Friday, October 20, 2006

Lessons From a Two Year Old

OK, almost two years old.

A few days ago Charlotte had her third class at a program for children with developmental delays. Like all of the kids in the program, her delays are mostly physical but, as she usually closes her eyes and turns away when something unexpected or new comes into view, she probably has a sensory integration issue as well.

Over the past few weeks, Thomas and I have learned a lot about Charlotte that we never would have figured out on our own. Like the way she "cheats" when coming to standing to avoid using her calf muscles. (She has low muscle tone in her calves and does whatever she can to avoid working those muscles.) She can walk while holding on to something or someone, but generally gets around by walking on her knees. I tried it with her one day; trust me when I tell you that this is not comfortable! She is pretty fast, though: Lately when I put Hannah and Charlotte to bed, I'm reminded of the days of trying to stuff two cats into one crate for a trip to the vet. The cats, of course, were not giggling madly as they galloped away. But I digress.

One of the program directors told me that low muscle tone is not a problem with the muscle itself, but rather is the strength of the signal from the brain to the muscle--not something that you can change with exercise. (You can learn to compensate, however.) So everything Charlotte does is twice as hard as it would be for most people. The way it was explained to me is to "Think about what you do every day. Now think about doing it while wading knee-deep in water." Which is probably why she sleeps so much. Of course, we always thought "Yay! Good sleeper!" but no, it's actually because she's exhausted just from being up and around.

Having Charlotte in this program is a gift; in a very short time, it has helped her both physically and socially. She loves the singing and painting and playing with all of the messy stuff we don't normally do at home (see below). And the parent support group has been good for me, too. Until now I didn't want to acknowledge--even to myself--how difficult this has been. Hannah was so precocious, hitting every milestone way ahead of her peers, that it was hard to readjust and admit that I might have been expecting something different, and that I had been trying desperately not to force that expectation on Charlotte.

But every day as I watch her and play with her, I find myself both awed and humbled. She is such an amazing little person--very curious and affectionate and happy. And she is almost always in a good mood. To quote Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets, she "makes me want to be a better person."


A few of the tips I've picked up from Charlotte's teachers include:
1) Put Cheerios in an ice cube tray to force her to use a pincer grasp rather than the "sweep."
2) When drawing or painting, point the tip of crayon or brush toward her so that she picks it up correctly.
3) A thin mix of corn starch and water is a good tactile exercise. It's a very different feel and strangely addictive--once the kids agree to actually touch it.
4) And the strangest one so far: Empty a couple of tubs of Cool Whip into a large container. Toss in a few toy animals and cars and let the kids play. This exercise is actually used for speech--it helps the kids learn to imitate animal sounds and car noises. Very messy but lots of fun!
5) Do not wear nice clothes to class. Ever.

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