Susan's Blog

Sunday, October 30, 2011

No matter where you start, they don’t know it

These days it seems like Ned, Nat, and I are all running at a higher speed than usual. Nat has been buzzing around, as alert as a deer in hunting season. His interest lately is to make sure that all things that are supposed to happen, do happen. It’s no mystery why Nat has had his alertness in overdrive; he must be thinking about the future. His whole world is going to change on November 11, and he knows it.

While all of us — teachers, House staff, family — have been talking to Nat about graduation, moving back home, and day program, he must be anxious to know what those changes will actually feel like. I understand this; I tell myself that Nat has lived at home on weekends and vacations, and that his day program has the same hours as school. But the fact is, all of the reference points will be new.

In all my years of knowing Nat, one pervasive, unchanging truth is that Nat needs his reference points in order to feel comfortable. I know how to give those to him, because I am the same way. I remember when I was in grad school, getting a Master’s in history, and how we studied historiography — rather than history itself. I learned that there actually was no discipline known as “history;” but that in fact all history was simply a record of an event told from someone’s distinct and unique point of view. An event’s makeup depended upon the speaker, his gender, his social class, his age, etc. It was perhaps the first time that I actually was able to articulate what I had sensed all along throughout my life: that we understand things only in terms of other things. And that to start at The Beginning of something is the hardest task for anyone to tackle, because you have to acquire facts as well as structure all at the same time so that you can best understand it. But what are the components of the structure? Isn’t the structure of something based on facts? How in hell does it all work? As Ned’s mom Eleanor said about the boys when they were babies, marveling at some commonplace thing: “No matter where you start, they don’t know it.”

So Nat’s earliest life — like all of ours — must have been a real trippy blur of stuff just kind of happening with no real rhyme or reason. How do humans begin to make sense of their environment? I have not studied much psychology but I find that question fascinating, because clearly it does happen. I would be willing to bet that every single human being alive today has developed some understanding over time, and then built upon that.  Fact upon fact — the awareness of things, the names of things, the functions of things, the importance of these things — is a tiny spark of information that must make itself known to us, and then we must learn their significance, and then we connect them together.

So if you have an impairment where maybe you have too many sparks at once, and too few threads available to connect, how the F do you do it? How did Nat make sense of this world? I can remember a few moments where I understood that he had made a connection, but there have been so many other moments, naturally, because he currently understands so much. The very first moment of awareness I witnessed in Nat was when he first laughed. I remember Ned and I were lying on the couch with him and Ned held him up on so that Nat was looking down at us a little. And Nat said, “Heh-L-L,” smiling. Then he looked at us some more and said, “Heh-L-heh-L-heh-L-hehL,” stringing together the sound with a smile.

Hey, was that –? I think that was laughter! I said. Baby Nat had laughed! What a delight that was for us, to see this comprehension unfold right before our eyes. That was the first time I became aware of the process of learning. Since then, there have been countless other such evolutions with Nat. Grasping the concept of school-following instructions-Pooping in the toilet. Being read to-fun-Reading himself. Vacations-Sleeping somewhere else. Parties have food-learning party behavior so he could stay at parties. Sports-Friends-Social Activities without an aide-Sleepaway at Special Olympics-Camp-Sleeping somewhere else without us-Residential School. Schoolwork-Vocational work.  So many concepts led to other, new concepts and experiences.

So now we have this new piece for us. Nat understanding that school is ending. How do we help that feel okay? A party. A cake. Nat understanding that he will move out of The House and come back home for a while. How does he understand that? Max graduated, had a party, lived at home before he went off to college. College as Day Program, Day Program as College. Moving to his own apartment in the Winter. His apartment will be near his home, he will see us a lot.

The new facts are going to be very different, but the structures are there. We are not starting from Day One, we are starting from Year 22. And so no matter where he starts now, he does know it.

1 comment

Just in the past year, my husband and I have seen such an improvement in Justin’s awareness of all aspects of his life, and it’s been incredibly encouraging. It’s wonderful that Nat understands so much of the huge transitions he’s about to take. That comprehension alleviates so much of the fear of the unknown. Happy for both of you, and hoping my son continues on a similar path as Nat!

— added by kim mccafferty on Monday, October 31, 2011 at 11:24 am

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