Special Needs Now

There Is No Age Limit on Imaginative Play

Kids at play
Max is sitting on the floor, smooshing Play-Doh with a rolling pin. It's morning, the first day of spring break, and he's decided to make pancakes. He ropes his sister, Sabrina, into helping him and together the kids shape a bunch, complete with fake chocolate chips. Max puts one in a bowl, settles down at our kitchen table, and pretends to eat it. "Mmmmm!" he says, a big grin on his face.

I love it, and not just because he's being cute or because seeing my kids play nicely together is proof that, yes, despite the fighting they actually do like each other. I appreciate watching him engage in imaginative play because for the longest time in his life, he didn't—and because it shows me just how much the wheels continue to turn in that head of his.

Related: 20 Places to Spark Your Kid's Imagination

Max had major developmental delays as a kid, the least of which was the fact that he wasn't into toy trucks, pretending to be a superhero, or any of the imaginative stuff in which little kids engage. Max didn't crawl until he was 2, walk until he was 3, or say words until he was 5 -- the after-effects of a stroke at birth that caused brain damage. He had fine-motor control issues, too; picking up a spoon to feed himself was a real challenge. I'd show him how to play with toy cars and I'd do puppet shows for him, but my main goal was to enable Max to function as best he could.

Over time, the imaginative play came on its own. Max started liking trucks at around 6 years old, and he'd zoom them around the floor, making truck noises as he "drove" them. He "cooked" food in a play kitchen. He got into Halloween costumes (the car wash I made even won a prize at our town's costume contest, #momboast). These days, one of his favorite activities is sitting in the driver's seat of our car and pretending he's a race car driver. He's also utterly and completely obssessed with fire trucks, and tells everyone he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up (for real).

Max is a big kid now; so you don't see that many 12-year-olds making Play-Doh pancakes or playing with toy fire trucks. Me, I'm psyched. My son's imagination is blooming and continuing to grow. As with all parts of his development, Max is on his own timeline and nobody else's. And I will happily join in. This morning I sat down at the table with him, poured pretend syrup over a pretend pancake, pretend ate it, and then had pretend seconds, too.

Ellen Seidman is a mom of two, editor, and professional snacker who blogs daily at Love That Max. You can find her pondering special needs parenthood and other important topics (such as what her next snack will be) on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ even though she still hasn't totally figured out what that is.