We Can All Learn Something....That One Time I Listened to a Teacher
Feb 28, 2020 | By: Kristine Turcy
Like almost all Moms, I too stare adoringly at my children. I get mushy, and nostalgic and miss the little people they were. Sometimes I even curl up close to their faces when were watching a movie in my bed together and I swear I can see the younger version of them.
I love Lola-Dillon's eyebrows. They're full and untamed. I love her smile and I love looking at photos of her.
And I love Madison's hands. Madison's hands are chronically irritated in the winter. They look like she's wearing red gloves. They're floppy. They're soft, and rough at the same time. They've always been. And I do remember how weak they were when she was younger. She was constantly dropping things as a child. Imagine hearing things constantly dropping on your hardwood floors....like all the time! Almost daily, when I see her painting, drawing, cutting paper, I'm reminded of what was probably the best advice a teacher gave me. Probably the one time I never doubted a teacher.
See, when Madison started kindergarten at Chancellor Livingston Elementary in Rhinebeck, she hadn't yet been diagnosed with autism. But I knew. I had a conversation with her doctor when she was a toddler pointing out her receptive behavior, echolalia, and perseverations. Back then that didn't really go anywhere. He didn't know enough and diagnoses weren't given until a child entered school. His nurse was an absolute bitch when I called insisting there was a problem. She refused so many times to have Dr Holland me back and said "you should try a different parenting technique". Well, FU. Thanks for contributing to blaming the parents for having an autistic child and to the Refrigerator Mom theory.
I even had a conversation with her preschool teacher, Mrs. Chacha (her real name by the way) who actually agreed that Madison had autistic tendencies. That still didn't help to get the referral to the neurologist.
But one October morning when Madison was in kindergarten, I walked Madison down to her classroom like I always did, Lola-Dillon in my arms. I did the usual and kissed her goodbye and she went into the classroom without a problem. And as I was walking down the hallway I heard "Mrs. Cahill, can I talk to you?'
It was Mrs Dooley, her teacher. She said "ya know I think Madison is having seizures and you should have her doctor evaluate her". And we has a short conversation regarding autism and seizures. I was relieved. Finally! One step closer to a diagnosis. Trust me, this was a helpful recommendation, but it turns out that it wasn't the most valuable advice she gave me that day.
As I was walking away, she said "Oh and you should have Madison doing as much as she can on the floor. Have her do everything on the floor to strengthen her arms and hands. Her grip is really weak, she can barley hold a crayon sometimes. I have her doing a lot on the floor during the day".
So I did. Right away. Like that night. I had her doing things on the floor as much as possible from then on. Sometimes I even took her "kiddie" table and chairs away so she had no choice. She didn't seem to mind. It became a long term part of her sensory diet. I had her doing other things, like playing with shaving cream, and working on textures, but nothing specifically addressing her strength and grip.
I'm certain that advice has crafted Madison's hands to be able to do what they do today. I'm certain that working on the floor developed the physical stamina her hands now have to work 6-8 hours a day. It's really incredible to watch her use a fine paint brush so precisely, or a dip pen with a metal nib.
So really, I'm certain an autism diagnosis would have come sooner or later. I was already intervening without one. I had a pile of books from the library, because in 2002, that was where I was getting my information from! Good old books....and all of their good and bad information.
I'll admit. There were times I didn't adhere to Madison's teachers' advice. I let her do her homework in different colors markers, because it got done and she learned. I insisted eating her lunch was a priority and that she eat at a small card table, and she ended up coming home with empty lunch boxes. Things like that, the mom, the primary observer of their child's behavior, can actually know best.
But this advice from Mrs. Dooley was the most valuable recommendation I've ever gotten that has translated so well for so long. Would she be where she is today? I don't know. I'm sure she be as creative, but I'm not sure her motor application would be there.
I've heard Mrs Dooley is retiring this year. Mrs Dooley taught me something that day and I'm eternally grateful. It's no secret and I never hide the fact that I grew skeptical of Madison in a public school setting for various reasons. And I'm well aware of how I have a tendency to do exactly what I want and how stubbornly driven I am. It was a scary time going through Madison's younger years. But I can 100% give credit and acknowledge the lasting impact Mrs Dooley's simple tidbit of advice had on myself and Madison. Her teaching me in that small moment has probably attributed to me now without hesitating, giving advice to another parent who reaches out to me. I may not have THE answer, but I can at least give one little tidbit of support, without feeling like its an exercise in futility. Fat crayons, Play-Doh, paint trays on the floor, to now cutting paper on the floor. Those little things brought Madison a long way.
Madison had this habit in Mrs Dooley's class of singing the days of the week in an "opera voice". Picture it...."Sunday, Monday..... Tuesday, Wednesday.... Thursday, Friday..... Saturday!!"
Madison told me sometimes Mrs Dooley would say "no opera voice, Madison". HAHAHAHA!! Ahhh... Madison and I laugh about that still. And I'll even ask her to sing me the days of the week in her opera voice and she does!! And I love it. I appreciate Mrs Dooley tolerating my opera singer as much as she possibly could. But even more, I appreciate her telling me to put Madison on the floor and giving me such long lasting advice. I hope she enjoys her retirement. She's earned it.