"Are You... Normal?"

“Are you… Normal?” she asked me, and I froze.  Standing on one foot, my fingers splayed out on either side of my head, I'd been impersonating a neuron in the visual cortex.  Perhaps this wasn't a normal thing to do.  I lowered my foot to the ground.

“No,” I answered. “Probably not.  Why?”

I'd been an occupational therapist for twelve years by that point, so I was not at all concerned whether I was perceived as “normal”.  I did, however, want normal people, like this mother, to understand me.  If she could learn to recognize, as I did, which sensory signals her daughter was understanding and which ones her brain was shutting out…

“I've just never heard anyone explain it like that.  That makes so much sense.  Are all OTs like you?”  

My posture (which I hadn't noticed I'd stiffened) softened.  This family would be moving soon, facing not only the start of preschool but the search for therapies to continue what we'd begun.  Their daughter had once turned away and protested almost any attempt to interact.  Now she shared smiles, imitated the silly sounds we made, and even attended a Parent-Tot gymnastics class - but there was still work to be done.

“Some OTs are!  That neuron demonstration?  I pulled that from a class on sensory processing.  We don't all study sensory processing, though, and I think you should work with someone who does.”

They did - and more than that, this family became skillful at guiding their daughter through sensory experiences.  Even their cat gets involved!  I swelled with pride when, two years later, they posted a video of their kindergarten-aged daughter explaining how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.  

 

Why did I impersonate a neuron?  Because even people who know about brain cells and what they do often fail to realize the implications.  Your brain is alive, and every day it builds upon whichever neurons you call into action.  This is true throughout life, but it's especially important in young children, who haven't yet reassigned all their unused neurons.  What you practice affects who you are, and who you'll become.

If my acting like a weirdo helped this mother to understand her child, then I'd like to do the same for you.  I'm going to present this topic on Crowdcast this Thursday, March 23rd, at 11:30 am EDT (8:30 am PDT).  I'll share what worked for this family and answer questions, if you have them.  I hope you can join me!

 

P.S.: Crowdcast is a free, mobile-friendly platform for online presentations and conversations.  You don't have to be present to watch the broadcast (there's a replay), but you do have to register if you want to ask a question before I go live.