She’s a dark-haired gal with doe eyes and willowy body. All arms and legs that find corners and bump into tables and spill things and break stuff and mess up what appear to be the most child-proof settings. She doesn’t want to be clumsy. It is just that her body is full of angles that don’t quite plan their movements and her brain does not quite catch up to what’s happening until it is a moment too late and the damage done.
She wants to be an acrobat or a ballerina. The graceful movement, the delicate balance, the painstaking patience–they are to her the incarnation of what she would want to be and all that she finds terribly difficult. She would do better at hip-hop, her caregiver thought at some point, only to find out that a child who cannot quite catch a ball or toss it without hitting someone or breaking a window, cannot quite coordinate her movements in an elaborately sequenced dance. The teacher all but fired her after one class. Literally too many toes stepped on.
Still, the girl dreams.
She adores delicate, filmy, whispery clothing. Her caregiver thinks it would be more practical to put her in iron-knees pants and canvas but had resigned herself to letting this elephant-in-china-shop gal wear tights and lace-edged shirts. It is an act of faith, as they last about five minutes before they don a massive stain or spring a hole (which, perhaps thankfully, the child rarely seems to notice).
This little girl is a life on steroids. A roller coaster of emotions–she is either elated or devastated, overawed or broken-hearted, eager or despairing. She tries so hard. She keeps failing, falling, disappointing. Adults frown. Teachers scold. Caregivers sigh and try to keep a restraining hand nearby.
It is difficult to make friends, or rather, to keep them. Oh, she’s never mean; in fact, she is quite sensitive at reading others’ emotions and wants to take care of their needs, real or perceived. It is just that she pulls too hard when she holds hands, she pushes when she only wants to touch lightly to call someone’s attention, she messes stuff up and breaks things, she barges into conversations, she speaks too loud.
Her official diagnoses are all kinds. Some of you who recognize the symptoms may have an idea what those could be. Some of you would know why in my work with her, we tackle symbolic language, idioms and stories, auditory memory and following directions. Why we talk about social situations and solutions, practice narrative and inferences, work with predictions, and rephrasing, identifying context clues and finding the main idea in what to her is a soup of details. Why we make charts, write bullets, jot lists, follow steps, check items one by one.
She’s a bundle of everything–stories, anecdotes, questions, observations, feelings spilling over, hands tapping, legs wagging, hair twisting, lip biting, noise making.
I love working with her.
Oh, she’s a handful–in more way than one–but that’s okay. I work with many kids who struggle with managing incoming information, who need help regulating what their body senses and require direction to make sense. Fidgety bodies don’t faze me. Nor do spilled water cups, sticky fingers, rocking on chairs or crumpled papers full of holes from erasing too hard.
What fazes me more is how some of those kids who have an alphabet soup of diagnoses and a history of testing enough to fill a filing cabinet, have internalized that something in them is somehow eternally broken or ill-fitting. How all too often adults around them have come to believe this, too. I absolutely see the places needing tending, but along with the fizzy energy, there is all too often an untapped possibility, just waiting to be helped along through less correction and more connection and an ample dose of calm.
This one? She fiddles with a top while we’re working. When she’s thirsty, I offer her a water bottle (I’m super fast at twisting on a cap …). I corral pencils, crayons, papers, tape, bits of this or that. She hums and makes popping noises while she’s writing–I don’t mind. There is enough control to manage while at school, where it can bother others. With me she can just be and is exactly and perfectly good enough. Indeed she is. She’s working hard. She’s trying even harder. She’s making small but certain steps to a less chaotic path.
And she gives great hugs. They go straight to the heart.
She asks to give one, at the start and end of every session. She wraps her arms around me and leans her head against me as we stand side-by-side. She breathes. Through my hand resting lightly on her shoulder, I can feel her body slow down some.
The other day before she left, arms still around me, she said: “You make my head feel more quiet. You don’t get mad or yell and I can think.” Then she looked up at me sideways, doe eyes filled with wisdom of those whose knowledge is hard-earned and dog-eared with practice. Her arms tightened around my midriff and she sighed: “My quiet place is right here, inside your hug. Sometimes I think about it when other people look at me mad and it helps me not feel I am bad.”