Saturday, September 24, 2011

An Open Door Means Walk... and other discoveries

One of the things I've discovered in the past three weeks is that while the challenging moments may be long and the joyful moments may be short, their length does not necessarily equal their value.

My youngest little buddy is only 6, and is what we call "a wanderer". He doesn't show any particular interest in anything - his only "affinity", as we call them, is throwing things. Not in anger, he just likes to throw things. Enjoys the sensation of the throw, I suspect from watching him, and because he had no real sense of cause and effect, he doesn't really care what he throws - he's just as happy throwing a beanbag up in the air over and over as he is tossing books, toys and anything else left lying about. His first week with us, he wouldn't set foot in the sensory room. He'd peek in from the door, but that was it. Last week, one of my team managed to coax him in by encouraging him to push the buttons an change the colours on the bubble tube. This week, he'd wander in and out of the room, never staying long. Tuesday, he actually came over to where I was sitting and touched the bubble tube, repeatedly, and then suddenly sat beside me and leaned his forehead against mine and smiled, for about 5 seconds. I was beyond thrilled. It happened twice more, as he wandered in and out of the room through the open door. Fleeting, precious moments of connection.

On Wednesday, my new Speech and Language Pathologist stopped by for a visit in the afternoon, and somehow ended up in the sensory room with me, as we tried to entice this little guy to come in and engage with us while I described him to her. He had wandered in and out several times, until one of the other students shut the door to the room. Instead of trying to let himself out, this little guy proceeded to sit on the floor and "play" with us for the next 4 minutes or so - clapping, smiling, making funny noises back and forth and interacting beautifully. When someone again opened the door, he immediately stood up and left. We shrugged and figured that was the end of our playtime, but we pleased with the interaction we'd had, and we left the little room and headed back into the larger classroom to continue our discussion and observe the other students. Only a minute later, one of my team said in alarm "What's wrong with ***?" We looked over to the carpet and found our happy, smiling little friend rocking himself with tears running down his face. Confused, we pointed out that he had been fine a moment ago, and encouraged one of my team to take him back into the sensory room. She did, shutting the door, and when we peeked in moments later, we saw him happily interacting with her, as well. Weird...

Several minutes later, another student wandered into the sensory room, leaving the door open, and out popped our little friend once more, only to go immediately back to the carpet, sit down and start crying again. We quickly shooed him back into the room with an adult and shut the door, and my SLP looked at me in amazement. "Motor Planning", she said. Pardon?

“To him, an open door means move.  He likely doesn’t have the motor planning to see the door and think “No, I don’t want to leave where I am”, and to physically stay where he is. To him, an open door means go.  Which is also why he wanders.  No boundaries, no motor planning to stay put.” Would I EVER have figured that out on my own??? Holy moly...

The next day, we deliberately sent him into the room to play with someone, and opened the door after a few minutes.  Sure enough, he popped right up to leave, but I gently turned him around at the door and sent him back in, leaving the door open a few moments more before closing it again.  Three times we did this, and finally on the fourth, he DIDN’T GET UP WHEN THE DOOR OPENED.  It was like the heavens opened up and light streamed into the room – I had managed to accomplish something meaningful with this child! He continued to sit and play until I closed the door again, but when I opened it the fifth time, he popped up again and headed toward the door. Sigh...

This time, however, he vocalized and resisted my turning him back, indicating that he really DID want to leave the room, and when I let him out, he went happily to wander about the room, without any sadness this time.

Now, suffice to say I’m pretty sure this won’t magically eliminate his need to wander about, but it does give us valuable information for working with him. Work in a confined space if you want him to stay on task. Give him a chair with arms and a weighted lap mat if you want him to sit.  Theories, really, at this point, but theories are better than nothing to start from, which is where we were last week.

Other little miracles included playing a turn-taking card game with one of my girls, who doesn’t like toys and is hard to entertain during free time. The cards had fruits on them. And Dora.  Let’s not forget Dora, which was the only reason she agreed to sit with me in the first place. J  But she played the whole game, and asked to play again.  She also loves the finger song “Three Little Monkeys” – the one with the crocodile.  Thanks for that little gem, Mom – she asks for it every day.  And when I do cartwheels out on the playground, she giggles her brains out and asks for more.  I get dizzy, but it’s so worth it.

We had a dance party with another of my girls this week – there was some upbeat world beat playing and we all danced around and laughed at each other. Ok, it was mostly my team and I dancing and her laughing at us, but whatever...

On Thursday, I got my big boy to play math games on the computer with me.  Under duress, initially, because it wasn’t his Jimmy Neutron DVD being played and he wasn’t thrilled with that, but after a few clicks he caught on to the game and finished it willingly. He rarely does any work willingly. Score.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, we all worked. Together.  Every kid and every adult in the room were working on the same thing (a picture recipe for chocolate oatmeal cookies that we’re making Monday), at the same time, and everyone was enjoying themselves. Explaining the ingredients in the pictures, doing the sign language, talking about the cookies, glueing the pictures onto the shopping list.  It lasted for about 5 minutes.  It was amazing. It was joyful.  I looked up briefly and took a mental picture, to store away and pull out when the longer, harder moments are getting me down. THIS is what I had in mind when I took over this class.

We have amazing moments in Room 10 – every day.  The trick is to capture those moments, to hold onto them, to strive for them, and to forgive ourselves when they seem few and far between.  Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re not mighty as hell... J


  1. Your blog brings me tears as I read. Thank you, thank you so much for all the teachers like you. I know my son's teacher is one of them. I truly can relate to every thing you've described in your blog. NO, I'm not a teacher, but I am a Mom of autistic son who has very difficult unpredictable behaviors and he is still attend school only half day due to his impulsiveness and difficulties.
    Again, thank you from bottom of my heart.

  2. I wish you were MY grandson's teacher! God bless you!