I’m back from a long day in Jerusalem!
Our visit to the Feuerstein Institute went well. The eight staff members I met were all professional, warm and caring. Yirmiyahu was part of a group of five children; I knew he would be the youngest but didn’t realize there would be the big gap there was. This is the youngest group of children at the Institute right now. He’s 26 months, and the other four kids were all 3.5, almost 4. So he’s really, really much younger.
Fortunately this didn’t pose an issue for Yirmiyahu! Far from it. He did great. Even though he woke up at 5:30 am and was tired from traveling and a disrupted sleep schedule, was in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people – ie far from his sparkling best – he participated fully in each session.
There’s no question that there’s a lot to gain from being at a place like the Feuerstein Institue, but I decided not to pursue further participation at this point for a number of reasons. A big part of that decision is that even though Yirmiyahu is so much younger than the other children in his group, he’s more advanced than all of them. Initially when I had questioned putting him in a group of kids who were older (not realizing how much older they would be!), they said it would advance him to be around older kids. But I don’t believe that will be true in his case.
There would definitely be benefits but as of now, the other considerations outweigh them.
Since Yirmiyahu was very, very young I have felt he wouldn’t benefit from being in a special education setting, and that conviction was strongly reinforced yesterday. I don’t look at him as a child with special needs and don’t treat him like a child who is limited – because he’s not. Despite my belief that it’s best for him to be with typical kids, I agreed to put him in this group of children with developmental delays because of the incredible reputation of the Feuerstein Institute. But I felt increasingly uneasy as he sat around the table with the other children. It felt like a mismatch for who he is and what his needs are.
I paid close attention to everything each therapist did in every group and how they said it because I wanted to soak in as much as I could to hopefully apply their strategies at home – and I was continually struck by how similar it is to how I speak to Yirmi. That was a big eye opener to me and I began to understand what the evaluator meant when she told me at his six month evaluation that I was intuitively doing the things with him that they usually have to teach parents. I spoke to a mother during a break and asked her about the experience at the Institute. One of the things she said is that there are some people who intuitively do these things with their kids, it’s natural to them and they don’t see what the big deal is. It seems I’m one of those parents.
At the end of the day, I was speaking to a different mother whose daughter was in Yirmiyahu’s group and asked her something specific about her daughter. She told me, “You’re not going to have an issue because your son understands everything!” I asked her how she could possibly have noticed that, and she said it was obvious that of all the kids he was the one who understood in every situation right away what he was being asked to do and did it.
Also at the end of the day, the occupational therapist exclaimed, “Your son is amazing!” She asked if his therapists locally are going crazy by how well he’s doing. I asked her why she said that – I don’t know any kids with T21 in person who are his age to gauge his progress and anyway, I try to avoid comparing my kids to anyone else so I don’t have the perspective to see what she’s seeing.
She responded that she sees many, many kids with T21 and he’s unusually advanced. She seemed surprised that this wasn’t blatantly obvious to me. I mentioned that the way the therapists spoke in the sessions was similar to how I speak with Yirmiyahu, and she said it’s clear that I’ve been mediating (to use a Feuerstein term that means to actively help your child process and make sense of the world) since he was born. I often hear comments that he doesn’t look or act like he has T21 which I mostly disregard, but the feedback from staff members at this institution is based on many years of experience so that counts for more than the casual comments of someone in the park.
I’m frustrated with my lack of clarity about all of this. When people told me over the years that my kids were so well-behaved or kind or responsible, I thanked them and knew what efforts I had made that led to that result (along with a huge dose of heavenly assistance – our efforts are never soley responsible for our success). I could tell you how to do it, too.
But in this situation, I don’t have that same feeling of confidence, of knowing that I did this and it led to that result. I know what I’ve done and could give you a list if you asked me but I couldn’t tell another parent with the same confidence I can when it comes to parenting issues, do this and you’ll get this result. I keep wondering, could it really be this simple to successfully raise a child with T21? It can’t be, right?
I don’t want to downplay what I do with Yirmiyahu. But I see what I do with him as mostly being a responsive mother just like many mothers out there and have a hard time imagining that this is unusual. I don’t sit around doing therapy. I don’t sit around practicing speech. I don’t sit on the floor playing educational games every day and I don’t read him books every day.
Mostly I just love him. I talk to him like I talk to all of my kids, I know he’s smart and capable and I expect of him what I expect of all my kids. And he gets lots of love and stimulation from all of his siblings.
I remember predicting to myself in the early days (when he was less than a week old and in the NICU) that when he got older I would hear how lucky I was and that he must have been born high functioning. I was prepared to hear it was luck and I didn’t anticipate the professionals being so verbal about it being a direct result of my efforts. It’s nice but I’m uncomfortable with it.
I feel a lot of humility and gratitude for how well Yirmiyahu has done. Even though there are things I’ve done and I know they matter, it seems like it should take a lot more than the efforts I made to see the results that surprise people so much. (I don’t see anything surprising, he’s doing well but I don’t think he’s a superstar.)
Is it possible that because I loved him as he was from the time he was born, actively mediated the world for him, believed in his abilities and kept my expectations high, that he could be doing so well?
Food for thought. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience!