Once upon a time, I was a brand new graduate with a degree in speech-language pathology and a goal to change the world. To seek my fortune, I started a job in the public schools in Charlotte, NC with a challenging caseload and a wonderful group of teachers. What happened within that first year changed me a whole lot more than I changed it.
I met "Nathan". He was a four year old little boy with Autism. From the notes in his large file, the clinicians before me had made little progress in getting him to communicate – in fact he hadn’t shown interest in anyone else. When I met him the first time, I realized why. For most of the day he would stand in front of the sand/water table and pour sand or water... over and over and over again.
He wouldn’t make eye contact, request anything, or respond to anybody. He would just pour. But I could pull him out of his world into mine, right?
Almost two months later, nothing had changed, except my frustration level. I felt like a failure. I’d tried everything I knew of – withholding items, parallel play, interruption of his play scheme, talking about his play... nothing worked! I wanted to make a difference, but everything I tried seemed to fail.
Then one day something amazing happened. While I was sitting across from him at the sand table, the sunlight filtered in through the window, landed on the sand as Nathan poured it, and created a beautiful array of sparkles. Like diamonds the sun glittered off the hundreds of sand pieces and fell back into the sandbox. I was fascinated, so I picked up the shovel and scooped up some sand to see it again. As I poured, wondering at the diamond-sand, I caught Nathan staring at me. Directly into my eyes.
He’d never done that before!
He seemed to realize I enjoyed something he enjoyed. I’d entered his world, so to speak and found the beauty in it.
Afraid to lose the moment, I slowly repeated my movements, scooping up the sand and pouring it out. He imitated my actions and then... looked back up at me as if to say “Your turn”.
This was HUGE! He was turn-taking with me! We continued our little activity and I began to add words to describe my actions and then his actions, until finally – another month of this shared activity, he said “Sand” when requesting for me to pour. Then he said ‘water’ when the water table was open the next time. Slowly he began adding more words and engaging in more communication.
It was definitely a “Hellen Keller” moment for me. But what had happened? What made such a difference? Was it something as simple as being in the right place at the right time? My stellar skills as a clinician?
I don’t think so. I think the biggest difference was I entered his world... and saw the beauty in it. Then, as I began to share in his activities, slowly adding words to them, it became a bridge from his world into mine. A bridge he gained confidence and understanding to try and cross. A bridge of hope.
It completely changed my perspective on giving therapy to children, especially those who process the world differently. I had to learn to ‘speak their language’ and then invite them to learn to speak mine. (Instead of trying it the other way around).
It changed my perspective and in the process made me a better clinician... a hopeful bridge-builder.
It’s easy to become bogged down with what a child cannot do and forget to look for the beauty and strengths inherent in who they are. Sometimes I might have to look hard, beneath the meltdowns or distractions, but there is something uniquely beautiful in each child.
As clinicians, teachers, and parents, we have a special opportunity to become bridge builders – to use our love and knowledge of these children to create a path from their world to ours. It helps us manage the disappointments and frustrations much better when we try to understand their worlds, and sometimes it helps us find hope we hadn’t seen before.
May you find courage and encouragement in learning how to be a bridge builder of hope for the children in your lives.
At Carolina Pediatric Therapy our expertise and experience benefit not only the child being treated, but their family as well. We strive for excellence in all forms of pediatric therapy and family support. If you have concerns or questions about your child or the services we offer, call us today at 828.670.8056.
A Bridge of Hope
Pepper Basham, MS, CCC-SLP
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