True and Powerful Message from My Unintelligible, 5-Year Old Son:
“Mom, I may not be able to talk intelligibly but don’t insult my intelligence!!”
We had been doing My Obstacle Courses for a while and I had drilled the ABC’s (putting in order, matching upper and lower case, etc) into my son’s head when he was spinning and looking up at the ceiling rather than completing the activity. I asked him if it was too hard or too easy. Turned out to be too easy!! Intelligibility alone does not indicate intelligence and this one activity demonstrated this beautifully. After that, I was able to come up with activities that were more in line with what he was ready for and also let his teachers and therapists know. I soon found out he knew how to read quite well so of course the ABC’s would boring regardless of the color or shape of the paper they were on. After this behavior and attention issues started getting better because he was not bored and was being challenged.
If you don’t know where your child is, how do you know what to work on?
I know what you are probably thinking, not those developmental timelines again! If you are anything like me, once your child stopped meeting certain milestones when they were “supposed” to, you stopped looking at these. I totally get it because I did the same thing. However, as my desire to work with my son increased, I realized that I did not have a good grasp on where he was developmentally and what he was able to do. I didn’t know what to work on or where to begin.
Developmental Timelines vs Chronological Timelines:
A few years ago I received some timelines I could actually use, timelines that had the developmental areas with the skills listed step by step from age 0-72 months (for some reason these are extremely difficult to find!), instead of the “What Your 4-Year Old Should Be Doing” sheet from the pediatrician which lists skills typically developing children are doing at a given chronological milestone (ours usually ended up in some file folder never to be touched again).
The developmental timelines, with skills listed step by step, were so important and helpful for me in many ways because I could look at a skill area, figure out where he was and also know what we were moving to, without having to look up a completely different document. Call me lazy but this just made my life much easier!
Place the focus on where your child is and what they are ready for, not what they are “supposed” to be doing.
I realized that I had to help him work on the skills that he was ready for developmentally instead of trying and failing to get him to do things he was “supposed” to be doing because of his chronological age. I compare this concept with learning how to ride a bike. As a mother, would I put him on a bike with no training wheels at age 6 without giving him an opportunity to learn how to pedal, steer and brake with a tricycle purely because that is what 6 year olds are supposed to be able to do? Of course not!! Those are all skills he would need exposure to so he could learn and practice and when he was ready he would be more successful at bike riding without training wheels. The same is true with building developmental and academic skills. Provide opportunities for your child to be exposed to, learn about and practice skills that are necessary in order to move on to more complex skills.
Reduce frustration for all parties by building skills at the level your child is ready for.
My personal experience with this showed me that it reduced frustration on both our parts because I wasn’t expecting him to be able to do things that he wasn’t ready for and he wasn’t bored or tuned out because the things were too hard or too easy. When considering this concept, I think back to meetings and classes that I was part of. If I was learning or listening to something I already knew, I would try to pay attention so as not to hurt feelings but eventually I tuned out, made lists, drew pictures, dozed off. If I was learning or listening to something that was way over my head (for me- organic chemistry- UGHHH!! Just thinking about that makes me want to write a “Things to do” list!), I tuned out knowing that it didn’t matter even if I was paying attention, there was no way for me to figure it out while sitting there. Now if I was learning or listening to something that I felt was something worthwhile, something I could handle and do, I was there! I was participating and engaged. I was sitting up, paying attention and was ready to jump in and do the work. Our children are no different from us.
Meet them where they are!
Peaks and Valleys:
Many times if there is a delay or weakness in a given area, a great deal of focus is placed solely on that area. I personally spent a great deal of time and energy trying to get my son to talk. Once I realized that by finding out where your child is in multiple areas of development and academics, you can build on not only the weaknesses but also the strengths. By doing My Obstacle Course, you may find that your child was ready for a more complex skill that would have gone overlooked because the focus was narrow and only on the weaknesses. I have had parents tell me that they didn’t think their child could do something only to find out that they didn’t have an interest because it was too easy! I encourage you to build on all of your child’s skills, whether they are considered a strength or a weakness. By building on the skills where they are, you are helping them progress in all areas.