It’s been two months since I wrote Milestone Junkie, about my lack of patience when it comes to working on new milestones with Wade. In it, I wrote about how Wade learns some skills quickly and others take ages and how keeping a sane rational mind about it seems to be harder for me to learn than for him to walk!
Well, my little guy has been royally spoiling me these last two months. The day I described, when he learnt to clap has been a springboard for his communication, confidence and personality. (Not that he needed a boost in personality but the cuteness level has now gone into overdrive…).
The timing of these new milestones and a big surge in his comprehension of the world around him couldn’t have come at a better time. Recently I’ve been feeling a bit frustrated with his developmental delay. Rationally, I get it. I understand all the hows and whys surrounding it. I know he will learn and do new things but lately I’ve been getting impatient. Maybe it’s the winter blues, when getting out of the house and doing things seems too much like hard work…rugging up in 20 layers of clothes, taking hats and umbrellas and staring at the radar to see whether you are going to get caught in a downpour as you venture out of the house. I know we have both been a bit bored around the house and I consider taking him to a play centre or a park with play equipment and then it hits me…
What’s the point? All he will enjoy is the swing. I know this is awful but its a symptom of a bit of frustration setting in. I’m ready for the fun toddler times when they run around madly, climbing all over things, go exploring. (I will regret saying that I know…) I’m ready for him to follow me out to the car so that I don’t have to carry him everywhere and I’m ready for the next stage when we can have a conversation and tell each other things.
But just like that, things have started changing…
Since he learnt to clap and wave, he’s been making more and more new connections with his communication. He has always found everything I do hilarious but lately, he has been trying to make me laugh. He pulls funny faces and looks at me with this sparkle in his eye just waiting for me to crack up. He pretends that he’s angry with me and purses his lips together and squints and waits for me to join him in a stare-down, then laughs all over again. He is so funny. Lately, he stares me straight in the eye and tilts his head slowly to one side. I do the same. Then, without taking his eyes off me, with the best dead-pan expression, he tilts it over to the other side. I do the same. Then he laughs…he thinks this is hilarious…and it is.
Not completely related but this photo makes me laugh anyway!
Watching him as the world around him expands into more and more things to become interested in is such a wonderful thing. One of the positive sides to developmental delay is that even though it can be a frustrating wait between stages, you get to observe the changes happening before your eyes. Other parents I know talk about the “blink and miss it” changes that happen in their toddlers but I get to watch it unfurl, step by step which blows my mind. I get to see the pieces falling into place…the lights go on….and the look of surprise he gets when something he has been unable to do for so long, suddenly becomes easier.
Lately he has discovered the drums and the piano. Slowly but surely over the past year or so his love of rhythm has grown. As he gains more control of his body he has started expressing himself more and more. What started as a simple rocking from side to side to the beat, has grown into a state where everything that can be held is a drum stick and everything that can be hit is a drum. Wooden spoons on the high chair, blocks on the floor, his toothbrush on the lino under the toilet (urrggck…) and of course, actual drumsticks. We have been sitting him next to a drum and he goes for it! He experiments with the different sounds that can be made on the rim of the drum or the skin. Then he will move the sticks to the floor or the nearby toys to get a variety of sounds. He absolutely loves it…. And he’s pretty good too.
I have a piano at home and even though I play badly, I have played for him since he was in the womb and sat with him on my lap from birth, clunking out an accompaniment to songs I like while singing to him. Over time he started reaching out for the keys and trying to play. At first he didn’t haven’t the strength to push the keys down in a way to make a sound and his interest would wane. Gradually he started making a sound and he realised that different sounds occur depending on which keys you hit. He would thump his hands down on the white ones, then the black ones, then up, then down the board. Using his feet made a louder sound and that was fun too. Through my delusional parent eyes, I became convinced that he was a budding virtuoso and every clumsy thunk was a potential work of interpretive-jazz-fusion genius but the perfectionist helicopter parent in me has been trying to show him the times when two notes sound good together as opposed to the random bunch of notes he happens to hit with his hand.
Today he did just that….just like that…
He used his forefingers on both hands and quietly isolated the notes and played different individual notes like a chord. He gets it! He’s been listening and watching and now he is showing me that he understands. Beautiful boy.
This week Wade also learnt his first sign. It is common for kids with Down Syndrome to learn Auslan keywords from a young age. The reason for this is that it can take a long time before our kids start speaking and making themselves understood. This can cause frustration as they often understand more than they can express and by using signs, they can get their message across more effectively. I have been very hit-and-miss with teaching him sign language. Wade has always been very vocal, making a variety of sounds from a young age. I felt that he wouldn’t have any trouble learning to speak and I got it into my head that if he learnt to sign, he would be less inclined to use words.
This is half the story anyway…
The other half is that I got frustrated showing him the sign for something abstract like “more” or “finished” and having no idea whether he was even capable of understanding what I was trying to convey. I was being inconsistent so I stopped doing it. Lately however, now that I can see the progress he is making and can see the comprehension starting to occur, I started up the sign language again. And this week, he learnt his first one….accidentally….and one he is unlikely to ever use in a typical day…
Monkey…. Of course!
We have been trying to get him to make different animal sounds when we say the word for the animal or show him a picture. Partly because its a good exercise for different mouth shapes and sounds but mostly because it is cute as hell. For the elephant sound, I have been raising my hand in the air like a trunk and very quickly, Wade started doing it too. For the sound of the monkey, we have been trying to get him make an “oo-oo” sound. He hasn’t been able to do it yet so I took his hands and made the motion of the monkey against his ribs. We all pretended to be monkeys and he thought this was hilarious. Within minutes, he copied us and now whenever we say the word monkey, he does the action. I looked up the sign for monkey and sure enough, that is it. The sign for elephant is completely wrong though…oops… Never mind.
I am so excited by the new phase of development he is entering in to. I find it interesting that his physical development and mental development seem to tag-team each other as if he can’t work on them both at the same time. However now that I am seeing real progress and the fun he has as he sets off to find a new corner of the house to explore I can feel the frustration subside. He can pull to stand and cruise around the furniture. At the rate he is going, he will be very close to walking in a couple of months and then I guess I will be writing an aggressive rebuttal to myself, asking myself to explain how I ever thought it would be a good idea to encourage him to walk when I am chasing him all over everywhere!
One thing that doesn’t seem to change though, and I hope it never does, is his sense of peace. I’ve mentioned it many times before but it gets me every time. The only way I can try to describe it is that I feel that he has a sense of knowing which is completely separate from his understanding or his intelligence. It sucks people in and leaves them quiet and reflective. It’s most obvious to me when I’m saying good-bye to friends or family and I realise that no one is leaving and everyone is just watching Wade as though they just don’t want to leave him. It’s not supernatural or otherworldly or divine, it’s just him.
And it’s heart-crushingly beautiful.