“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”
~ Marshall McLuhan
I often talk about how we strive to give Brooke the tools that she needs to mitigate some of her challenges. You might recall the story about our first interaction with her preschool team. At that meeting I told them that I knew that the doctor who had looked into her crystal ball of arrogant idiocy and told us that Brooke was likely to live a solitary life was wrong. I’ll never forget saying through the hot tears on my cheeks, “I know she just needs the right tools. She is so motivated to interact. She just doesn’t have the tools. I know it.” Nor will I ever forget the preschool team speaking up and saying, one by one, “Oh, we have a whole shed full of tools – tons of em. Just you wait.”
Well, guess what? Brooke left that preschool armed with her own little tool belt and she continues to fill that damn thing each and every day. And her latest is a doozey! It’s like one of those multi-purpose Swiss army knives that can do everything but the dishes. It slices, it dices, it cuts a can and then a tomato! But wait, there’s more.
It buys her TIME.
One of Brooke’s most constant causes of anxiety has always been an internal pressure to answer questions without hesitation. Since she has trouble with both receptive and expressive language, this is a Herculean task. Hell, it would be a Herculean task even without the added challenges.
Think about it. If every single time anyone asked you anything you had to answer without taking any time to think, you’d be under pressure ALL THE TIME. Especially if you’re in kindergarten, where you’re being asked questions constantly. It’s confusing, exhausting, and frustrating.
And then, if heaven forbid you answered incorrectly, what then? With no means of retraction or method for correction, you’d very often be put in positions you don’t want to be in.
Think of the simple stuff – you’re playing quietly, enjoying some time to yourself when your Mom comes in and says, “Would you like to come with me to the store?” With no time to think and the feeling of a gun to your head, you blurt a quick, “YES.”
But then you realize that no, you don’t want to go to the store at all. As a matter of fact, you have to go to the bathroom and then you were planning to keep playing in your room where it’s nice and quiet. You really needed some down time away from the demands of social interaction. You’re pooped and don’t want to go anywhere. But now Mama is standing there with your jacket, expecting you to put it on and well, you really have to go to the bathroom and Mama is sticking your arm into the coat and talking about how much fun we’ll have on the ride to the store and – well, there’s a good likelihood you’re going to cry out in frustration now that you feel like you’re in over your head.
Enter the Swiss army knife. One arm of the knife has this fabulous two word tool – ‘I think,’ one has this nifty word, ‘Ummmmm,’ another one has ‘Hmmmm,’ and then there’s the Big Gun – ’I mean.”
Back to the trip to the store – now you could grab your handy dandy Swiss army knife and say, “Ummmmm … I think … Hmmmmm … no thanks.” And all is well. You go off to the bathroom and Mama says, “Ok, maybe later.” (Big sigh!)
Or, should that method fail, there’s a back-up plan! This tool stuff is nearly too good to be true! If you were to say, “Yes” by mistake, you could then say, “I mean no.” and all is well again! (Blessed calm!)
This is HUGE. Brooke’s life is changing dramatically thanks to her new found ability to stall for time – time that she so desperately needs to process the information coming at her, to determine what is expected of her, and to formulate and verbalize a response. All of those things are hard enough to do without feeling that you have to do them IMMEDIATELY.
Day by day, Brooke’s tool belt is filling up. It is such a joy to see her using each and every new tool to find her way through the minefield that can be her day. Brooke’s life isn’t easy, but with every addition to that tool belt, it gets just a little bit easier.
I am so proud of her.