The under-appreciated joys of progress

I just watched my son struggle to reach a toy he wanted on the floor to his right. He is left handed naturally, but also hemiplegic (he is actually quadriplegic, but he is definitely much stronger on his left side). He was trying to reach across his body with his left hand, futilely, so he finally reached out with his significantly weaker right hand, picked up the toy, and transferred it to his left hand and began playing.

To most people, this would seem totally insignificant and unworthy of notice, let alone worthy of writing about. But to me, this is amazing progress, not only with his motor skills, but with his problem solving skills. His motor skills have been improving noticeably over the past year, but this was the first chance I had to see him solve a problem on his own, without getting frustrated or upset.

A few minutes later, I went over to adjust him in his chair, and I sat down next to him to play with his matchbox cars with him. He had paused for a moment, likely distracted by something on the TV, and his cars were covered up by his arms folded nicely in front of him. So I asked him where his cars were, and he broke into a huge grin and held up the one he found first to show me. Then when I asked if I could see it and held out my hand, he put it right into my palm and clapped his hands and laughed. Without moving my hand or actually playing with the car, I praised him for good sharing (he loves praise and it garnered big laughs and his version of kisses on my arm). Then I told him he could have it back and thanked him for sharing, and he took it out of my hand and went back to playing. He understood everything I said and completed each of the requests I made.

This reminded me of the other night when I was getting his pajamas on. I usually start with the pants and throw his shirt over his face to tease him and he cracks up. That night I told him to put his shirt on and he started pulling it down hard over his face. He did it three or four times and I kept saying, “C’mon, put your shirt on” and he’d keep doing it. I had to intervene, obviously, because if I let him go on like that we’d be there for years. But he was trying so hard to put his shirt on like Mommy told him. He had the basic idea, just not quite the skill-set yet.

This is all part of the joy and wonder of raising a child with special needs. It’s actually possible to witness progress as it happens, as if time has slowed down and you’ve been given a rare and cherished opportunity to appreciate each and every little thing. Sure, it’s difficult sometimes, frustrating and even crazy, but nothing has ever been so rewarding and awe inspiring.