Most likely, his smile is what you will notice first. Joey has a way of smiling with his entire body. He picks his head up a little higher, grins, and his eyes sparkle with excitement. He could have an entire conversation through those eyes.
If you read Joey a book, I guarantee that you will fall in love. Be sure to pick one of his favorites, like Pete the Cat, The Wheels on the Bus, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Pause while you read his favorite pages, and Joey may chime in with one of the familiar words on the page, or may sing along with the familiar beat. Like with many three year olds, he may want to hear the book again once you finish.
In many ways, Joey is your typical three year old boy. He loves the song Old McDonald, listening to Pete the Cat, and playing with cars and trucks. He likes to play games, and lets off a string of happy giggles when you get him in a silly back and forth “I’ve got you!” game. Joey is strong, and like many three year olds, he does not realize his own strength. One minute he can be holding a toy and the next moment it has been flung away. Joey loves his family, and his whole face lights up when one of his parents, grandparents, or his older brother walks into the room.
I first met Joey almost a year ago, in June of 2016. His smile was what I noticed first. He leaned against his mother while he listened to me read Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. He remained engrossed in the story as I read, his smile growing bigger and bigger with each page. His smile grew even bigger when we acted out the story with those silly stuffed monkeys afterwards.
When Joey was 18 months old, he suffered from a brain injury that left him unable to control the movement of his limbs, and unable to speak. There are no words to describe what this must have been like for him, or those around him. As a mother I cannot imagine my active toddler becoming trapped in her body overnight.
I joined Joey’s team about 9 months after the injury, doing educational activities at home with him that he might get in a special education preschool setting. Throughout the past year I have been amazed at Joey’s progress, determination, and abilities. He has blown me away on many occasions with how quickly he has learned a new concept and adapted to a new system. Every day he is proving to us that there is an eager little boy with lots of opinions, ideas, and games inside his body.
Joey’s progress this year is a statement of his hardworking team that includes physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, feeding specialists, an Augmentative Communication Device specialist, as well as his strong family. Of course, his progress also reflects his strong, determined personality.
Shortly after I met Joey I went to the beach with my family, and his smile and giggles haunted me the entire time I was there. There is an amazing child behind that smile, I kept thinking throughout my beach vacation. I watched my own daughter, just a month younger than Joey, play in the sand and thought about the young boy I had just met.
How do we bring out the child behind the smile?
How do we give him the experiences a typical toddler would have, while still meeting his developmental and health needs?
How do we make sure those who meet him see his smile first, and his needs second?
I was honored and humbled to become a part of Joey’s team, and I was (and still am) determined to do everything possible to bring out more of Joey’s smile.