He Looked at Me
Today was a very interesting day - it was not a day I was particularly looking forward to as I had somehow managed to fill my schedule with some of my more difficult cases. This usually means that by the end of the day I am beat emotionally and physically. Today, however, did not turn out at all like I had expected it to. Instead of being tired I ended up leaving my last family refreshed and invigorated.
Have you ever gone into a therapy session expecting to work on one thing and then ending up working on something totally different? That is what happened to me today. I went in hoping to help the mom find ways to calm her little boy down. He was diagnosed with being on the Autism spectrum. She had expressed concern on how he was always on the go; running back and forth across the room and banging into the furniture. Her little guy was very shy around strangers and this would be only the third time I have seen him. I went in expecting to do my best to explain to mom how to give deep squeezes and bear hugs along with massage and joint compressions. I usually like to try and work directly with the child first but I doubted I would be able to actually touch him just yet.
Nonetheless, I sat on the ground and began a little parallel play with the leggos he was already playing with. In a short amount of time he surprised us both by actually sitting next to me. Of course it was so he could take the tower of leggos I had just built and knock them over and laugh. At one point he turned his back to me and was picking up the leggos on the ground. I started to rub his back. His mom moved to the front of the sofa bracing herself for what she was sure would be a meltdown because I had touched him. We had talked about what I was going to try and do and she was willing to let me try, but we both knew it might end with a meltdown. What a surprise it was to the both of us when he started leaning back into my rubs and within 10 minutes was actually laying on the ground allowing me to rub arms and then legs and even give a couple joint compressions to his legs. Here was a child who had been running laps and bouncing off the furniture in the living room when I first got there to laying on the ground giving me his arms and legs and then getting up, sitting on my lap and leaning into my body to get bear hugs.
Mom was shocked that he was being so accepting and calm. She quickly came down onto the ground so I could show her what I was doing and have her try it also. The little guy fussed and started to cry at first when mom started to take over and then, as if realizing that mom really could do it to, calmed and allowed her to give him rubs and massages. I was feeling really good that he took to the sensory input so well when suddenly mom looked up and said "he looked at me!" I just smiled and didn't think too much of it but then I noticed the tears on her cheeks. "Are you okay?" I asked and she smiled and said "yeah, it's just that he never, ever looks at me..."
Wow! Ok. Change of plans. Mom had never voiced this concern to me before. She had never even asked that his eye contact be a part of any of our goals. And to be honest, I never noticed that he didn't look at her because he would make fleeting eye contact with me. So instead of working just on calming the little guy I changed my tactics a bit. I asked her to stop after a few moments of massage to see what he would do. Would he cry? Would he have a melt down? Would he look at her to signal he wanted more? Would he get up and start running all over the room again?
Well, he started to cry but before he could escalate the crying further his mom called his name quietly and told him it was "ok". He stopped and looked right at her again and she started massaging his legs. After a few minutes she again stopped and when he began to fuss she again calmly called his name. He fussed a bit longer and then looked up at her. She smiled from ear to ear, her eyes glistening, and she again started the massage. This went on several times until he would just look right at her when she stopped. The look on her face each time his eyes met hers was priceless. It was pure happiness. Happiness that many of us with kiddos in our lives take for granted. We all look forward to that moment when the child in our lives will look right at us and make eye contact for the first time. It is a very special, bonding moment. Here was a mom who had not had that for almost a year. She never voiced it to anyone. She was more concerned that her little guy learns how to calm his body and to eat and to play then she was that he looked at her. It didn't stop her from secretly wanting that eye contact though. It was actually very important to her even if she didn't voice it but she felt there were more important things for him to learn and she didn't want to seem selfish by asking for it.
I went into that visit figuring that I might be able to show the mom how to calm her son down for a few minutes at best. I left that visit with the knowledge that I had shared in a special moment between this mom and her child. I also left with a reminder that was given to me with the utterance of three simple, heart felt words; words that I hope will stay with me for a long, long time. "He looked at me!" Words uttered in total amazement and joy. Words that would remind me to not just see what someone is voicing they hope will happen but to also see what someone is silently wishing will happen. Some times we get so wrapped up on their goals that we have written down on paper that we forget to step back just a little and see what goals may be written in their hearts.