(Since this post is about school, I thought it would be appropriate to include Nate’s first school portrait! We love his little nose krinkle!)
When Nate does something, he does it. There’s no thinking about it or planning – he either does it or he does not. When he first crawled forward (he crawled backwards for a very, very long time), he took off and never looked back. When he first walked, he toddled from the fireplace in the living room, down the hallway, and to the dishwasher in the kitchen. And now, I am pleased to share that my son imitates. I know, I know. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but, actually, it is.
Nate has always been very low on his imitation skills and, as it turns out, that’s how tots learn — by imitating those around them. The imitation of sounds, actions, expressions equals new skills gained. For a long while, Tate couldn’t maintain eye contact or look at someone for a long enough period of time to absorb anything. When eye contact increased, we could see the wheels turning in Nate’s head but he couldn’t for the life of him make the connection between how you got your hands to move in that way (i.e. pat your head) and how he could do the same. Sometimes, he could display the action a good five minutes after it was requested; it took that long for his body to process what it needed to do.
Two weeks ago Monday, something aligned in Nate’s body and he is now an imitation machine. In his session with Miss Alison, Nate patted his head, tapped his belly, pointed at his nose, knocked on the table, rang a bell, raised his hands in the air, and did other tricks instantly, all for the reward of poker chips (to put in his coffee can piggy bank). And from that moment forward, it’s taken off. It means that Nate’s life — and ours — has dramatically improved. Why? Because Nate can do sign language!!!!
Up until now, we’ve had a few signs: “milk” (which faded after breastfeeding), “eat,” and “my turn.” Just recently, he started signing the sentence, “I want / more / to eat.” (For Nate, “I want” and “my turn” are one and the same.) But now he’ll copy the sign you make when doing an activity. Nate now signs “milk” (it’s back!), “color,” “cookie,” “bath,” “book,” “ball,” “apple,” and other things. It’s a jawdropping miracle.
This new skill has made Nate realize that he can communicate what he wants when he wants it. And yesterday, Nate found something he wanted at school. It was on his friend Johnny’s plate.
Nate’s friend, Johnny, is pretty cool. He’s a little peanut of a boy and he is a chatterbox. Johnny knows that Nate is nonverbal and doesn’t really care. Nate’s therapists have shared that Johnny has lengthy conversations with Nate at snack and meal times. Johnny yammers on for a bit (or more than a bit, sometimes) and then leaves a natural period of time for Nate to “respond.” Then, after an appropriate amount of time has passed, Johnny carries on with the conversation as if Nate has said his two cents. It’s apparently quite a sight to behold.
Yesterday, for lunch, Johnny’s mom gave him two delectable chocolate chip cookies for dessert. The teachers put Johnny’s lunch on his plate, including the cookies. Sitting at another table, Nate spied Johnny’s cookies from across the room. Nate began to distally point to the cookie. No one really noticed. Nate kept pointing. Again, nothing. So Nate got the attention of Miss Marilyn, his therapist who is with him for three hours on Wednesdays. Miss Marilyn asked Nate to show her want he wanted. So, he got up out of his chair and, with Miss Marilyn in tow, toddled to Johnny’s plate, pointed at the cookie, and vigorously began to sign, “MY TURN!!!” (Not much for conflict, Nate would never grab the cookie from his friend.)
It was such a show of intent and communication that all of the adults in the room were stunned. And before anyone could say or do anything, our dear friend Johnny piped up and said, “Here, Nate! You can have a cookie!” Johnny shared his chocolate chip cookies with Nate.
When I picked Nate up from school, his teachers regaled the now infamous chocolate-chip-cookie incident of 2011. Johnny was beaming from ear to ear at how proud everyone was that he shared. To say thanks to this great kid who gave up 50% of his treat, we baked cookies last night and stuck a box of them in Johnny’s cubby with a thank you note from Nate. And, wouldn’t you know it, Miss Marilyn showed up for her 8am session with Nate at school with a bag of chocolate chip cookies for my boy.
We are so excited to see how this imitation skill will progress and pray every day that it will not fade. Our therapists are recommending a high dosage of praise for every imitation so that Nate will want to do it and, hopefully, it won’t disappear into the recesses of his mind. For now, he’s on a roll. Video will be posted soon!