Though I enjoy writing educational articles for parents, every now and then I get inspired to write about something in the world of OT and therapy that moves me. This month, I’d like to share a story about my patient that we’ll call Jane, and the interaction between us that has rejuvenated my practice.
Jane is a very intelligent little girl with autism. She loves princesses, math, and space. She is also a perfectionist who enjoys things to be structured and organized. For example, she enjoys when toys are arranged the same way as pictured on the box. This need for order can lead Jane to get suddenly very upset when something is not the way that she needs it to be. So, if a piece is missing from the box in the previous example, or if she doesn’t have the fine motor skill to arrange it according to the picture, it can be hard for her to handle. We have been working on her ability to communicate in these times so that the adults around can understand her and help her where we can.
On one occasion, Jane was painting an art project and was very worried about using her non dominant hand to stabilize her paper because she did not want to get it messy. The anxiety surrounding the possibility of paint touching her hand was preventing her from completing the art project the way she wanted to, and she began crying from frustration. Because we’ve been working on it, she said “Miss Rebecca, help me, please help me.” I prompted her, “help you with what?” not because I didn’t know what she was struggling with, but because I wanted to know how she wanted me to help her through it. I expected her to say “help me paint it” or “help me hold the paper.” Instead, she responded “Help me with ME!”
Now, this took me aback. “Help me with me.” The awareness in that statement. How hard must it be to have that amount of stress in your toddler body. To be born with sensory difficulties that make it hard to touch paint, even though you love art; to look at new food, even though you enjoy eating; to wear socks with seams, even though you love the characters on them. It’s almost unfair. Of course, there are a million positive and wonderful qualities that also come with a unique sensory profile. But still, sometimes, it must be so hard to not be at peace in your own body. It’s something we all completely take for granted. And to hear Jane say “help me with me” reminded me that our children are often very aware of their difficulties and are seeking support and love through it.
There is significant importance in communicating to Jane and others in her position, “yes, I will help you with you, we are working together to make this easier for you.” They deserve for it to be easier. They deserve acknowledgement of their struggle, and encouragement that it will get better. Our children with sensory deficits are working against their own body and are certainly braver and harder working than I am on a daily basis. It is my job to help them with them; to assist each child in becoming the best version of themselves. As a professional, I needed that reminder and I thank Jane for giving it to me.