The First Time: Reflecting on the Journals of my Childhood

Editor’s note: I wrote this for a client that declined it, so now you can have it, WordPress.

These days most of my writing is done online. I have a blog that I use to share my thoughts, feelings and experiences with others. Such is the nature of our times. I came across a meme that said “People used to keep diaries and get mad when anyone read them, now we post everything online and get mad when people DON’T read it.”

I laughed because it’s so true. As a child my writing platform was a journal filled with paper and my writing tool was a pen. I stashed my journals away in my drawers and lived in fear that someone would read them. When my brother did read my journal I was mortified. Now I check the statistics on my blog and I’m happy when I see that a lot of people have read it.

Although I’ve moved on to writing through a digital platform, I still have a certain appreciation for my first writing platform and for the person who first led me to it. I feel especially appreciative around this time of year, when the school year is beginning.

I got my first journal when I was in third grade. Up until then my teachers had me writing in spiral and composition notebooks but when Ms. Eliot handed out the school supply lists at the beginning of the year she specified that those kind of notebooks would not do. In her class we would be using real journals for our writing.

I chose a suede journal with a purple floral design. As far as school supplies go, that journal was fairly expensive but what I got out of it cannot be quantified in monetary value. It was through that journal and that class that I developed writing skills and a love of writing. One of my first journal entries involved me imagining flying through the sky like a bird. Although my body would never sprout wings, when I wrote I soared to new heights.

By the end of the school year I had filled my purple journal up to the last page. As an end of the year gift Ms. Eliot gave all of her students new journals. Mine was red and had a design that brought to mind fire. Although I was no longer required by Ms. Eliot to write in a journal, I continued to do so because writing lit my fire.

As I progressed in school, I was fortunate to have other great teachers who encouraged and praised my writing. Some of them had me write in notebooks but none of them had me write in journals like Ms. Eliot did. Yet ultimately it was a teacher who once again put a journal in my hands. When I graduated from high school a beloved teacher of mine gave me a journal as a graduation gift. This one was white and brought to mind ivory. Writing had become as precious to me as ivory.

Two years ago I moved to a new house. While I was packing my belongings I came across that white journal I received as a graduation gift. A few months ago I moved again. While I was packing my belongings I came across that red journal I received at the end of third grade.

A few days ago I was complaining on Facebook that I felt motivated to write but my computer was broken. A friend pointed out that there’s always pen and paper. She’s right, there is always pen and paper. And there are always journals.

The Fountain of Youth

I drank from the fountain of youth the other day. I mean that almost but not quite literally. What really happened is that I spent an hour of pure bliss at the King Fountain in Millennium Park in Chicago. It was the most amazing fountain I’ve ever been to. A shallow pool of water flows on a granite floor between two impressive glass towers that are lit up and have showers cascading down their sides. On the front of the towers are projection screens that have rotating images of faces of various ages and races. Periodically spurts of water gush from the lips of those faces.

What made the atmosphere of the fountain so enchanting was the people in it. The vast majority of those people were children. Some were boys, some were girls. Some were in diapers, others were approaching adolescence. Some had light skin, others had dark skin. They splashed and frolicked through the fountain. smiling, laughing, holding hands and shouting with glee. Most of the few adults who entered the fountain were standing still keeping a stern eye on their children but there was one adult splashing through the fountain with as much joy and exuberance as the children. That adult was me.

I am someone who looks much younger than my actual age and in some respects I act much younger than my actual age. In some ways my life situation resembles the typical life situation of a child. People often express shock and disbelief that I’m as old as I am. When they say they’re shocked by my age because of how young I look, it’s usually meant either neutrally or as a compliment. While I imagine there will come a time in my life when I’m delighted to look 15 years younger than I am, at this point I find it humiliating to be mistaken for an adolescent. When people tell me I’m like a child or an adolescent because of the way I live or behave, it’s almost always meant as an insult.

When I’m told that I’m childlike or I think about how much my life resembles that of a child’s, I’m usually filled with shame and sadness.  I can’t really be blamed for having a youthful appearance but living and behaving like a child when I’m an adult mostly feels like a character flaw and a bad choice. I mostly feel inferior to all those adult-like adults, as though they’re living their lives the right way and I’m living my life the wrong way.

My constant need for movement and sensory stimulation has been another source of shame and humiliation in my life, another thing that has me feeling like I’m different from everyone else in a bad way. When I go out in public it gets me stares of disapproval and inquiries of concern.

Yet experiences like the one I had at the fountain remind me that it’s not all bad. I’m also childlike in good ways. Being so childlike as an adult has left me feeling depressed and alienated, like I’m missing out on some of the best things life has to offer. However, it also gives me an enhanced capacity for joy and wonder, an enhanced ability to live in the moment and appreciate the little things in life. My hyposensitive nervous system and my resulting need for constant movement and stimulation has been a source of embarrassment but it’s also given me a heightened sense of pleasure from sensory experiences.

I could have stayed at the fountain all day and not gotten tired of it.  Sometimes when I’m engaged in pleasant activities my mind drifts to unrelated unpleasant thoughts but for the vast majority of the time I was frolicking through the fountain, feeling the water flowing over my feet, seeing the streams cascade down the walls and hearing the children shout with glee, my prevailing thought was “Wow, this fountain is awesome.”

