I remember the first day I took Ian into his classroom as clearly as if it were yesterday, sitting him in the big wooden chair, gently holding his ankles, trying to persuade him to sit quietly. He couldn’t sit if he didn’t know what it meant, so I had to teach him. If he wasn’t absorbing information naturally, I would have to teach him every single little thing.
“Sit, Ian.” A bright smile of encouragement from me. “Good sitting.”
A gentle hand on his chest to stop him falling towards me; a careful stroke on his cheek to praise him.
“Sit, Ian.” He was quiet for a moment. “Good sitting, Ian. Good sitting!”
It didn’t last, but it was enough to give me hope.
I needed Ian to sit still and pay attention. I needed him to look at me. I needed him to make that connection, to share eye contact, human to human, however briefly. It wasn’t enough to be on the periphery of his vision; I didn’t want him looking ‘at’ me but over my right shoulder into the distance; I had to be there, centre stage, interesting enough that he would want to look, encouraging enough that he would want to do it again.
If he looked directly at me, I could guide him to look at other things.
“Ian, look at me.” I pointed to my eyes slowly, and Ian’s gaze followed my moving fingers. The briefest passing glimpse in my direction. “Good looking, Ian!” I smiled at him. “Let’s do that again. Ian, look at me.” This time a gentle hand under his chin to turn his head towards me. Again, a flick of the eyes past mine. “Good looking, Ian.” I smiled brightly.
He lurched sideways in the chair. “Ian, sit. Good sitting.” An encouraging smile.
“Ian, look at me.” Was I more interesting than what was going on in his head? Yes! His eyes flicked in my direction. “Good looking, Ian.”
I held up a plastic cow. “Cow,” I said with meaning. “Cow. Cow goes ‘Mooooo’,” I sounded like an idiot, but I didn’t care. I gave Ian the cow to fiddle with. In my head I counted to ten, then said “Ian, give Mummy cow, please.” I gently prised the cow from his fingers. “Well done, Ian. Good giving cow.”
I held up another animal. “Sheep,” I said, and baaa-ed, and let him take it. I picked up the donkey, named it, and brayed. Then cockerel, giving my best farm-girl imitation of a crowing rooster. Ian smiled. Yes, I was definitely the village idiot.
But I could see something working behind Ian’s eyes. He glanced at me. There was a realisation there. These things have names! He held them in a slightly different way. He wasn’t just fiddling with them, he was looking at them.
“Ian, look at me.” His eyes flicked my way, but this time they didn’t just slide on. There was a pause there. A proper look. With a smile!
My heart leapt.
— o 0 o –
Okay, so it didn’t happen in a day. Or two, for that matter. But it happened quickly enough that I was constantly encouraged to continue.
I learned as I went.
What encouraged him to look at me most? Singing. What was the best praise? A hug. What kept him enthusiastic? The very act of learning.
That is how we started.