Puppetry and Autism

by Puppet Nerd

Like most kids with autism communication can be challenging. Not just basic needs and emotions but even small things like interests. This can cause a ton of frustration on both the parent and the kid’s part.

For my family we struggled with this for years. Our son Bobby was formally diagnosed with level 1 autism right around his 4th birthday. One thing he really struggled with was finding something that he liked to do. His twin brother, Will, really took a liking to stereotypical interests kids like. Things like Legos, dinosaurs, and trains. Bobby, however, never really got into anything particular. He loved to dress up and pretend, but his lack of language skills at the time made it hard for us to join in. He would get more frustrated with us than enjoy us interacting.

As a mom, I was heartbroken that he spent so much time angry or frustrated with us than enjoying being a kid. Without boring people with details, I am very thankful to our ABA specialist and time. As he grew so did a lot of his skill sets. Eventually we stumbled onto a cycle of watching The Muppet Movie. Yes we do a lot of repetitive things. This means watching the same thing over and over and over again. Thankfully there is a large library of Muppets videos on Disney + and Sesame Street on HBO Max. Bobby really started to show interest not just the shows but in the actual puppeteering. He started to actually inquire about how they worked. Who’s controlled them? This was huge because it was not just nonsensical talk and mimicry. You could tell his brain was just turning.

Per his request we ended up finding more videos showcasing puppeteers. One of our favorites is a 60 minute clip about the behind the scenes and the puppeteers on Sesame Street. Fast forward to Christmas and he asked for a puppet with arm rods. This was the first time he asked for something different than his brother. My husband and I were so thrilled. So yes, he got his own puppet with arm rods. His name is “Dud”. Dud gave Bobby freedom to be creative in his own way. He was hooked and got the bug for puppeteering.

Even though YouTube can be a bit of a controversy in our own house, there is some really good content we’ve enjoyed. As of late Bobby has shown a huge interest in making puppets. Thanks to this page and Adam’s YouTube page we have started by doing some of the free puppet templates and patterns he provides. We made two of the Snoofs the other weekend and it was the best weekend we have had in a while. Bobby got to learn how to sew a little bit and really did all the work himself as much as he could. He created something that was his. This really gave him so much confidence where he was lacking in other activities he has tried. He also got all the time with me that he wanted but could never express. I love that he now has his own “thing” he loves.

As a mom I love how making puppets or performing with his puppets has given Bobby the freedom of expressing himself. Seeing there are no “rules” put upon him. I’ve even started to incorporate them into reinforcing his morning routines!!! I’ll leave you with a few questions I asked Bobby about why he liked puppets. Here are some of his answers. “Why do you like puppets?” “Cause they are fun to play with”. “What makes them fun to play with?” “I get to tell them what to do”. I feel ya kid. I feel ya.

by Kristin Deaton

Learn More about autism in this video by Mark Rober and support the Autism Community!

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1 comment

Daniel Gill April 18, 2021 - 1:25 am

I am starting a YouTube channel about using puppets to support diverse learners, including children with autism. How can I connect with Kristin?


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