A few days ago, I ran across a really funny blog entry on The Stir by Linda Sharps entitled “The Most Evil Baby Toys Ever Made.” As I read through her descriptions about what made these seemingly innocent toys, such as the Fisher Price corn popper, jack-in-the-boxes, and wooden puzzles, so humorously heinous, I remembered a few of Alex’s toys that drove me crazy. Often these toys were purchased as gifts with the best of intentions, hoping they would help his fine motor skills and/or his delayed language issues. Once Alex received them, however, we realized just how annoying these toys really were.
For example, we gave him the game Lucky Ducks, a motorized home version of the Duck Pond game he likes to play every year at the county fair. Little plastic ducks move along a conveyor, and the child matches the colors on the bottom of the ducks. Besides teaching colors and sorting skills, we hoped having to grab the moving ducks would be good for Alex’s fine motor skills. However, we did not know just how loud and irritating the realistic duck sounds that the game makes would be. Despite Alex’s sound sensitivities, he didn’t seem bothered by the constant quacking that made me feel we were living on “Old MacDonald’s Farm.” Perhaps my dislike of all poultry, other than in the form of baked, fried, or grilled chicken, made me overly annoyed by these little ducks. Even going to a different room while Alex played the game didn’t help matters; the insistent quacking carried throughout the house. I shared my frustration about Lucky Ducks with my autism mom friends online, and one of them had the perfect solution. Her e-mail response to me, entitled, “Shushing the Ducks,” suggested placing a piece of duct (or should that be “duck”?) tape over the speaker holes on the bottom of the game. Could something so simple work so well? Yes, those ducks were muffled by a piece of tape, allowing Alex to continue enjoying the realistic sounds while not subjecting anyone else to the duck’s squawking, so everyone was finally happy. I always wondered why, however, Lucky Ducks did not come with a mute button or a volume control; I suspect this may have been a conspiracy by the manufacturer Hasbro to entertain kids while annoying their parents at the same time.
Another toy we gave Alex was bought with good intentions but wound up being nearly as annoying as Lucky Ducks. Since Alex had hyperlexia, or precocious reading skills, I followed hyperlexia research carefully when he was little. On one of the sites where parents shared ideas, one parent had recommended the game Who Am I? [or maybe it was called What am I? The game is no longer available, and maybe my mind has tried to block all memories of this game.] as a way to improve language skills. This electronic game had a four by four grid of squares, with a picture of common items or animals on each of the sixteen squares. The game was similar to Twenty Questions in that the child tried to narrow down the objects, using clues to help categorize the intended object. For instance, for the first clue, this talking game might say, “I’m big.” The child might then touch the car square. If that were incorrect, the game might say, “I’m gray.” Then the child might choose the elephant square, and the game would tell the child that answer was correct. In theory, this was a terrific game for Alex, to teach him to point to objects, listen to directions, and learn to categorize items. However, for some reason, the manufacturer decided to hire someone with the most obnoxious voice on earth to record the verbal cues. When a button was pressed incorrectly, the voice would say in a snotty tone, “NO, I’m BIGGER than THAT!!” or “NO, I’m RED!!” Underneath that nasty response was the unspoken follow-up, “You big dummy!!” While I didn’t appreciate how incompetent that game made me feel, Alex never seemed to mind being corrected by the evil voice; in fact, he seemed to find the comments funny. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem traumatized by the game voice’s overly harsh criticism; his self-esteem remained intact. However, I wondered how many other kids might have felt as stupid as I did when they, too, played this game. I believe the nasty voice may have led to its demise on the toy market. I hope so.
Along with noisy and snide electronic toys, any toys that had numerous pieces held no affection for me. My younger sister, who didn’t have children until Alex was older, had a habit of giving Alex toys that had lots of parts to scatter/step on/lose. I vowed revenge on her, promising that when she had children, I would get them similar multi-piece toys. However, I didn’t follow through on that plan, knowing how all those pieces had driven me to distraction and not wanting to inflict similar pain upon her. To help Alex’s fine motor skills, he had various multi-piece building blocks: wooden, plastic, and the ever annoying Legos, which when stepped upon in bare feet cause shooting pains and involuntary adult verbal tirades. Interestingly enough, Alex had no interest in building anything with blocks. Maybe his lack of fine motor skills made him less likely to build using the toy blocks. I suspect he preferred demolition to construction because he found great pleasure in knocking over any of the buildings we made to model for him how to put the blocks together. Like a tornado, Alex’s hands rapidly destroyed our block handiwork, and he giggled as he did it. Of course, this meant all those blocks went flying around the room, and cleanup wasn’t one of his favorite tasks. Despite our best efforts, some blocks remained elusive, only to be found accidentally by my bare feet. As I think back on these remnants of our past, I’m thankful that Alex enjoyed these toys that annoyed me so much, but I’m more grateful that he’s outgrown them so that I don’t have to listen to them, or step on them, for that matter.
“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. “ Ecclesiastes 3:12