|of towers and dinosaurs||
28 September 2001
|The hard part of the Floor Time approach is that its an ever building tower of strategies. As your child climbs the developmental ladder, mastering the emotional milestones, you need to climb the therapeutic ladder, mastering a new approach to the next set of skills he needs to learn.
We spent some time Sunday with a two and a half year old girl with light brown ringlets around her angel face, a girl with restless feet and a faraway gaze. Shes recently diagnosed, just beginning the learning curve. Dan and I both spent some time on the floor with her. It was hard getting her attention, hard keeping her focus for more than thirty seconds at a time, and nearly impossible to get her to do something intentional in response to our overtures -- well, except for turning away, which shes extremely good at. But Dan and I both had the same feeling when we left there: "That was easy!" Because we know how to do that. Weve been there, more or less. Damian was never quite that hard to reach, but we recognize the basic terrain and were still equipped to tackle those jagged cliffs. Whats hard is where Damian is now, because we dont have the tools for that.
Where is he now? Its hard to define. Hes learning how to carry on a conversation, learning to think abstractly, learning how to play like a kid, with imaginary scenarios that expand as his imagination grows. Were trying to grow that imagination right now, to teach him to connect the dots. Right now he gets stuck after Point A, sometimes Point B. He dons his construction worker helmet and gets out his power tool, trots over to the cat tree, and commences tree trimming. Which is all great. Shows good imagination, right? But it never goes farther. He doesnt pretend the trees about to fall down, he doesnt put an animal in the tree to deal with, he doesnt build a tower next to the tree. He just has the one thought and no more. A typical kid might put a bunch of dolls into an airplane and shut the door, speaking as the captain, and take off for some far off clime: "were going to the zoo" or "were going to visit Grandma" or "were going to the moon", and then act out that scenario too -- flying and arriving and moon-walking. Thats what we want for Damian, that kind of creativity. Its called symbolic thinking and its important in all kinds of ways.
For the past few months, weve been stuck at Point A ourselves, not knowing how help him reach this goal. If you create or expand the scenario yourself, he just follows your lead and learns nothing except "Mommy comes up with neat stuff!" If you wait for him, nothing happens. Its a dilemma. Fortunately, he finally got some new Floor Time therapists last week; theyre affiliated with his school and have gotten proper training. Theyre very good. But theyre not enough. We need to know how to do it too. Im learning from observing them, and I know well learn more from their boss. And I just sat down last week and read the pertinent section of The Child with Special Needs. It sounds like weve been trying too hard, in a way. We dont need to be wildly imaginative ourselves, we need to bolster his ability to do so in small increments. So we expand on his theme but stay carefully within the limits of that theme. Hard to explain. Hell, its hard to do. But Im starting to get this. Maybe.
Damian and I had a deceptively simple play session the other night. First he pulled out the shape sorter turtle, but theres frankly not a whole lot you can do with a toy like that. Put the four shapes in, bonk the turtle on the head, see the blocks fly. Put the four shapes in, give the turtle another concussion, enjoy the clatter of the wood blocks on the wood floor. Yawn. So I started to stack the blocks into a tower. Damian helped. Okay, one tower built. Now what? Well, what do you do with a tower of blocks? You knock it down. But we want to develop pretend scenarios. I grabbed a nearby dinosaur. "Uh oh, theres a dinosaur coming right at the tower! What do you think hes going to do?"
Damian knew: "Hes going to knock it over!"
Damian froze. Just fell right out of the game. I asked him, "Are you upset that this little guy got hurt?"
He walked the dinosaur over to - and I was holding my breath to see what hed designate as the hospital -- the rocking chairs footstool.
I dont know how I can express the import of this. I did not tell him where to go. I did not tell him how to conjure a hospital from his -- my -- imagination. I didnt even give him choices, though I was prepared to. The words were in my throat but they never needed to come out. He made that decision all by himself. He imagined up a hospital and it was good. Very good.
He checked the patient over thoroughly before declaring him fit to reenter civilization.
copyright 2001 Tamar