by Cynthia Lord

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In Cynthia Lord's Rules, what is David's favorite activity?

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David's favorite activity is to go to the video store, where he watches the preview of the videos on the televisions in the store and flips over each video case to read the rating and parental advisory. He reads the ratings even of videos his father would never allow him to rent. Then, loud enough for the entire store to hear, he reads the ratings and parental advisories out loud. He flips over all the boxes, in spite of the looks people in the store give him, and he kneels down in the aisle to see the back of a box that someone is holding. David is autistic and needs explicit rules for each activity he undertakes. He enjoys going to the video store in an exhaustive, repetitive way that seems to provide him with some comfort.  

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In Cynthia Lord's novel about a family coping with a child's autism, Rules, eight-year-old David's favorite activity is visiting the video store.  For children with autism, especially those higher up the "autism spectrum," routine is an important part of their daily lives.  Any deviation from that routine can result in increasingly erratic and even harmful behavior.  For David, his favorite routine involves watching the previews on the store's in-house video monitors and walking down each row of videos, as described by David's twelve-year-old sister, and the story's narrator, Catherine: "flipping boxes over to read the parental advisory and the rating -- even on videos dad would never let him rent."  With each video, according to Catherine, David will loudly announce for the benefit of all inside the store to hear, "Rated PG thirteen for language and some violence! Crude humor!"  Oblivious to the reactions of other customers in the video store, David will also strain to read the words on the video containers being held by those other customers.  

Rules, the novel makes clear to its intended audience, young readers, are an essential component of the heavily-structured environment in which autistic children prefer to function.  The trip to the video store represents one such routine.

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