The Wooden Chair

for blog - the wooden chair

In my last blog entry (‘Look at me’), I mentioned my first session with Ian and sitting him in a ‘big wooden chair’. Perhaps an odd choice, putting a three-year-old in an adult-sized chair, but when I started I didn’t have anything else and grabbed the nearest seat I could find.

When the therapy team got together, the therapists – experienced, knowledgeable – all wanted Ian to sit in a child-sized chair. The speech therapist particularly wanted Ian’s feet on the ground, so I went shopping for child-sized furniture and bought a blue plastic table and a couple of brightly coloured small plastic chairs. The table had a centre panel of pink and yellow flowers, a sticker, and Ian made it his life’s mission to remove it. It distracted him so much we had to cover the flowers with a sheet of plain paper. And then the paper became an object of interest because Ian knew the sticker was underneath …

At first, when Ian’s feet touched the ground, he would stand up. A great avoidance technique. A lot of time was spent getting him to sit down again. Sometimes, when he sat with his feet on the floor, he would rock the chair, leaning further and further backwards. I don’t remember him ever over-balancing (he was too clever for that) but for a while we had to put the chair against the wall so Ian couldn’t lean back.

I questioned the use of the small chair. In the big wooden adult-sized chair, these things didn’t happen. Ian sat cross-legged. His top half could move – and frequently did – but his bum stayed in his seat. It was easy to manage his legs by placing a hand over his crossed ankles.

It affected his eye-contact too. When Ian was in a child-sized chair, an adult (also crouched uncomfortably on a child-sized chair) was head and shoulders above him. When Ian was in the big wooden chair, I knelt in front of him and our heads were the same height. See the picture above, from one of our earliest sessions. Surely this was better?

I persisted with the wooden chair. It was solid and dependable. I liked it. I was closer to Ian, kneeling in front of him, and I suppose as his mother that was easier for me, to be more physically involved with him, rather than spatially removed, in a separate chair, our knees keeping us apart.

Ian, being an amenable little lad, got used to both.

“Look at me – part 2”

Look at me - for blog

That was my side of the story, where all was calm and gentleness.

Ian’s side of the story was slightly different.

In my book, I described it as follows: “I started taking Ian into the classroom every morning. He wouldn’t sit, and he most certainly wouldn’t look at me when I asked him to. You’d have thought I was asking him to peel his own skin!” So for Ian, it was more of a challenge.

He moved around a lot in his seat; he made strange noises; he kept trying to get up; his hands were everywhere. But then …

“… after a few scary days, he did start to sit still for more than a few seconds at a time, and he did start to give a fleeting glance in my direction when I asked for it. ”
(“From the Inside” Chapter 5)

Something changed in him. He still made noises and his hands were all over the place, but now I was getting his attention. He wasn’t just reaching wildly, he was reaching for the things I was talking to him about, the plastic animals, or the books, or my pens.

When the therapy team was formed, each person had to go through their few days. Ian had to get used to the idea that he was required to do the same things and behave the same way, for more than one person. And he did.

Nothing made me happier than watching him walking, sometimes running – yes, running – into the classroom ahead of his teacher.

There was learning to be done, and Ian wanted to be a part of it.


Next time:  “The Wooden Chair”

“Look at me”

Look at me - for blogI 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.