Join Their World: 10/10/11

100 Years Of Peter Pan: Today’s New York Times Op Ed section had a piece written by Maria Tatar, chairman of Harvard’s folklore and mythology program who reminded us all that this week Wendy and Peter are one hundred years of age. In my opinion, one hundred wonderful years for those of us who fell in love young and have stayed in love with perhaps the most enchanting tale of boyhood, young love, the complexities of a fairy who tinkers with jealousy and loyalty, and the exotica of mermaids, pirates and punctual crocodiles. Even distraught parents play a key role in the suspense and delight of Peter Pan.

What Ms. Tatar stresses in her editorial is that both J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, spent time with children in their worlds, boating or playing or photographing them. And it made me think about how as parents of special needs children it is so critical that we spend time in the special world of our child particularly because it takes them longer than “typical kids” to understand or enter our worlds.

What Parent Type Are You? There are many different types of parents, but one grouping that I have observed are those who are driven to bring their children toward their interests, or the interests they had as children. The other grouping, the Lewis Carrolls and the J.M. Barries, who though childless I liken to those parents who grasp that we have to follow the child’s lead, making the experience of child raising smoother and more satisfying in those early years when children’s cognitive and muscular development need time to appreciate what is interesting about their parents’ world. But early on, what catches the child’s eyes and ears is where we must go. With special needs children this is critical, especially when language is delayed and communication depends on experiential moments far longer than with a typical child. Sharing a laugh at a silly cartoon. A giggle at a toad scampering across a lawn. Or more challenging, the endless repetition of a song, or a game or a story. To make their world more interesting to us, it behooves us to observe where their delights rest, join them and perhaps expand the experience with something of the same ilk, yet new; a storybook on the topic, a video game or song, a ride to a location where the object of attention is revealed in a new setting. By doing so, we provide variety for ourselves, which can reduce boredom, increase tolerance and make the time spent in our children’s company more enjoyable. It also stretches them as well.

The Challenge of Stasis: For a long time it can seem as if our special children don’t move…developmentally. Their pace is so much slower than typical children that the redundancy of their interests can prove trying. That’s when it is time to roll up the creative sleeves and see what else you can do with a redundancy. With our daughter, the obsession with rodents and rodents, and rodents, was quite trying, forgetting about the messes. So we read about them, we alternated pet stores so that I at least could find something new in the setting. I learned the differences between a guinea pig, a hamster, what’s that other really little one? Who remembers now. We chatted chinchillas with a friend we bumped into on several occasions in one or another of these pet stores. And nowadays, the internet affords endless opportunities to search for cartoons, movies or clubs to further expand subject matter. We thought it would never end, it took years. We had mice and rats and dead mice and dead rats. We had horrific tragedies and the bounty of baby guinea pigs, naked, pink and at risk. We were in her world. What’s the difference between that and a typical kid? Plenty. It goes on forever and the parental involvement is on a different level.

The Disappointing Child: There is a lot of disappointment and frustration in raising a special needs child. One can be distracted and preoccupied for many years by what the child is not doing, and the fears of what they may never do. But I have found the best antidote for those painful ruminations and that is curiosity and interest in what the child is doing. What are they trying to master, understand or find entertaining? Often, their preoccupations serve a developing neurological challenge. Joining their world and reminding oneself that the present is the place to be when with them can be comforting as well as productive. Working on their future can be accomplished when they are sleeping, assuming they sleep of course.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011

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