I know what ‘fun’ means to me, but just to make sure, I asked The Oracle (Google) to <define: fun> and found that fun is: enjoyment, amusement, light-hearted pleasure. I was right! So far so good. Dare I proceed? What the heck, let’s see what The Oracle has to say about ‘play’. According to Google, the noun ‘play’ is: activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children; the verb is defined as: [to] engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

Why did this come up?

The topic of a group discussion I recently came across was: teaching an autistic child how to play. This is a valid question for someone who wants their autistic child to take advantage of the potential pleasure afforded by toys (other than their use as projectiles). However, I started thinking about what fun actually is. What is fun for me is probably pretty boring to other people. Most of what I find enjoyable involves learning new things, untangling mysteries, uncovering arcane facts; you know, really fun things.


In the case of my new grandson (just 2 months old), the things that give him pleasure are clear from the videos his Mom sends my wife and me: 1) his mother’s voice; 2) the animal mobile hanging above him; 3)  practically every sound he hears. As he goes about the business of growing, he does take time to ‘smell the roses’ so to speak, provided by Mom, Dad and Big Sister.

It becomes a lot more complicated in the case of a less responsive, autistic child. Observation is key. A slight indication of enjoyment would be grounds for exploring its cause, which could be a doorway to even more pleasure for the child.

My brother

My parents always had my older brother Michael’s busy box in the trunk. This was a red plastic box that had dials and buttons and knobs that did different things. However, I think the activity that Mike (autistic, nonverbal and low functioning) liked the best was stacking smaller colored plastic rings on top of larger rings on a central post, although that might have been my father’s favorite activity for him. Dad wasn’t too observant. But to be fair, Mike wasn’t the easiest person to observe. He was happy pacing back and forth giving himself a smack now and then. Toys were beyond Michael’s comprehension.


I know what is fun for me, and it usually involves solitary activities. Having fun with others, particularly playing games, is usually not that much fun. When I was a teenager, I was terribly shy, but wanted to meet girls. I didn’t know any girls at all. I went to a youth group party once. I suppose someone thought it would be hysterical fun for a boy to clench an orange under his chin and pass it, without the aid of hands, to the next person in line, a girl. Hysterical, don’t you think? I didn’t wait around to see how it came out.

This brings up another definition of fun

The free dictionary provides another definition of the ‘fun’: “perhaps from obsolete fon to make a fool of”.  “I was just funning you,”  is a sentence that illustrated this meaning. I suppose many people think it is a lot of fun to see shy teenagers sweat under uncomfortable social situations. Who knows, there may be a bonus humiliation in store, for some unfortunate teenage boy with an overactive libido.  There must be something to this, since reality talent shows are such a big hit. Isn’t it great to see the no-talent amateurs make fools of themselves? What fun!

But I digress…

Having fun together

The TV show Monk had an episode where the main character, an obsessive, compulsive detective with no social skills, arranges a party for his police colleagues. He doesn’t have a clue about how to joke around, but notices that playful jabs and barbs are thrown about, among the group of friends. Monk thinks he gets the hang of it, but the barbs and jabs he throws are not funny at all; they expose personal failings and embarrassments of the people he ‘jokes’ with, and everyone goes away hurt. I suppose this can be called ‘party blindness’. (I haven’t looked it up in the DSM-5, but who knows, maybe ‘party blindness’ is in there.) Party behavior is really hard to figure out for some people.

I suspect that having fun with another person is more or less a universal problem. When I was a kid hanging around with my friends, the conversation went like this, “What do you want to do?” answered by, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”  Those who have never had that experience should see the movie Marty, with Ernest Borgnine. The triumphant Marty ends up resisting pressure from his peers and embarks on a process to make a life with a nice girl he met.

I like to think that Marty and his girl figure out their formula for having fun together.



6 thoughts on “Fun

    • Thank you very much, Sheri. I appreciate the feedback. Autism runs the gamut from really severe, with low intellectual development, like my brother, to those with highly developed intellects, like Temple Grandin. My take on Monk is that he has these compulsions and just doesn’t get what is required socially. I think this is a trait common to the autism spectrum, but one can have this trait without being autistic. There has been interesting work about ‘theory of mind’ which goes a long way toward an explanation of autism. I wrote about this toward the beginning of my blog – back in January or February. Simon Baron-Cohen wrote about it in his book, Mindblindness.
      Thanks again for reading and especially for your comment.


  1. Jack, I can’t help but wonder if your brother would have been able to explore fun, toys etc had he been in school in 2013. I coach classrooms with children who have severe cognitive delays and many of our students do have autism as well. It’s amazing what they can learn to do, explore, and enjoy. I do an assessment called Every Move Counts with our population who has a cognitive level of 18 months and lower. We present stimulation to all the senses and observe our students’ responses to that stimulation. So we watch/capture on film even the slightest responses to music, visual stimulation, tastes, movement, touch etc and record the results. From there we do a probe in areas of the most responses. So if our student likes music we probe further to see what kind of music they like. Once we establish preferences we begin to shape “communication” so that even a head turn toward a favorite song is shaped as a “request” for more! It is so awesome to see how this co-occurance affects our students. Much of the natural cause and affect is lost on our children with special needs when they are young so this is an opportunity for them to see that what they do can affect their world.

    Thank you for commenting on my video about play! It certainly has caused quite a stir! I’m glad that it has also inspired positive things like your blog!

    Warmest regards,


    • Hi Carla,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I like the approach you take. Observation is the way to go! It occurs to me that the way you go about studying reactions of the children is not unlike the study of microexpressions. I wrote a post about this, actually, several months ago, when I was wondering about the universality of expressions as related to emotion. More than 100 years ago, Darwin studied this phenomenon and wrote about it in his book, Expression and Emotion in Man and Animals (1878). Your study seems to be an extension of this line of thinking, a VERY fruitful and useful one.

      Thanks for all your hard work in this area.

      Best regards,


  2. Jack, what a story! Yes, those years were awful for children with challenges, and we all know that Willowbrook was a complete disaster.
    And it is hard to determine what a ‘sensory internal’ person has fun with; I have worked all school year with one kindergartener who is all internally sensory…and although I don’t know if it is ‘fun’ for him, when he engages in this he does not make his ‘unhappy’ sounds….I could ‘train’ him to push cars into a garage, as Carla proposed, but I can’t make it fun for him.
    I think Carla’s comment above is key: Provide opportunities to have music, toys, videos, drums, etc in a systematic fashion to the person on the spectrum; using your best observational skills, what seems to cause him to stop in his tracks even for a fraction of a second? That would mean that he at least ‘noticed’ the offering. Many people with strong internal sensory needs barely even notice anything in their environment.
    It starts with what the person is interested in, not what we think they should do.
    Your brother did not have the benefit of early intervention and schooling, and that is a shame. But we have learned from him and others about what NOT to do.
    Great that you are carefully observing your grandson!

    • Hi Segurry,

      Thank you for the comment.

      Yes, Willowbrook was terrible: exactly the opposite of what was necessary for the patients. Large institutions impress one behavior on all, when individual treatment is the only thing that will make a difference. One of my brother’s classmates was institutionalized at 5 years of age. He had some speech when he went in, and one when he came out. In fact, he was a mess.

      Large institutions must NEVER return. Smaller group homes are the only chance for proper treatment.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.



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