Monday, October 11, 2010

Amelia Bedelia: A fun perspective for daily life on the spectrum

When I was young, I used to love reading Amelia Bedelia books! Peggy Parish created one of my favorite fictional characters, and the antics of Amelia Bedelia always made me smile. A housekeeper by trade, she humors the reader with her literal interpretation of instructions. Her employer begrudgingly tolerates her quirkiness, and after a series of mishaps, all is forgiven after the first bite of one of her culinary creations. Whenever she blunders, her amazing skill in the kitchen is her forever saving grace.

Last spring I introduced my oldest son to the Amelia Bedelia series of books. He immediately took to them, and loved the books almost as much as I did – although I don’t think he understood the humor to the same degree. In particular, he derived a lot of pleasure from quickly saying her name over and over again. I think he liked the way the words felt on his tongue and in his mouth as he quickly said, “Amelia Bedelia.”

After our visits to the library over the summer, I would listen as my son read the books aloud in the car on the way home. Recalling her various escapades from the recesses of my brain, I remembered how Amelia Bedelia blissfully marched to her own beat. She was always innocently ignorant of when she was committing a mix-up that created chaos for others. No matter how much trouble she got into, she was always forgiven and loved. Her amazing desserts also went a long way to soothing frayed nerves!

When asked to “dust the furniture,” Amelia Bedelia thinks that it’s strange to dust the furniture, as she would rather than “undust” it. So, she finds the “dusting powder” in the bathroom and proceeds to coat the furniture and floor with the powder so that she can cross “dusting” off her chore list. Or, when she is asked to “draw the drapes” she finds a sketchpad and tries her best to draw a picture of the drapes.

Amelia Bedelia’s daily journey of literal misinterpretations of common phrases and idioms, and the reactions they receive, are indeed humorous. However, there are some parallels between the experiences she has in her books, and the experiences some kids on the autism spectrum have as they navigate their way through the social waters of life.

Those of us with verbal kids on the autism spectrum, or with an Asperger’s diagnosis, are quite familiar with the lack of social tact or understanding of anything that is not fully definable or concrete. If only these real life misunderstandings were as funny as Amelia Bedelia’s! Most spectrum kids really don’t “get” the complex gray areas that abound as we go through each day. Their literal translations of life situations are easier and much more logical for them to process.

Amelia Bedelia also brings to light the importance of having a usable and desirable skill, like her ability to appease her employer with a lovely dessert after coming home to a disaster she created. I fully believe that finding a special talent in each of my boys will aid them in their social experiences in and around school. For socially quirky kids, honing a desirable skill that successfully sets them apart from others will also hopefully aid them as they become employed adults.

So, I guess that in an elementary way, Amelia Bedelia helps to give a glimpse into the mind of these complex kids…if only for a moment. I nominate Amelia Bedelia as an honorary Aspie! Do I hear a second nomination?

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