Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 3: A Barrel of Monkeys

So, we've officially been kicked out. Brian and I, that is.

I know that this is best, it is the same situation at school, and at the speech clinic (though I can watch from a 2 way mirror there), and even at "You Can Do It Too," his physical therapy/gymnastics program. When Mom and Dad are around, the little guy is constantly looking to us for a way out of doing whatever it is he needs to be doing. This is true with most kids, and it isn't that we aren't welcome or excluded, we just need to let separation do its magic.

Another parenting lesson. Give the kid some space and you will see what he can do.

What he is doing is amazing -- truly. In the space of a day he has moved past being upset about his cast (well, okay, we still hear a little complaining), to trying to find ways to make the left side do what he wants it to do. He's working very hard to isolate fingers, grasp, and turn a limb that had heretofore been nearly unresponsive except as a prop.

We did get to join in on the last couple tasks of the day, as we discussed our weekend "homework" with his therapist. We had a snack of goldfish and juice, using only the left hand to practicing raking and grasping and pulling. Afterward, we hung monkeys from the "Barrel of Monkeys" all over the basketball net and then put them back "to bed" in the barrel. This was Simon's idea, and his therapist ran with it.

Watching the KKI therapist in action is really amazing. Like anyone with a special needs kid, I've seen a LOT of therapists (PT, OT, SLP.. you name it) in action. They are all nice, well-intentioned people that love kids and try their best to help. However, some folks are much more effective than others.

I've been lucky to work with some wonderful people. And, from what I have observed, there are a few key traits that go into making a great therapist in any discipline. One is the ability to get down to the level of the child and engage them, through language, eye contact and physical contact. For each kid, at each stage of development, this is different but equally important. I tend to think it's like being at a cocktail party with a bunch of people you don't know. You are going to be drawn into conversation with the person that leans in when you speak, makes eye contact with you, and carries themselves in a way that seems happy to be there, relaxed, confident and open.

The other really key component is the ability to be flexible. If something isn't working, if the kid isn't engaged, or is simply getting too frustrated to function, stop what you are doing and try something else. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a therapist doggedly press on with whatever activity they meant to do, only to completely lose the child they were trying to help in a puddle of misery. That doesn't work for anyone. Use the cues that the child is sending, if they are interested in a particular toy, modify the play to suit the therapy you're targeting.

Of course, the above isn't easy and takes a considerable amount of creativity. Often getting to the point of a functional relationship like that takes a lot of time, and a lot of dialogue. A constant work in progress. I think that is why I'm so impressed that the therapist working with Simon was able to hit the ground running, and I think that is also why we've seen such immediate progress.

She's careful not to let him get too frustrated with any task, so he keeps working. She follows his lead and let's him select activities which she adapts to include therapy, but he thinks it is his idea. She's on his level and talking to him constantly with praise and silly songs and laughter, so he thinks he's playing.

I'm going to have to find a way to implement this theory in my classroom... I wonder if the college students would enjoy "Barrel of Monkeys?" And if I can adapt it to teach good compositional skills?

The Gestalt of Monkeys.. coming soon.


  1. I love the game barrel of monkeys and played with it endlessly as a child... really. The patterning of the shapes fascinated me. Your observations of the interaction between the therapist and Simon are so astute Laura. You are such a good Mom!

  2. This year we had put up our Christmas tree and my oldest wanted to decorate it and i wasn't ready to get out the ordoments yet so she asked if she could decorate it. I said go for it and next thing I knew my Christmas tree was covered in a barrel if monkeys. I left some on when we put up the real decoration because she worked so hard to decorate our lonely tree

  3. Making progress! What an amazingly strong little guy (with equally strong, wonderful parents). And, I love the cast cozy. Let me know when you get your Etsy shop up and running. ; )