as well. I guess it’s just so hard that he isn’t the kind of kid that can entertain himself. Thanks lady!

  5. Kate @ Did That Just Happen? on June 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    I can only imagine how the change in scenery was such a sensory overload for Cooper! We went camping a few weekends ago and I had to take a 10 min time out in my tent – there were too many people around and so much noise! I’m not used to it and I had to take some down time in order to function, My BFF noticed and never said a word until I brought it up – and she was so sweet, she goes “I noticed, but figured you needed some space” Yup, I just needed some quiet time and space. And I’m almost 40 and don’t have sensory issues like Cooper – so I can only imagine how hard it was for him!!

    I think it’s great that you are working on accepting him for who he is and recognizing that what he enjoys is not what most other kids his age enjoy. 🙂

    • Avatar photo findingcoopersvoice on June 5, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      Hey lady. I can totally relate too. I get sensory overloaded when I am around really loud noises. Like if I was on a busy road and loud cars were whizzing by me. I can’t focus on what I want to say or do. It’s funny how that stuff affects us.

      • Kate @ Did That Just Happen? on June 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

        It is! Fortunately, my son has been very accepting and can recognize when I’m struggling and doesn’t attempt to touch me or be loud! It used to bother me that I couldn’t be perfect for him, but then I realized that it was teaching him to respect that others sometimes had issues that required a more hands-off approach, so maybe that was a lesson he needed for his future life!
        At least, I really hope it is! 🙂

  6. Dina on June 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    When you have a child who is (probably) somewhere on the spectrum, one of the hardest things is LETTING GO. Not letting go of the child, your love, your parental responsibilities. But letting go of whatever expectations you had of a “normal” child. Normal needs to go out the window, and we need to be exactly where the child is. Your child – the one in front of you – is never ever ever going to fit into some B.S. Normal Box. This does not mean you don’t support him in every way to be the happiest, most successful kid that he can be. It doesn’t mean that you don’t discipline. It doesn’t mean that he is not incredibly smart. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have high expectations for him. But we can never get off the emotional roller coaster ride to depression and anxiety if we can’t let go of that “normal” frame of reference. Our children will never fit in that frame. We need a “Cooper Frame” (or a “Benjamin Frame” in my case).

    And consider that it is not that Cooper doesn’t “value” play. It’s not necessarily the case that he actually knows how to happily engage in all these activities you see him sitting out of but just CHOOSES to voluntarily opt out because he doesn’t give a crap about it. He doesn’t know how at this point. Or, if he does, it may be anxiety producing. Or he is experiencing stress and is self-regulating and self-caring by retreating to a calm, familiar place.

    This is a goal I have for myself (not always easy, but I am working on it): I will not be sad for my autistic son. My son does not want my pity. I will not be sad and convince myself that I am somehow “missing out” on my normal child. I will be sad that others treat him unfairly. I will be sad that our culture is obsessed with “normal.” But all my child wants and needs is my love, support, and total, unconditional, unreserved acceptance.

    • Avatar photo findingcoopersvoice on June 5, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Very well said. I am getting closer to this every single day. It’s a such a journey. Some days are up and some days are down. It’s funny how that works. Cooper is the love of my life…as I know your son is to you! And I thank God every day that I have this sweet little angel to snuggle and kiss and hug. But, I do wish it was easier. The struggles are so hard. And I could use a few more rewards. I think that when Cooper starts talking I will get some motivation back. It’s just plain hard.

      Thanks for the comment! I agree with every word!