We’re lucky that within our local authority there is an early intervention service for children with special needs. The team of teachers provide home visits to under fives who have been referred to them. They provide advice and teaching support, giving parents and carers strategies to help their children along. We finally reached the top of the waiting list (see my previous post about our timeline here). The teacher assigned to Douglas came to visit for the first time today (I’ll call her Rachel).
When Douglas wants something he doesn’t communicate clearly. He doesn’t point to convey a need and has no real words yet, so we rely on other non-verbal communication completely. One of the first ‘building blocks’ of communication is eye contact, and that’s what we are working on currently.
If Douglas wants a puzzle and it’s in a zip-locked bag, he might come and hand it to me, but without eye contact, expecting me to know what he wants. Of course, I do know, but part of what we are trying to do is to give him the need to communicate – make it valuable. So if there’s a toy he really wants, he has to work for it a little. If I don’t open the bag straight away, he may start to whinge, cry, or even storm off. But not always – if he gives me a little eye contact, that’s my signal to open the bag, smile, say well done and show him that it was worth it. When he is praised, he usually smiles his biggest smiles and claps to congratulate himself, which I love.
Rachel brought some small toys and activities, which both boys were really motivated by. They took turns and learned how to use each toy. Watching Douglas interact with Rachel, and seeing some of those crystal-clear moments of eye contact, was lovely. The session was wholly play-based, but as the boys were both so involved, I think it was quite intensive for them too.
As well as bringing their own expertise, outsiders bring objective input on our communication as parents. Some of the things they say, whilst not designed to criticise, give you a jolt – in a good way. Being reminded that my face is the most familiar and least interesting to Douglas helped me understand why he’ll make good eye contact with strangers and yet not with me. Being shown how he gets what he wants from me without eye contact could be taken as a criticism, but personal feelings are put aside when shown a new approach that works. Sometimes you need people who can point things out that no friend could ever say.
We have a few more sessions over the coming weeks and I’m looking forward to (hopefully) seeing the progression in Douglas as those little building blocks become firm in his mind.