Exciting times in our household: Quentin and Fiona just celebrated their 10th birthday! It’s hard to believe that my babies are now in double-digit territory. But once again we were at the annual Big Question: What kind of presents would work for Quentin?
People who come to Quentin’s party always ask us this. It’s always tricky to find a good gift for Quentin; he does not play with many toys. We buy him presents, hoping he’ll adore them, and they collect dust simply because he prefers his iPad to real play things. Not always, but most of the time. It’s very trial-and-error. But this year, one gift worked perfectly: Mr. Potato Head.
A Favorite Character from Toy Story 2
Quentin’s latest passion is Toy Story 2. And yes, it’s that specific – he really does not care for the original Toy Story or Toy Story 3. Don’t ask me why he prefers this one; it is what it is. But we’ve been experiencing Toy Story 2 on repeat for at least four or five months now, so I know it’s not just a passing phase. However, unlike Quentin’s past intense interests, I actually enjoy this movie and I don’t mind it playing over and over again! It’s one of Pixar’s best, and I am much prefer co-viewing this with him than some of his past choices.
If you haven’t seen the film, you should just know that a lot of toys are featured in it, and both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head play important roles. It did not occur to me that Mr. Potato Head was one of his favorite characters until I saw him play with this gift. I assumed that because Woody and Buzz Lightyear play more central roles, he would have grown attached to them. But there I go again: Thinking like a Neurotypical! I need to stop assuming things about Quentin.
Mr. Potato Head came to us from a babysitter, who knew that Quentin was scripting the movie a lot. Sure, Quentin also received a talking Woody doll and a talking Buzz doll from family members, but he only occasionally pays attention to those toys. He wants Mr. Potato Head pretty much every day. He’ll take out all the pieces and then carefully put them back, right where they are supposed to go. If I try to do something silly, like say, put the smiling mouth upside down to make a frown, he gets angry and corrects it immediately. The desire for routine sameness is a hallmark of autism, and Quentin is definitely exhibiting it with this toy. He won’t tolerate any crazy shenanigans with Mr. Potato Head’s facial features.
Everything Old is New Again
The strange thing is that we have owned this toy before. When Quentin was a toddler, he had several Early Intervention therapists. Two of them – a speech therapist and an occupational therapist – would arrive at our home with a big bag of toys. Mr. Potato Head was one of those toys that they both used a lot. The speech therapist liked it because she got Quentin to say the names of the body parts before adding them. The occupational therapist like it because Quentin had to use some fine motor skills to push the pieces in and pull them out. So, naturally, this was a toy I thought worthy of keeping around when the therapists weren’t, and I bought both a Mr. and a Mrs. Potato Head. (It seemed like the easiest solution for keeping both twins occupied.)
Time passed and the Potato Head couple got deeper and deeper into the toy pile, never used very often once the kids hit Kindergarten. So, along with other “babyish” toys, I passed them on to my sister and her younger children. While Quentin sometimes pines for toys of his babyhood, he didn’t really seem to miss the Potato couple. So, I thought that was that.
Fast forward to this year, and the newfound love for Toy Story 2, and Quentin is suddenly really into Mr. Potato Head. It’s perhaps the only toy featured in the Toy Story 2 that is an actual toy that he is familiar with. He loves the scene where Mrs. Potato head is “packing” extra items into Mr. Potato Head’s bottom compartment for a big trip.
Mr. Potato Head meets YouTube
Of course, Quentin being Quentin, he explores Mr. Potato Head using his trusty research device, the iPad. He has found a lot of YouTube clips that feature his favorite tuber, such as this one. He likes to follow along, and place the pieces exactly as they do in the video.
Playing with Mr. Potato Head and the iPad together is Quentin’s favorite way of interacting. I love that he has found a way to play along with a someone else in videos like this. The video is a great way to model play behaviors for him, too. It also makes Quentin feel connected to another person, like a friend playing along. So while Fiona will happily watch more age-appropriate “playthrough” YouTube videos for Minecraft or Roblox, this is Quentin’s version of that.
I have this theory that Quentin prefers everything from when he was between the ages of two and four. This includes toys, like Mr. Potato Head. But it also includes TV shows, foods, and even people in his life. His memories are very strong for those years, and he is comforted by all kinds of things that happened back then. Lately, I have been wondering if Quentin is not the only autistic person with this trait. Do you know of others with autism who still clamor over Thomas the Tank Engine or Sesame Street as teenagers or adults, simply because they knew it so well as a toddler? Or is there a certain toy in their life that they want to play with, simply because it reminds them of that time in their lives? Please let me know if this theory holds up for anyone else with ASD! I’d be very curious to know. Reply in the comments for this post if you have a good example.