In my work as a speech-language pathologist, I get to work with kids of all ages. A lot of times I get to meet a little guy or girl who has never seen another therapist, sometimes a pediatrician refers a child for a speech-language evaluation, sometimes parents themselves are worried about what they’re not seeing their child do or sometimes they’re worried about things they are seeing their child do. What is consistent is the fear I usually see. I see it in parents’ faces all the time, the look of fear and anxiety when their child gets excited by a spinning toy, when a child starts lining up toys, when he doesn’t respond with words or eye contact, when he falls on the floor crying, when he leaves the room to play alone. I see the fear when they are getting ready to go to a big appointment. When I first assess their child, when they meet with their pediatrician, when they meet a diagnostic team, that fear is palpable. I see it in the way they say “see, right there, he looked at you and smiled and last night he went up to some kids at the park and watched them slide and laughed with them so he can’t have autism, but sometimes when we are playing he seems to ignore me, do you think I need to have his hearing checked?” With every “right” thing a child does the mom or dad says, “see everything is fine” but I know the fear felt at night when going back through the day and recalling things that don’t feel so fine. If I could tell families one thing it would be, grieve if you need to, but don’t live in fear. Fear will not move him forward, it will not move you forward, and it will make you feel stuck.
When you are feeling that much fear it is so hard to be present and that is what our children need. All of our children, those who are typically developing, and those who are neurologically diverse, they need us to be present. My yoga instructor (Hi Sharon!) always, always, always, talks about the importance of being present. She often says, you are here on the mat, you made the time and the sacrifices to get here, so BE here. What she means is; quit worrying about the fight you had with your husband, what in the world you are going to feed everyone for dinner, whether your yoga clothes are unflattering, your to do list for tomorrow, just be here, fully in this moment. I think there is no more perfect sentiment than this when playing with our children. It is really hard in our society to be present. I can easily sit on the floor with my kids and look present, but my phone is so tempting, so why not just peek at Facebook? Also there is that load of laundry to do, so maybe I should just get up really fast and do it, and I might as well thaw some chicken for dinner and then… It’s hard to be present. I read this article about Mindfulness http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hunter-clarkefields/12-reasons-why-parents-need-mindfulness-now_b_8416932.html and one of the last recommendations is to be present, “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”- Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. I also think that being present can combat the fear we feel. When I am truly “in” with my children or the children or teens I work with at the clinic I don’t feel anything but connected and happy. My Floortime mentor always says, “If it feels good to you, it feels good to them.”
So this New Year, let’s all resolve to be a little more fearless and a lot more present.