Julia’s class is having a poetry reading this afternoon. Julia was not expected to participate but she has been doing some of the writing prompts that that rest of the class has been working on and she wanted to read one of her “poems” just like the rest of the kids. I needed to do a quick rearrangement of our time, since Thursdays I usually take her out of school at 1:30 for attachment therapy, but all is done and I can’t wait to see her read with the rest of her class. Just before Christmas, I went into school and Julia read her favorite Chanukah book to the class. She did it quite by herself and she was very proud of herself. This is a new challenge since there will be lots of parents in attendance. Being like the other kids is such a strong motivating factor for Julia. She is so very lucky that she is fully integrated into a regular ed classroom. I think she would have a very different school experience if she was in a dedicated special ed classroom.
This is what she is reading today. This starts with the prompt, “I feel ___ when” with the blank filled in with a feeling. The students then filled in the space after the “when.” This is what Julia did:
I feel happy when I play and draw pictures.
I feel sad when my mom leaves.
I feel shy when I’m afraid to talk to people.
I feel excited when I get a surprise.
I feel sorry when I hit someone. I better say Sorry!
I feel proud when I do good work.
I feel embarrassed when I fell on the floor.
I feel angry when I do not want to share.
I feel guilty when I make mom so mad.
I feel surprised when I won the surprise.
I feel afraid when I am by dogs.
I feel impatient when I’m waiting in line.
I feel jealous when I’m jealous of you, mom.
I feel hopeful when I’m nice to someone.
I feel confused when I get a little frustrated.
I feel hurt when someone hurts me.
I feel loved when I kiss my mom at home.
I showed this to our therapy team and I will share it with Marilyn tomorrow. This is not only a poem but proof positive that Julia has learned a good deal about feelings. We all knew she was identifying feeling for awhile now but she was not connecting them with a reason. Some of her reasons in her poem are not the best choice, and a few are inappropriate but for the most part, they are dead on. This is a step towards reciprocal interaction. We have been practicing this at home and she reads it with such enthusiasm and feeling.
I had a meeting with our IDS psychologist who is the head of our therapy team. The next big goal involves teaching Julia more about conversation and interaction. Julia will have limited conversations; however, the conversation is on her terms. Asking her about something she is not interest at the moment or trying to change the conversation from her interest to your interest is near impossible. She insists on her topic (which inevitably gets around to dinosaurs and who is eating who, especially when she is feeling stressed) and pays no attention to yours. She will ask questions but they are usually not helpful to continuing the conversation in depth, but rather the questions check how the person she is talking to is feeling. She does not really check on that person’s face to see if she can figure out how they are feeling. She will ask, “are you angry?,” “are you frustrated,” “is that right?,” etc. And she will ask it over and over. This is, at the least annoying and stops any forward movement of the conversation dead in its tracks. And although a grownup, especially a professional grownup (teacher, therapist, etc.) will engage with Julia further, many kids just give up and move on.
So, for Julia conversation is for finding out what she wants to know or telling you what she knows. It is not for building interaction and fostering friendship.
John Elder Robinson, author of “look me in the eye”, “got it” when he was 9. Up to that time, he explains that her was so used to living in his own world that he answered a conversation starter or a question with whatever he had been thinking at that moment. He was responding which in his mind should have indicated that he had been listening, but his response made no sense to the person speaking to him. He says, “I suddenly realized that when a kid said, “Look at my Tonka truck,” he expected an answer that made sense in the context of what he had said.”
When I first read Robinson’s book, Julia was so far from even responding to other people that his nine year old revelation seemed impossible. I still don’t really know how it is going to happen, or how to guide her to this revelation, but WOW, if she got it, it would change her world. And amazingly, this is a next step for Julia. Not an easy one. And I expect, not a quick one. Huge, slow step, but still it is next.
Julia has learned to greet her therapists and say good bye to them when they leave. She has learned to ask them how they are when they come, and even sometimes to remember something about them. “How is your brother?” “Is your car fixed?” She has learned to ask when they will come back, and then will say, “So, see you on Tuesday.” She is generalizing some of this to school. This seemed almost impossible a year ago. And so, we teach her more.
Oh, how much that child would enjoy really talking to another kid! I know that she would. Now, just to convince her that I/we have the keys to that kingdom, that if she follows our lead, she can make peer friends.