My off-the-cuff “Hip Hip Hooray” motif this week was an eye-opener for me. The three-year-old autistic client’s mother told me that never before had they gotten him to wave his hands in the air like that. That was not my intention, nor was it a need of which I was aware. I was simply keeping the little guy motivated and excited about what he was doing. As I repeated this “Hip Hip Hooray” motif after each spongy letter he pushed back into its spot in the puzzle, the initially poor fine motor skills quickened to get the letter back in so much that I had trouble fitting in all the words to the little tune to keep up with his pace.
Once again, when it was time to clean up (a non-preferred task), as I sang “Hip Hip Hooray” after each item, the pace quickened. The little boy went up to the mirror with a great big smile and continued to praise himself until he left. When it comes to stickers and stars, they cannot compare or come anywhere close to intrinsic reward, nor do the effects remain like intrinsic reward (pride in one’s work).
The next day, I thought I would reuse this free light-weight motivator with a four-year-old who suddenly showed an interest in writing letters (reportedly a boy who doesn’t ever engage in this sort of activity and hates coloring). After each letter that was written, another “Hip Hip Hooray” motif was sung. This led to forty straight minutes of the game with a little boy who initially started with fine motor skills as a need.
Earlier in the week, when I was thinking of my topic for this blog, I remembered very early in my career a lesson I had learned quite unintentionally. There was a little boy with whom I worked who displayed developmental delays due to socioeconomic conditions. The boy was the last of four, all of which were in the same school for the same reasons. When an individual in this family was brought up in conversation, it was rare that someone was being praised. I was new and only worked with the youngest boy. His behaviors challenged me greatly from the start. By an act of pure will, I was bound and determined to find something positive in order to counteract the frustration I was feeling. Eventually, this boy became on of my most beloved clients whom I discovered had a wonderful sense of humor. After I had finally turned my own eyesight on and could see this, I truly enjoyed working with this little guy. His mother, who had never even been witnessed smiling and had barely ever spoken a word or shared anything at all with this school throughout the enrollment of her four children, seemed to also only see the negative with the little guy. When she came in, I came up to her and told her what a great little guy he was and how humorous he could be. There was no intention behind these comments at the time other then a release of my own joy from the work with this boy. What followed was the lesson that I retained: she smiled and looked at her own son with new eyes. This was visible for the rest of his stay at the school.
“What if” (a phrase we should never outgrow) we came to parents and not only saw, but also presented to them their child’s best traits? Would learning be easier? Would frustration levels be erased? Would our working relationship with parent and child be something to look forward to, something delightful? Would the family’s home life be happier? Sometimes “what if” sounds childlike, new, or different: isn’t it at the very least worth consideration?
Antoinette Morrison MT-BC