Joey’s hand hovered over mine, with a slow and thoughtful purpose. The intense stare on his face told me that he was telepathically telling his hand to stay where it was, and then open his fingers to release the foam letter he was so forcefully clutching. His focus was similar to what one observes on the faces of college math majors pouring over a new problem. He was going to release this letter. Nothing would distract him.
His hand shook a bit, and then released, dropping the letter G into my hand. “Thanks Joey!” I said lightly, not fully giving him credit for the immense work he’d just accomplished. He wasn’t listening to me anyway. He’d already turned back to the book, and was wrapping his fingers around the letter h on the velcroed to the page, trying to pull it off. He got it, and then quickly turned toward me, and once again moved his hand to mine, and dropped the letter into my palm. Faster that time. He grinned, and returned to get the letter i.
We were reading the book Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, and Joey seemed determined to get every single 26 of the velcroed letters out of the book and give them to me. It was a laborious task, but he approached the turn of every page as a new challenge. He barely looked up when I read the words, or when I used his eye-gaze system to label core vocabulary words in the book.
My plans for our session had included far more than Joey taking the letters off each page. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking, because if I’d fully thought about Joey’s determination, I could have predicted we would spend close to 45 minutes wading through the book. Perhaps I thought Joey would get bored of taking the letters off the page and we’d read the book faster. Maybe he’d only do one letter on each page and I could do the rest. Joey and I clearly were not on the same page about this one. If a letter was velcroed to the page, he was going to pull it off and give it to me.
Yet, this act showed so much growth for him. It wasn’t long ago that Joey had difficulty releasing items from his fist. I’d often have to gently pull his fingers apart so I could recover whatever item he was clutching underneath. Tuesday, though, he was proud to show off his skills.
Previously he also had difficulty holding an item and moving it into a container. I’ve noticed this skill slowly improving, but often I’ve followed his movements with the container so that no matter where his arm moves, the container would be underneath.
For our sessions this week though, I found myself holding the small, plastic basket in one set place and watching Joey pick up foam letters and place them into the bucket. He wasn’t always able to release the letters, and sometimes when he did release them he’d quickly grab them again, as though he’d changed his mind and did not want to give up that G after all.
Educating Joey means educating all of Joey, not just the goals I’ve set for him. When I originally looked over my data for the week I felt frustrated with myself that he had not been as verbal and had not used his eye gaze system as much as I wanted him to. All of my plans on matching letters of the alphabet, and focusing on the word ‘more’ had not followed through with the success I hoped for. But Joey had his own successes this week. This week he was working on his motor planning, and if I step back and look at all of Joey, I can’t help but smile at his success. Each planned, controlled arm movement is a step in the right direction.