Plays Well With Birdseed! Adventures in Occupational Therapy, by Cat Reilly
So, my son plays well with birdseed.
We had our first session of Occupational Therapy this week, and Doodle played well with birdseed. All of the OTs gathered around and admired his pouring back and forth.
And…I felt so proud. Whoever imagined I’d be puffing up with pride because my son wasn’t over-stimulated by birdseed?
It’s such a strange world I’ve entered, having a child with some delays. Hard to imagine it until you’re smack in the middle.
It was a cold sunny morning as we drove to the OT Sensory Gym. The light was that early-morning fall light, hitting sideways on the silvery grass. Turning right onto a lazy road towards the class, Doodle babbling to himself in the back, I had a sudden moment of deep sadness.
No one gets pregnant thinking, “Gosh, I can’t wait until I’m hauling my beautiful baby to Occupational Therapy! I can’t wait until we meet the State Early Intervention people!”
But there I was, and my breath caught a bit in my chest—one of those moments of total present reality. But what can you do? You just go. Deep breath, this is your job now, Mama, and you go.
And Doodle was perfect. He was happy and excited. New toys! New bikes to climb on! Very few other kids! What could be better?
And the women were lovely and kind, and they took one look at him and immediately said, “Oh, low tone, low tone,” which I knew nothing about. So they taught me the basics, and it explained a lot. Low tone might contribute to his speech delays, because his brain is working so much harder than the average bear’s to master the basics like standing and staying balanced. Low tone also explains his ever-open mouth, his clumsy gait, his confusion with climbing. And though it’s something he’ll never outgrow, it’s something he can overcome, with work, and it’s not the end of the world. His dad and I were both perpetually last-picked in gym class, and we lived through it. We didn’t necessarily expect the star quarterback to spring from our uncoordinated genes.
So it’s not that bad. There is more work to do. He may still have motor planning issues, and he still goes into sensory overload in different settings, but we’ll figure it out. Decoding Doodle. Bit by bit.
In his baby music class this week, all the kids were in costume, including him. Though he’s grown to love it there normally, he suddenly reverted back to day one, clinging to his binky and to me, staring into the middle distance, his body tense and unhappy. Probably the costumes and colors were a little too much: he knew something was different and lost his comfort zone.
And here’s the guilt that keeps kicking at my heart: I was frustrated. I wanted him to go back to being happy and running and playing. I worried that people were judging me for the binky, even though the OTs assured me that it was the right thing right now. I felt like the spotlight was on, and I wanted it back off.
I mostly worry about his delays because in a year or so he will start school, and I’m terrified of him getting teased.
But I have to be real, too, and admit that I worry about the judgments of other adults. I see the faces of moms who don’t know him at the park, or the mall. I see that too-long glance. And I want to defend him, but I want to defend myself, too. And I know it’s no one’s business, and I know we’re doing all the right things, but…how do you reconcile this? I want him to be unique and creative and bright and different—but I don’t want anyone to notice those things until he is out of the danger zone, away from the teasing of mean kids at school, with a self-esteem that’s built to last.
I want to do the one thing I can’t do: build the iron girders around him, protect him from pain, get him through life unscathed.
And, of course, all I can do instead is love the pants off of him, and make sure he knows that he’s just right, all the time.