Our days are getting better. Whew! It was rough there for a few. It was a visceral reminder of the days when life felt so limited. Of a time when my first thoughts were always of the accommodations that we needed to make when we went anywhere or did anything. Of a time when it felt safer to just stay home. And of a time when I felt utterly incompetent. In fact, part of what made this past week so emotionally draining is that we had come to place where those days seemed so far behind, so over. What a smack in the face to find ourselves right back there.
I don't believe in regressions. I believe that all behavior (good and bad) and growth is the result of what is going on in a child's environment. My desk sits in a lovely corner of our hallway, framed on two sides by large windows. On one window I have written a quote (I'll have to look for the author and put it in a ps) that I read daily. It says: "The way that adults interact with children is the greatest influence on the development of neural relationships in the brain because they directly influence how the child learns to think about and perceive the world." Quite a weighty responsibility, no? So when Oliver finds himself so completely overwhelmed by life -- as he obviously has been -- I turn the lens on myself. Am I helping him to grow and learn or am I challenging him unproductively?
When we first started RDI I remember that I couldn't get Oliver to participate in anything with me. Not even for a minute. If you let go of him he took off. That's when a good friend said to me: just focus on building it up second by second. So that's what we did. And it didn't take long. Ten seconds, then 15, then 30, then a minute, and within a few weeks we had ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes longer. Over the past year or so I stopped keeping track of how long our activities were. There was a satisfying beginning, middle and end, and that's all that really mattered. For the first time in a long while we had achieved symbiosis.
This past week has been hard and it caused me to think a great deal about what I might do to help both of us from feeling so angry and frustrated with each other -- because yes, it goes both ways. After a couple of especially difficult moments I realized that I wasn't reading Oliver's cues. I wasn't stopping before he got upset and angry and frustrated because I expected him to perform at a certain level. I expected that he would face new challenges the same way he had been facing other challenges. He put up with it for a couple of days. And then? Mutiny.
So what did I do? I went back to the beginning. I invited Oliver to participate with me for the briefest moments and then let him go off to the sand box or the play doh (although we have gotten rid of the TV for good). My only goal was to say "here, let's do this thing together for one second and we'll both feel good about it." The first day was impossible. Every invitation was met with screaming and aggression. The second day was better. And now I feel like we are almost back to normal. Today we made puzzles and block towers, peeled apples, made dinner. ... all of it punctuated with only a few moments. But each of those moments were bracketed with laughter so it all evened out a bit.
Along the way something very interesting happened. Oliver started reaching out to me in a way that he never has before. He started bringing me to what he was doing, inviting me in to his sphere. He brought me to the new leggo bin (a huge treasure trove of old leggos amassed by RT when he was younger and recently rescued from the attic) and said: "I want play.", meaning "I want you to play with me."
Are we out of the woods? Not entirely. I'll be sure when I get my smiley boy back. But I have a hypothesis and a strategy (or is that a tactic?) and at least two willing participants.