Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The muss & fuss of independence

Two weeks ago I had a little meeting with Maya’s preschool teacher.  I went in just to warn her about a possible issue with an upcoming field trip . . . little did I know that she had some things to discuss with me, too.  If I could sum up her points in one sentence, it would be this:  Maya is smart and capable, but stubborn and kind of a pain in the butt.

(Not that she would ever say that, of course.  I’ve taken license of parental rephrasing.)

Here are some examples:  Maya is capable of walking, and climbing stairs with support, but often refuses.  If it’s time for the class to transition to a different room and Maya doesn’t want to walk, she will simply sit on the floor like a stubborn puppy (with a sly smile).  She is capable of taking her coat off (alone) and putting it on (with assistance), but if she doesn’t feel like complying it takes some serious wrestling maneuvers (which she will either giggle or scream throughout, mood depending).  She can feed herself with a fork (I’ve seen her do an entire waffle without help) or her fingers, but it’s rare that she eats a meal independently, because she’s not really motivated.  If I stab the pieces and hand her the fork, maybe, but if I just leave the plate and fork on her tray she’ll play happily and ignore it until I start feeding her.

The teacher thinks that Maya would be able to keep up with a larger class next year, academically speaking. “She’s so smart” she tells me, and I smile on the outside and on the inside cheer I know, right?! That’s what I’ve thought, too!  But even with a one-to-one, she wouldn’t be able to swing it in a larger class right now because “her behavioral issues are holding her back.”

Hee hee.

This all kind of cracked me up.  Clever, but stubborn and manipulative?  Well, I can relate to that, and get behind it, too.  I guess part of me was secretly (or not so secretly) pleased . . . I’ll take smart and naughty over the alternative, I think.

But another part of me was disappointed with myself.  While talking with the teacher about incentives and sticker charts and self-dressing and feeding and promoting independence a little voice started to whisper to me, It's you--you’re doing it. You’re underestimating her. You’re not pushing her.  You’re making things too easy.

It’s true.  It’s unintentional, but it’s true.

I guess I’ve been so focused on communication stuff that independence has been way on the back burner.  I like her to walk instead of getting carried, but if she refuses to move I pick her up.  Usually we’re rushing somewhere and I don’t have time for fighting.  If she’s not eating by herself, I pop a piece of something into her mouth, lest dinner take an hour and dissolve into a tantrum.  Dressing her, changing her, putting on her coat---these are just things that I’ve always done, quickly and efficiently.  How did I miss the fact that it was time to start turning over the reins?

Since I scraped myself off the floor after my stay in the airport, I’ve been confident that Maya will do whatever she wants to.  I was certain she would walk, and I’m sure that she will speak, too.  I’ve spent a lot of energy thinking about and working towards the big goals, and somehow overlooked when it would be time to teach her the small things. 

I think this must be a normal parenting stage—realizing that your child is able to do some of the stuff that you’ve been doing for them, pushing them to pull up their own pants or wash their own hands or whatever.  But the special needs component adds a layer of complexity, I think. First, because (in my mind, at least) I fiercely want Maya to be independent in as many age appropriate ways as possible, to eliminate as many differences between her and her peers as I can.  And secondly, because she will likely need more practice to master these skills.  Stubborn streak aside, her fine and gross motor issues will make some of these tasks more complicated for her than for other 3-4 year olds.  I have to give her the opportunities to practice and practice and practice.

Since this meeting we’ve had some changes, big and small.  She moved into the big girl bed (which was planned pre-meeting, but the timing was fortuitous).  She’s putting her coat on (with help) and taking it off.  She’s learning to climb into her stroller, and I’m encouraging her to climb onto the couch with me (Encouraging to climb? Madness!). She pulls her pants up and down (mostly) and we’re doing more verbal prompts to eat before offering assistance.  I’m trying to look at her with fresh eyes instead of seeing the little girl that I’m used to doing so much for.

And you know what?  It’s changing her.  She is so proud of herself for being a big girl, trying new things on her own.  The smile when she carries her coat over to her chair and puts it down by herelf is positively gleeful.  There is frustration, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated.

We’re supposed to be working on drinking from a cup and it hasn’t been happening much, mostly because she enjoys dumping cups of liquid more than trying to drink them.  But we’re going to try again today because in the end, the mess will have been worth it.*

*Someone remind me of this later this week when I’m complaining about cleaning up spilled milk, again.


Anonymous said...

Hi - Maya's characteristics are incredibly similar to those of my now 6-yr-old daughter ("A") who is also non-verbal had has an undiagnosed developmental delay. Behaviors are also a big factor for A. at school. A major turning point for us last year was when the school brought in a behavior consultant who performed an assessment and put together a behavior plan focused on regular positive reinforcements. The difference has been night and day. Something to keep in mind if the behaviors continue to be a challenge.

Sophia’s unique world said...

Oh do I get it!!! I feel the same sometimes and wander if it is me who is holding her back and I think I am, at least with the feeding. Sophia (who is 3.5yo) doesn't chew and I am so scared of giving her bigger bites or less pured food and run the risk of choking that I keep grinding everything for her. I know that I have to give her the opportunity to practice. I can picture Maya all proud doing things herself, you are doing such a good job Dana!!!

laurelsmom said...

ok - I know our girls are only a few months apart but are you hiding in a closet in my house? We are making changes too. Does it feel like you are losing your baby for a big girl all of a "sudden" despite the slow motion aspect of special needs? I thought I wanted an independant toddler girl(I do)... but every now and again I find myself wishing for swaddling days. I must be crazy.

RettMom said...

I'm in the process of encouraging self-feeding and it's difficult not to just pop the food into my daughter's mouth. Its a constant internal struggle. It sounds like we have the same recording playing in our minds.

Anne Barna said...

This is funny...reminds me of the time my husband unexpectedly arrived at my then three year old daughter's special needs school at lunchtime -- and caught her eating with a spoon! She NEVER did that at home, but they didn't know she "couldn't", so she did it!

Anonymous said...

Your instincts, as usual, are right on target.
My son is now in grad school, after graduating undergrad magna cum laude. HOWEVER, he still doesn't use a knife well or stir a bowl of ingredients properly and resists tying shoes. Even washing his face well seems like an undue chore for him.
As you can guess, I spent thousands of hours over the years focusing on academics, but not nearly enough on the basics, which were messy, time-consuming, and just easier to do for him. I've been playing catch-up for the past 7 years, but wish I had done so a lot earlier!

Nikki said...

Hehe, funny girl!

Nikki - blog design to support special needs orphans in India!