Helen’s struggles began at birth, but it wasn’t until she was close to two that the lack of interaction became most obvious. She had stopped speaking, rarely made eye contact, refused affection. It was like she existed in her own little world, only “seeing” us on rare occasions. I felt like she was slipping farther and farther away from me. One of our big hopes for therapy was to change that. So we got to work.
Helen, this face is sad. Look at momma’s face. Momma is showing you sad. Can you show me sad? Make your smile go down. Good.
Helen, momma is excited. Look, my eyes are big. Can you make your eyes big? Can you show momma excited?
And she began to mimic us and those around her. If we smiled, she smiled. When other kids laughed, she laughed. Our pediatrician assured me this was great progress. I wasn’t sure. She could show me emotion on cue, but didn’t seem to connect any of it to how she was feeling. And certainly not to how anyone else felt. But we kept working.
Helen, let’s hug daddy. He’s going to work. Say “good-bye daddy”.
Look, Bubba’s home! Let’s say “hi bubba” and give him a hug.
When we see our friends at church, they might say “Hi Helen”. What will you do? You can say hello or give a wave. Can you show momma a wave?
So now she could follow predictable social cues. Say hello, hug good-bye. But get out of our ordinary routines and she was lost. Still. But we kept going. Role-playing, flash cards, over and over and over…for the last two very long years. But it worked. She would feel excited or tired or scared and could show us how she felt. It began to make sense. Subtle social expectations are often still out of reach, but she can interact appropriately in so many situations. Then last week happened.
She wanted to play ball like “daddy and bubba”. We rolled it back and forth a few times, then she looked at me and gave me a thumbs up.
Helen, what does that mean?
Good job, mama.
Can you see what happened? How she thought about my feelings, how she came up with a way to respond all on her own? That without practice or picture stories or cue cards, she knew a “right” thing to do?
What we have lost has given us this gain: we see miracles everyday. And that day was no exception.