Saturday, January 10, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Understanding

We were up in the room Ethan and Chloe are currently sharing, and Chloe was engaging in her favorite activity these days: grabbing toys out of bins and tossing them to the floor.

I picked up a toy dinosaur and made it roar. Then I had it take a bite out of a (plastic) tree. Chloe was fascinated.

She threw a Thomas train to the floor. "Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga" I said, pushing it around. Again, she was enthralled.

There was a little toy plane on the floor as well. I picked it up and made airplane sounds, soaring it through the air. Chloe grabbed the plane and tried to do the same.

I was thrown back to a memory. Ethan was about to turn two and was undergoing an OT evaluation with CCMC. I believe the specific test was called the Peabody Assessment. The therapist basically had him sitting at a desk and was asking him (or observing whether or not) he performed certain tasks.

At one point, she put two little blocks together, added a third, smaller block on top of the front block, and then began pushing the blocks and making train noises. (Apparently that third block was supposed to serve as the train's smokestack.) She waited for Ethan to do the same. Nothing.

What I remember next is not so much that he didn't do the task (Fail!) but her response. She got frustrated. She said and tried and few more times. I almost felt as if she thought he could do it, that with his obvious smarts he should be able to do it, and she was surprised that he couldn't. "C'mon," she kind of muttered under her breath. She almost sounded annoyed, and her demeanor made me tense.

Ethan just looked at the blocks as if he really didn't know or care what he was supposed to do. He didn't mind building them into a tower or knocking them down. But he was not putting two blocks together and pushing them around and making "choo-choo" sounds.

For a year, Ethan ended up with that therapist, who was well meaning but had many other moments in which she huffed and sighed and seemed almost disappointed with his progress. I found our appointments to often be almost deflating, although I appreciated how much I learned about occupational therapy, and how much Ethan learned, during that time.

These days Ethan no longer has OT. If you ask him to imitate an action like that test with the blocks, of course he will.

If you ask him to play with his toys the way a typical child would, might see that for about two minutes. And then he will usually decide to smash everything in a bad guys vs. good guys fight. This is the one play theme he knows and the one way to carry it out. Everything gets tipped over; Legos he spent so long putting together end up in pieces.

And so many times I find myself huffing and puffing like that therapist, sighing or frustrated...

...until moments like that one with Chloe, airplane in hand, making sounds or trying to.

I've said before and I'll say again that we have no idea at this point if Chloe is or isn't on the autism spectrum. But I will say there have been days she does things and until she does them I hadn't remembered that Ethan didn't at her age.

And it's not the fact that she pushes a car and tries to say "vroom." It's how effortlessly she does it. It's as if, of course, yeah, I watch what a grown-up does and try to do it too.

When I watch Chloe, I see how certain things are truly wired into us. Like imitation and play. Like the desire for certain types of play.

I'm reminded that I can't sigh or be annoyed with my son about something that is not his fault. It's not in his inner make-up.

He's not trying to be a little stinker.

It's more like he's baking cookies without all of the ingredients. And because the "ingredients" he does have are pretty good, and he's a pretty inventive "chef," the end result is, if unconventional, still pretty darned good.

Forgive the imperfect analogy. It's just coming to me now as I watch my little one learn and grow, and pray that with her big brother, I will have more compassion and understanding.

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