Most adults wouldn’t frolic in the fountain because of messages they’ve gotten that say that’s not something adults do, because they’d be afraid of what it would make others think of them. They wouldn’t immerse themselves in a shower of water because they wouldn’t want to get their clothes wet. On that day in the fountain I had no such inhibitions.

On that day at the the fountain there may have been people giving me looks of bafflement, disapproval or concern but if there were I didn’t notice them and if I had noticed them, I wouldn’t have cared.  There may have been people who upon observing me decided there was something “not quite right” about me and they may have felt sorry for me but in that moment they were not the ones who should have felt sorry for me. In that moment I was the one who should be feeling sorry for them. In that moment they were missing out on a wonderful experience that I was having.

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Profile of an NLD/ASD kid: Part 2

Occupational Therapy Evaluation

Child’s age:  3 years, 8 months

Background: Kira was referred for an occupational therapy evaluation by staff from Project Child’s Assessment service because of concerns with gross and fine motor development. Mrs. Baker originally brought Kira to Project Child because of concerns about her social abilities and questionable attention to task.

Kira is the product of a full term pregnancy, with delivery achieved through Cesarian section due to a breech positioning. Mrs. Baker reported her recollections of gross motor milestones being mildly delayed, although independent ambulation was achieved by one year. Medical history was remarkable in that Kira was born with congenital torticollis, which has since resolved. Health has been generally good. Kira attends nursery school.

Tests Administered: 

Michigan Early Intervention Developmental Profile

Michigan Preschool Profile

Ernhardt Prehensile Profile

Parent Report

Observation

Behavioral Observations: Kira entered the evaluation room with her mother, appearing fairly comfortable and interested in her environment. She sat at the table when directed to do so.  Eye contact could be elicited but was fleeting, particularly as language or task demands became more persistent. Kira was generally cooperative and happy, although she seemed to need to be encouraged to participate in dialogue. Mrs. Baker reported concerns that she needs to direct Kira’s play and that she frequently reverts to hand flapping episodes. Occasional episodes of hand flapping were observed during this assessment, but not in an uncontrollable fashion. She also held one hand in the air, while manipulating with the other hand.

Kira benefited from focusing prompters to direct and maintain her attention to task. She occasionally became fidgety in her chair. She seemed more distracted by her own movements and thoughts than by external stimuli.

Gross Motor: Kira displayed a full repertoire of primary movement patterns, with a fully complete repertoire of secondary more integrated movements. Active range of motion and muscle tone appeared to be within normal limits as well. Overflow was observed on occasion as noted previously, with shaking of the arms, as well as occasional fisting, and oral overflow. The quality of her movements was judged to be age appropriate.

According to the Michigan Preschool Profile, Kira functioned on a 3 year 6 month level. She walked with heel strike, and ran fairly smoothly. Mrs. Baker reported that Kira ascends and descends stairs in a reciprocal fashion. She was able to jump twelve inches in a forward direction and repetitively. She stood two to three seconds on one foot. By report, Kira uses the slide, climbing bars and swings on the playground. She pedals a riding toy as well.

Perceptual/Fine Motor: Kira could use her hands in a coordinated, assistive fashion, displaying a preference for her right hand. She manipulated objects comfortably in her fingertips. A very mild tremor was occasionally evident in the hands in unstable postures. Release appeared immaturely developed in both control and precision in placement. Kira had difficulty isolating the movements of her thumb and individual fingers imitatively.

According to the Michigan Preschool Profile and EDP, Kira functioned on a 30 to 32 month level in perceptual/fine motor development, achieving a basal score of 28 months and displaying a scattering of skills up to 3 years 6 months. She was able to stack 6 one inch cubes, and aligned the blocks. She did not actually duplicate building a 4 cube train. She completed the three piece formboard in a forward and reversed presentation. She did not complete the rotated two piece puzzle. She placed six pegs in a six holed pegboard in 19 seconds.

Kira held a marker in a static tripod grasp. She was able to copy a vertical, horizontal and diagonal line, and a circle. She drew an eye, an ear and some hair on a complete-a-man drawing. Kira held scissors in both hands, and is mastering snipping. Kira achieved a 3 year level on the Erhardt Prehensile Profile.

Self Care: Kira is toilet trained during the day, but not at night. She eats using a spoon, and occasionally fork. She spreads very little. She can take off her socks, shoes and underwear, and put on her underwear, and sweatshirts.  She is cooperative in dressing and not yet handling fasteners.

Summary:  Kira was referred for an occupational therapy evaluation because of concerns about hand flapping, difficulty involving herself in play, and delays in gross and fine motor development. Gross motor abilities were judged to be within normal limits. Perceptual/fine motor abilities are judged to be moderately delayed in both quality and skill achievement. Overflow, as noted by Mrs. Baker, was also observed. She will probably gradually outgrow this behavior.

Recommendations:

  1. Kira has been referred to the Perceptual/Motor Clinic. If vacancies are not available, she will be placed on the waiting list.
  2. Mrs. Baker may be able to gradually lead Kira to making her own decisions about play by providing two or three choices, start her on the activity, then encouraging her to play independently for increasing periods of time.
  3. Kira should be encouraged to give and maintain eye contact, by using the directive “Look” (point to eye) and delay speaking to her until she does look at speaker.
  4. Games that encourage Kira to follow directions, move slowly, or sit quietly may also help (i.e.-Giant Steps, Follow the Leader, Simon Says, etc,)