Posts tagged ‘therapy’
I work as a program administrator for a small theatre company that does what I’ve come to call “therapeutic theatre.” The players, people I have come to admire greatly, perform improvisational theatre based on audience members’ stories (it’s called “playback theatre”), and they also do workshops in which the audience fully participates. The therapeutic part of their work is that they are doing all these workshops and performances at homeless shelters, juvenile detention facilities, and group homes for developmentally disabled adults. The participants, through improv, explore their feelings, learn empathy, and become empowered in their own lives. It’s amazing work that takes my breath away whenever I see it.
Today I spent my morning participating in one of the workshops with juvenile sex offenders. These aren’t 20 year old men who had sex with their 16 year old girlfriends. These are 14, 15, and 16 year old kids who did something bad enough to land them in a locked-down treatment facility. Scary stuff.
Truthfully, I didn’t want to go today. Sex offenders make me nervous. Young sex offenders, those who have probably perpetrated their crimes on even younger children, really make me nervous. So it was with heavy heart that I attended the workshop today. I suppose in the back of my head, even being the liberal bleeding heart that I am, I was expecting these kids to be monsters, horrible miscreants with big signs on their t-shirts saying, “Stay away from me, I’m scary,” in case there was any doubt. Which I didn’t figure there would be, given the horns I must have thought would be sticking out of their heads.
The truth, however, is that these kids are just that – kids. They’re babies, really, not even old enough to live on their own. And frankly, they seemed like pretty nice kids to me. On the verge of being out of control sometimes, which was apparent both in their words and their actions, but overall most of them seemed like good kids. No horns in sight.
What struck me the most as I made the long drive from the inner city back home to my sheltered life, is that somewhere out there, all these kids have a mother, some of whom are probably just like me. A mother who wants her child to grow up to be happy and healthy. A mother who has high hopes for her son. A mother who probably questions her every move with her child, and perhaps replays events in his life, wondering if she handled them the right way. A mother who probably never anticipated the challenges that parenting have brought her, but is doing her best to work through them.
A mother who just wants to hug and shelter her little boy.
I seem to be going through a phase I think many of us parents go through at some point in our kids’ young lives. There’s a point early on, where you know there is a limited amount of time as their young brains develop and patterns are formed. You run from therapy appointment to therapy appointment, and sometimes your child’s whole life seems to be full of therapy appointments. My son, for one, has always loved and continues to enjoy therapies. He works better with adults than kids, and he loves nothing more than someone completely focused on HIM. At some point, however, I began to wonder if he has reached the point where therapies no longer do much for him. In part because he is who he is, and another part because the other kids are who they are.
I listened to a little boy tell C this morning that he was annoying, and later realized C would probably never say that to another child. He might if the child was in his face, but I still don’t think he’d say it in that way – he would say it in his own defense instead of as an offensive move against the other kid. If he’s mean to someone, it seems to be out of ignorance or true misunderstanding. He doesn’t ever seem to be mean simply for the sake of being mean. I don’t take any credit for this as I know it has far more to do with his diagnosis than any great parenting on my part. I just don’t think he ever looks at someone and calculates how to hurt their feelings.
So as I’m pondering the wisdom of signing the form that came home requesting his presence in a friendship group at school (which was discussed at his IEP meeting), I find myself wondering if it will do any good. He’s quirky, he’s sometimes awkward, and he can certainly irritate other kids, but I’m not sure more therapy or a social group is going to change any of that. C is who he is, and I think he’s the most delightful child in the world. I wonder if he’s been coached enough, scripted enough, prodded enough, and prompted enough to just let him be.
I am stunned at how much we take the way we learn things for granted. We (with the aid of many wonderful physical, speech, occupational and feeding therapists along the way) have taught C how to do everything from walk to talk to eat. It’s always physical things as opposed to mental things that are a struggle for him. He can’t button his shirt yet, but he learned all the Presidents, their Vice Presidents, the number President they were, and where they were born (which once resulted in a small argument with a doctor who insisted to C that Abraham Lincoln was born in Illinois – WRONG – and I sent a copy of the flashcard with the correct state of Kentucky to said doctor – DON’T YOU ARGUE WITH MY KID! – which I’m sure he appreciated!) in the span of about two weeks when he was 4.
That being said, I’m simply fascinated at the process of learning for these children with autism. Blowing his nose becomes a highly skilled activity for C in which the task is broken down into the tiniest of pieces. He has to learn how to take the kleenex out of the box, fold it correctly, hold it with both hands, find his nose on his face with both hands, place the kleenex in the right place over his nose, apply the right amount of pressure with his fingertips, blow, wipe, fold the kleenex after blowing, and finally throw it away. He is finally starting to do this task by himself after years of work.
So when a teacher commented last year that I shouldn’t help him blow his nose, I reminded myself that I’m doing a very good job of finding the balance between letting C just be a kid and spending too much of his time in therapeutic interventions with the goal of teaching him these skills. It’s important that our children have time to play, hang out, and just be the silly little creatures they are – there’s always tomorrow to learn how to tie one’s shoes.