Think of it as a bookmark in my life

Disclaimer:  This is a very disorganized post about reading, learning to teach reading, Avery, potty training, excellent books, synchronicity, and some especially sweet moments I don’t want to forget.  Here we go!

Several months ago I received an email from a mom asking me about how we taught Avery to use the potty.  I told her what I knew, then, which resulted in what I feel now was a very poor answer.  I told her that we did all the things we’d done with his brothers:  watching for readiness, making a big deal out of it, rewarding him with lots of praise and love.  Too, we did some practical things, like getting him a little potty of his own that fit his tiny hiney (Target had one that we loved) and we made sure to ask him if he needed to use the potty, especially in new places or situations.  And by we I mean me, and Tom, and Bennett, and Carter.  Avery’s potty-learning was truly a family affair.

So those are the things I shared with the mom, whose son was 8 I think, and she was still trying to find the way to achieve this skill with him.  I could have, should have assumed that she’d already done all the things I mentioned, because really, who wouldn’t have tried those things first?

About a month ago, we had a major regression with Avery’s potty.  (I feel like I’m on very shaky ground here, revealing too much about Avery’s personal business, but I will forge ahead because I have a reason–I learned something I wished I’d known earlier, and maybe by sharing it, it will help one of you.)  We all became very cross with him, and disappointed, and I think we sort of believed that if we made it unpleasant enough for him, he would go back to using the potty.  Well, it didn’t work.  In fact, the opposite happened.  Avery became even less interested in using the potty and began avoiding the bathroom all together.

About this time I’d been reading Patricia Oelwein’s excellent book, Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome, which is not a book I say much about in Road Map simply because I didn’t know about it, yet.  The whole beginning of the book isn’t even about teaching reading:  it’s about how children with Down syndrome learn.  One of the things she mentioned was a learned helplessness, based on a fear of failure and a history of low expectations.  As soon as I read about it, I knew it was what had happened to Avery.  We’d made the potty experience so unpleasant for him that he simply decided not to try it any more.

Well.  Again, I was humbled, with regard to my most excellent parenting instincts.  Or not.  Gah.

So I explained to Tom that we needed to build Avery’s confidence in the potty department, and that no one was allowed to say anything negative, only positive, encouraging feelings were to be allowed in the bathroom.  And we went back to square one, with the tiny potty again, and the love and attention, and the new (again) underwear, this time Scooby-Doos. 

It worked.

I felt very grateful that our early potty learning had been a positive experience, that we’d stumbled across it really, and that we could go back to that and reset our course. 

And I realized that this is probably going to be the way forward with Avery:  that he will need to feel safe enough to take risks, and make mistakes, in order to continue to grow and learn.  Especially as the things he’s learning become increasingly complicated, and in many ways, foreign.  For him, he has to take a lot of this on faith–he has to believe he can do it, and sometimes, it will be my job to believe enough for both of us.

We’ve been doing the Dystar book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (both little boys) and the BOB books (both boys) and Avery also has supplemental work with signing, flashcards, and the Love and Learning program.  It works best if Bennett does his lessons first while Avery is in the room; Avery then expects to do everything Bennett does, and he copies him.  So I have two sets of books, one for each boy.  Avery is very aware if I “short” him or do anything different; he’s an excellent observer.  And I’ve found it to be true, what many of the studies are saying:  reading is actually helping Avery speak better, and more. 

When we do the flashcards, I read and say the words, then Avery says or signs them, whatever he likes best.  He still prefers to sign “baby” and “thirsty” and “bird” and “airplane,” also his first sign, “fish.”  When I read and say, “hurt,” he always says “ow,” and when I read and say “friend,” he always says, “Mom.”

May I never forget that friend, to him, is me.

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21 thoughts on “Think of it as a bookmark in my life

  1. Oh my gosh that last paragraph and sentence is the most precious thing ever. Beautiful!!!
    If you want another book to add to your arsenal for teaching reading, get a copy of “How to Teach Your Baby to Read”. It sounds very similar to the flashcard method you are already using but may have a twist on the technique of using it. We are actually going to start our reading program with Joaquin next month. So exciting :)!!!!

  2. I don’t know where to being this comment, because I’m confused and a little scared. I’m only 20 but I have a 16 month old daugther who has Down syndrome. I was 18 when I had her, and she had surgery and a heart condition (now cleared up thankfully) and was in the NICU for a month afterwards.

    I’m totally okay with the fact that she has Down syndrome, that I can handle. But I just don’t know how to relate to other mothers. Most of them are old enough to be my mother, and that’s very awkward. I want a friend in all of this, not someone who would want to mother me, or even pity me.

    I don’t know where to turn or what to do. I subscribed to the Indiana parent loop on Yahoo, but it seems that these families lives are VERY different from mine. I still live with my parents as does my boyfriend (my daughters father) I’m going to college and I work as a janitor at night. I don’t have to worry about bills or anything like that. I kind of feel like I don’t belong, even though my kid has Down syndrome.

    You’re an inspiration to me, because you had to worry about 2 other children, a husband, a house etc. I figured you’d would have some tips for me on interacting with other parents, and just life in general.

  3. Lovely post!!!. I feel faith is an essential tool to count on in life, one of the most important things you can do is to continue to have faith in Avery and to cultivate it in him, to continue to have confidence in all he is capable of understanding and doing, to continue to trust in his unlimited potential, to have faith in you and your family as the LOVE pillars that will always be there to help him grow and become who he is meant to be. Jennifer, you are doing a wonderful job!!!, you are being the best mom and friend Avery can have 🙂 . Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful part of your life!!!. Very Best ~ 😀

  4. Love the end of this. I was JUST looking at my copy of this book today and thinking “Is it too early” but maybe the book has more to teach me than just how to teach G to read.

  5. This was really helpful to me on several levels. I am going to look into the Love and Learning program. And I was inspired by your potty success (and success again), we are working with Max on that. Thank you!!!

  6. I always appreciate when you let us “look into” your personal life. You hit on something very important — our children fight against many things in life. And I remind myself as best as possible to make sure I’m the one on Gabe’s side. Today, we had a visit with our speech therapist, (whom I love!) and I have to say that I saw Gabriel make big leaps and bounds just because of praise and comraderie that we’re in this thing together.

    Thank you for writing and sharing so much with us!

  7. “learned helplessness, based on a fear of failure and a history of low expectations”

    This is an issue with all children. Negative parenting is so hard to resist even though it is so clearly counterproductive.

  8. Good observation, Jennifer. We too have been having some difficult moments in other things. Maybe if we step away from the negative – it will help too. Anythings worth a shot.
    Have a great day!

  9. Thank you, Jennifer. What a wonderful reminder of how I want to approach parenting with both my children. Sometimes it’s good to take a step back.

  10. Again you come through with a lovely, informative and inspiring post. I would not have necessarily made the connection about how children with DS learn and my own child. But it makes so much sense; I imagine it may hold true for most children with developmental delays.

    Thanks for sharing the lessons, the resources, the heart. xo

  11. Thanks Jennifer! My Noah had the same set back for two months, after he got two shots at his yearly check up. I about lost my mind thinking what went wrong and dealing with it all. Thankfully he is back on track and we are so happy once again! Life if good!

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