This school year, like all those before it, has been full of challenges. I have always practiced in private special education settings, and work with many children with emotional issues.
About 2 months ago I met 9 year-old “Bobby”. New to our school, “Bobby’s” speech services were mandated for twice a week individually. Classified ED, Bobby’s IEP reports painted a picture of an oppositional child with academic and language levels that were not well understood. Initially, Bobby would not leave the classroom or interact with me, so I spent the first few weeks in the class, where Bobby refused to engage with peers or do any work. He was also volatile with those who tried to cajole him to work and physical aggression definitely is a potential behavior.
By the third week, Bobby wordlessly got up and was ready to go when I arrived. His interaction was self-directed and I gave him a lot of free reign. Keeping things light and easy revealed a humorous side to Bobby, whose smile is wide and quick. I also kept language to a minimum, and Bobby began that rewarding desire to actually want to come to speech!
But working with Bobby raised self-doubts: was I always going to play games with Bobby? And games he chose (he would have nothing to do with “speech” games)? The one attempt to take part in choice-making resulted in a terrible melt-down. He refused (or could not) share his interests, and I began that fishing game of trying to unearth what prompted Bobby. Despite these feelings I enjoy working with Bobby and slowly he is engaging in conversation, turn-taking and answering questions.
Today I had one of those amazing sessions that I wanted to share. I had come across this game at a garage sale with Bobby in mind (he likes games with a visual-spatial component). He took to it immediately and was very good–I truly stunk. At one point I called him a “Pinball Wizard” (am I showing my age? ) He questioned me and I told him it was a song. Thank goodness for ipads because I was able to quickly fire The Who as Bobby began his turn. He loved the music, and questioned the lyrics as I sung. And he didn’t mind my singing!
Bobby asked if I could play another song. Being a true Rolling Stones fan, I played “Satisfaction” and Bobby danced around the room. As my pin balls fell into the lowest point slot, I lamented that I couldn’t get “no satisfaction”. The music was providing such an excellent avenue to language, and we were having a blast.
When it was time to return to class, I realized the next period was Bobby’s lunch. “What’s on the lunch menu today?” I questioned, knowing the answer was pizza. Bobby turned and flashed a brilliant smile. Looking me directly in the eye he replied “a slice of satisfaction”.
I know we still have a long way to go, but my journey with Bobby has taken a new path. The experience has also reminded me of the power of play and games to elicit language and interaction. I’ve finally been able to glimpse into what makes Bobby tick and we’ve discovered a connection that is mutually “satisfying”.