“One more time!”
“I want it now!”
“It’s not fair!”
“You’ve ruined the game!”
“No! Don’t stop!”
We’ve all heard those phrases time and again being whined, shouted and even screamed repetitively by demanding toddlers and wished they would just learn patience and acceptance. As parents of a non-verbal child, though, there is nothing we would love more than to hear at least one of those phrases uttered.
However, we have come to realise, sadly, that this is highly unlikely and so we spend our time modelling language in a variety of ways and helping Rufus find his own way of communicating what he wants and when he wants it. If we look close enough and wait long enough, eventually we see it.
I’m not even sure what this milestone is called but I’m pretty certain that we missed it by about 3 years.
To you, the photograph above is just a boy with an air pump. To us, this is HUGE. This is groundbreaking. For the last month or so, Rufus has been placing objects on surfaces and taking his hand away, rejoicing at the fact that they either roll off and drop to the floor with a crash or they stay where he puts them. For a few weeks now, he has also begun to place our hands where he wants them, for example, on his tummy to tickle him or on the back of his neck to stroke it. For as long as we can remember, when he is holding an object and we want him to pass it to us to show him what turn-taking is, we have said ‘give it to me’ or ‘put it in my hand’ and helped him understand what we mean by using the hand-over-hand method, showing him how to place objects in our hands and let go. Left to his own devices, these instructions are largely ignored but with assistance, the cogs begin to turn.
Today, out of the blue, something just seemed to click. We were hanging out in his bedroom and I was making him laugh by using the air pump to blow air on his hair, face, tummy, legs… as you do. I began to notice that every time I stopped, he picked up the pump and purposefully put it in my hand, took his own hand away, smiled at my hand and waited… as if he were requesting ‘more’.
We kept at it for a while and must have had this non-verbal communication exchange more than twenty times until something suddenly dawned on me.
We were playing an actual game together.
In the three and a half years of his life I don’t think I’ve been able to say, with confidence, that he has ever directly involved me in playing a game with him, nor have I ever felt so ‘normal’ in my parenting of him. So often he is either locked in his world, content playing with his toys on his own or he wants nothing but full on, 100% human interaction and not even the brightest, shiniest, noisiest toy can distract him. When we try to play with Rufus and his toys, our ‘norm’ is to do things for him, to him or alongside him and he is either interested for a few seconds, politely obliging or just apathetic.
Today marks the beginning of a change in how we can begin to play together. Now we are useful to him, not just in meeting his basic needs, but in making his choice of fun happen the way he wants it and when he wants it. By discovering that he has the power to place an object into another human being’s hands, not only can he make fun things happen over and over again but he can also request things, begin to take control of what happens around him and manipulate his own world.
The world is your oyster now, my boy, so the world better watch out.