(This is the continuation of Lucas’ story. Search Therapy Thursdays in the search bar on the right side to get all caught up.)
I’ve gathered a treasure trove of great info throughout therapy sessions with Renee. But, I’ve been struggling with how to share all of it. She’s just so amazing in every aspect of her job. And the games she plays with Lucas work so well with my kids. All of them. As you can imagine, it’s a little daunting to try and do justice to both what she does and exactly how she does it. But none-the-less, over the next couple of months, I am going to be rehashing through the activities, exercises, and learnings from Lucas’ therapy with Renee. I am by no means an expert. And these tricks and tips should never be used as medical advice or in place of therapy — should your kids require it.
Here we go!
One of the first things Renee ever worked on with us was eye contact. She explained to us that, when Lucas interacted, he wasn’t truly connecting. It was like we were objects — not people. That when he needed something from us. Help opening something. Reaching something. It was as if he sought out an object. A hand to help. Let’s say he needed his toy box down. He would find me and stare at my hand. Never once looking at me. Just searching for a hand that was capable of grabbing his box down. I wasn’t a person — just a hand. Seriously, kid? I didn’t spend 9 months of hell and a long-ass labor to be your “hand”.
And, besides just seeming abnormal or impolite, she explained the true importance of Lucas seeing and treating us like people. He needed to know that he’s not alone in this world. Above anything else, he needed to know that. Feel that. It completely breaks my heart to think that he saw his world that way. Alone. Searching for something to help, not someone.
And we — the people around him — aren’t “somethings”, we’re “someones”.
And we’re “someones” here to surround him with love. Now and for the rest of his life. I wanted him to feel it. To know it. And never doubt it.
We worked on the slow process of engaging him. We’d follow his lead. And following was key for us. By following him, we’d go into his world instead of forcing him into ours. He loves cars. Often escaping to his “world of cars”. But he doesn’t play with cars like most kids. For whatever reason, he plays with them in a game of placement and order. Lining them up. One by one. Bumper to bumper. And this “game” somehow helps him to regulate. To get a grip. When the world seems too big and scary to face, he goes to his cars. They are his. And they have been since he was a tiny baby. It’s like the routine with his cars is automatic. It doesn’t require a lot of thought. But it does require a delicacy and focus that seems to dial back his other senses and focus those that are simply needed for that moment. And with focus comes peace. The ability to shut out the noise and just relax. We know as a family how important his cars are to him. Even Brooks, at the age of 2, knew not to touch or play with Lucas’ cars. We love that boy. And if it’s cars he needs, it’s cars he gets.
Renee would follow him over to his cars. She’d watch him play. Lining up each car. She’d stare silently.
“This is ok for him to do… for now”
“But eventually, I would hope to see him engaging more. With the cars. With someone else. Driving them. Playing with them. Pretending.”
I remember staring at her. Blankly. I was shocked that I had never really thought those kinds of thoughts for him. I could barely picture it. Pretending? Engaging? Typical kid stuff? But, Renee dreamt big. And it’s a trait that she has taught me to instill in myself. And now, I love dreaming big for them. Renee always tells me…
“There is nothing he can’t do. Nothing. There are things he can’t do right now. But there is nothing he simply can’t do. Stop thinking that way.”
The sad truth is that it took me a long time to break that habit. To realize that Lucas could do anything and everything. That, just like his big brother, this world is his for the taking. He was just going to work a little harder for it. But this boy will be such a cool man. And some girl is going to be crazy lucky one day to have him. And I’ll make sure she knows that he fought for his world. And that his love from him goes deeper than the ocean.
Because there was a time he walked this world alone. And he doesn’t take for granted one breath from another human breathing next to him. A someone.
Ok, sorry — greatness rant! Renee watched him take out cars — one by one — from the box on the floor and line them up on the table. The way he always does. She sat down next to him. Put the box of cars in her lap. And she pretended that the cars in the bucket were hers. Gradually challenging him to do more to get the cars from her. He just wanted them. Let’s line ‘em up already! No interest in Renee being there.
Lucas would reach for the car that Renee was holding. Staring only at the car. Intently. He would grab at it. She would reach out handing the car to him and then hold on to them tightly (but playfully) until he looked at her to see why they were stuck. As soon as he made eye-contact. She would let go of the car and it was his. And as the game progressed — when it became too frustrating to pair the eye-contact — she would just hand it to him. BUT, she made sure that his hands touched her hands to increase his acceptance of her physicality near him. She was turning a one person game into a two person game.
Although Lucas did start making eye contact (when he was choosing to engage with me), he wouldn’t pair his eye-contact with his requests. We needed to work on eye contact when he really wanted something. When he is trying to ask for it. We started by making it really easy for him. By getting low and close. Again, we immediately gave him whatever he wanted when he’d make eye-contact along with his request. We always wanted it to be playful and fun and would stop pushing as soon as it got frustrating. After months of these games, eye-contact became natural to him. He even seeks it out.
“Look at me mommy, look at me!”
Even with the other kids. I use this all the time. I always make Brooks pair eye contact with requests. And this has done wonders for him. It stops him from demanding things. And I find teaching manners like please and thank-you to be much easier — and effective. It was a simple trick that has really helped with both Lucas and Brooks.
Roman too, plays the eye-contact game. I usually hold on to objects she wants until she looks up at me. This game is a lot easier for her than it was Lucas. But it has still helped with engaging her more with her brothers and me.
Eye contact is so cool. When you stop to think about it. Connecting with another person. Another soul. Another being we are seeing as more valuable than just an object. I could stare into my kids eyes forever.
— Eye Contact is something that really helps build relationships. And by getting kids to look at you when they make requests, it reinforces the concept of relationship vs. object of help.
— Turn one person games into two people games. You can do this by just sort of getting in the way. By handing objects over to littles one at a time. Blocks. Cars. Cheerios. A lot of things can work for this kind of play. When handing over the object, get eye contact. And/or (depending on age and development) introduce physical touch when exchanging objects.
— Finally, Dream Big for your kids. And don’t let what they can’t do now, mean they can’t do it ever.
I know these are pretty basic tools that most of you mommas already use. But hopefully it’s helpful to be reminded of the simple stuff.
Start small. Dream big.