A flirtatious, monosyllabic Kindergartner surprised me today. And I'm no longer especially vulnerable to surprise: in the course of a year or so at my current job, I've gotten up close and personal with every bodily fluid you can think of save for semen, and a certain bodily solid, besides. I've seen kids with shoes so worn you can see their feet through the soles, kids who come to school in flip-flops in the dead of winter, and second graders making gang signs to kindergartners in the hall. I consider myself, if not jaded, then at least shellacked.
But, inevitably, the moment you think you've seen it all is the moment you spot a fist-sized spider with nine legs and a cocktail umbrella. I was running a session with two kiddos from the severe disabilities class. One, Reynaldo, I'm trying to teach to use a communication book. The other, Ramon, I'm trying to get to answer questions and convey his wants and needs. Ramon is a fat, fast six-year-old with big brown eyes and an indecorous lust for bubbles. It's a rowdy pairing, and I need to keep on my toes.
10 minutes into the session, Ramon babbles a string of sounds that may or may not have contained the word "bathroom." Ramon jabbers a lot; only a little of what he says is intelligible. I ignore him. Kids aren't allowed to go to the bathroom in speech: it's a phenomenal time-waster, and once a kid has pegged you as a bathroom pushover, you may as well flush your therapy.
(Though I do make exceptions, ever since a first-grader named Kevin asked to use the facilities twice, announced he couldn't hold it, then favored me on the spot with "number three." Kevin has a bathroom pass with his name on it.)
So three or four minutes later, as I'm trying to get Reynaldo to ask for a blue marker with his book, Ramon snatches the book out of Reynaldo's hands, navigates until he finds the velcro picture of the toilet, then rips it off and places it after "I want" on the front of the book. I sighed, rolled my eyes, and took everyone on a potty field trip. All in all, I spent a third of my session in the boys' bathroom yodeling verbal cues about pulling up and down pants and remembering soap.
It was only much later that I realized Ramon had been my first student all year to use in a real-life context a communication strategy I'd taught. This, theoretically, is the entire goal of speech therapy; yet, for the most part, years go by while kids tear pictures of markers on and off of velcro strips. So what if it wasn't HIS strategy: Ramon had tried talking first, and I hadn't listened. He used what came to hand.
Probably my only bona fide victory of the year, and I was so irritated about the bathroom I almost missed it. In any case, it gave me a good shake: I've become so accustomed to directing, managing, and structuring communication that it's easy to forget to listen.