Monday, June 14, 2010

Cards on the table

My parents arrived this afternoon for a few days with the grandchildren. Right now they're participating in a grand Uno tournament enthusiastically narrated by Archer. Granny Lou just won her first game with Cady Gray's help, and Archer has battled back from two games down to tie Papa 4-4.

The clear rules and bounded structure of games appeal strongly to Archer's autistic mind. He is able to adjudicate any question about procedure with authority. And the "storyline" of the game seems to delight him. Motivations and emotional responses which might remain murky or inexplicable in real life become transparent in a game: good fortune and bad are well defined, and the appropriate emotions for each are plain.

And so my sometimes retiring, sometimes robotic boy becomes wildly animated while playing games. He grins, dances, shouts, sinks to the ground, and loudly rehearses the twists and turns of the game's and match's course to whoever will listen. It's a story with a plot that makes perfect sense and an appealingly granular -- often even numerical -- dramatic arc.

Someone along the line -- I think it was Noel -- started a little tradition of snapping the last remaining card in his hand after announcing "Uno." Now Archer does it with delight, and Cady Gray reaches over to flip Granny Lou's card for her when appropriate. There's something extravagant about the gesture: an expression of delight, a challenge to the other players, and nothing strictly necessary or prescribed in the rules. As these little extras accumulate, they sketch out more detail in this stripped-down game world. With enough time and tradition, the game might become as complex as parts of life. And perhaps Archer will have the tools it takes to navigate in such circumstances.

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