climbing

Some time ago, Cody’s Occupational Therapist and I were having a conversation about Cody’s future.  She wanted to get me thinking about what types of activities, hobbies and interests Cody might have when he is an adult.  What will he do during his downtime when he is 25?  40?  65?  What types of activities will bring him enjoyment, enrichment, improved physical health, a sense of accomplishment? In thinking about this, I realized that it is my job and that of others in his life to expose Cody to many different possibilities; just like we do with all children…in the hopes of sparking a flame and finding experiences and aspects of this life which resonate, motivate and inspire.  Not just for now, but for years to come.

One such idea is climbing!  He responded so well when we took him to the creek a couple of times and guided him as he traversed up and down the boulders surrounding the stream.  It was obvious he has a sense of adventure, that he is not scared to try challenging activities, and that the pride radiating from him brings so much joy.

Dan and I figured we’d introduce Cody to climbing at the local climbing gym.  My idea is that slowly but surely we will build in him the sense of security, familiarity and capability from improving skills so that he can perhaps enjoy this challenging activity in increasing levels for years to come!  The thought brings a smile to my face.

We had our first visit to the gym this weekend.  It was evening, just the 3 of us and we had no sense of urgency or need to rush the process.  When I was helping Cody get ready to go at home and was talking about what we were going to try, he was thrilled.  Smiles, giggles and bursts of jumping told me this kid is ready for adventure (even though he had no idea what was in store).

The noises, smells and textures of the gym are very unique.  There was a young boys’ birthday party going on in one corner and they were whooping and hollering as they raced up the wall in pairs repeatedly.  Cody immediately plugged both his ears.  The floors are uneven, with 1-2 feet high mats dispersed throughout.  Cody didn’t mind the mats, in fact he quite enjoyed exploring them and the feel of them as he walked.  The air is stuffy and the slight smell of sweat permeates the space.  The dryness of the chalk used on the climber’s hands seems to have infiltrated the air we breathe. There is a nervous excitement as the 3 of us try to determine the best way to begin.

Dan figured we should start with bouldering; perhaps for a few sessions – climbing without any harness or ropes so that Cody gets the feel for how his body should lean forward, against the wall face, not depending on the harness or ropes.  We start by standing beside the wall, showing him the holds and talking through the process of climbing.  We let him feel me as I climb up a few feet, then Dan.  My goal is getting him to put one foot up on the first hold, hold on to 2 holds with his hands and push up so his weight is on the foot hold entirely.  I figure if we can get him this far, it would be a success for today.

When we first try putting him into position and try to place his hands and feet on the wall, he resists…biting his hands, screaming out and pushing us away.  He does not, however, pull me in an attempt to leave, he does not say his familiar phrase “back to the car” (which is hardly discernible, but oft repeated whenever he wants to escape a situation), so I know he wants to try…but he’s scared.  I remember once again, that he’s blind…he needs lots of time to explore first; to listen, to feel, to arrange his thoughts.  Why do I want to push through this part so often I wonder to myself?  It’s hard to be patient, to give space and time…to wait him out.  I ask him if he wants to sit on the mat which lies at the bottom of the wall for fall protection.  He smiles as he sits down and reaches all around with his hands; slapping the mat, feeling how it gives as he pounds it and the texture of it as he strokes.  He sits and listens to the activity around.

I tell him these words; words he has so often heard from me that seem to bring calm and safety:  “Cody, I know this is hard.  I also know you can do this, and that you want to do this.  We will wait for you.  Take the time that you need, and when you’re ready we’ll be right beside you to help.”

Many moments pass and all of a sudden Cody goes from complete stillness to a flurry of activity.  He bolts upright and reaches out in front of him to the wall, searching for the hand holds and reaching up with his foot for the first foot hold.  Dan and I burst into action; guiding with our words and our hands…giving Cody the support he needs to push through his fear and climb.

Climb my amazing and brave boy, climb and climb and climb.

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Dressing

Cody’s congenital blindness and autism has resulted in developmental delays in all areas.  This includes cognitive, speech, social, emotional and physical development.  Physically, he is delayed in areas of motor skills such as gross motor (big movements) and fine motor (small, more detailed movements with fingers and hands).  These motor delays as well as his dual diagnosis, make basic daily living skills and self-care much more challenging for him to learn and for us to teach.

It is very typical for children with blindness and other special needs to be delayed in self-care, and this is even more the case because us as parents tend to compensate and do too much for them, for various reasons!  I knew a consultant I visited in Cody’s early years who really tried to encourage me in this area.  She worked with children, youth and adults with varying degrees of visual impairment teaching them Orientation and Mobility skills.  Many of the clients she had did not have cognitive delays and, as is typical, were very strong in school and academics.  She would remark on the dichotomy she often witnessed; youth who were getting straight A’s, but who still didn’t know how to get dressed on their own.  Parents were doing all the work, making sure their child was on time for school…yet in doing so were encouraging dependency and a complete imbalance in development.

Objectively, as a parent, it is easy to see that this is unhealthy.  But, practically, it is very hard to remain diligent and consistent in teaching them to be independent.

I have a fantastic Occupational Therapist who has been helping me set goals and teach Cody in various areas of self-care.

One of our goals is in the area of dressing.  He has come so far in the past year!  We started by regularly having him explore the parts of a shirt; the neck, the sleeves, the body.  We also did the same with shorts and pants.

We then used a method called “backwards chaining”.  This involves slowly adding challenge and difficulty, but starting from the end of the action as opposed to the beginning.

If we are to break down the action of putting on a shirt, it would look like this:

  1. Grab shirt from drawer
  2. Place shirt on bedside with the proper orientation
  3. Locate shirt and figure out orientation using touch
  4. Insert arms in the correct place and reach for sleeves
  5. Pull arms through sleeves
  6. Grab shirt by collar and pull over head
  7. Pull down shirt to cover body

In backwards chaining, I help Cody with steps 1-6, and then wait for him to do step 7 all on his own.  Once he’s mastered this, I help him with steps 1-5 and then wait for him to do steps 6 and 7 entirely on his own.  In this way, we continually move backwards and he experiences the pride and accomplishment of success step by step.

At this point, Cody has mastered steps 7, 6, 5, and 4!  We are working on perfecting step 3.  Teaching step 2 (Place shirt on bedside with proper orientation) will be especially challenging.  We will have to figure out a way to make the front and back of the shirt tangibly distinct.  This involves good tactile sensitivity as well as strong fine motor skills.

Here is a video of Cody getting dressed this morning.  As you can see, he finds a lot of joy and pride in his ability to do this much on his own!  At this point I lay out his shorts and shirt for him before he sits down to dress.

 

This video represents many, many hours of discussion and work for Cody’s therapist, myself, family and of course Cody himself!  It sure is worth it to see that smile and to hear those squeals of delight! Good work Cody!  We’ll keep at it, you and I and the others that care for you.  And one day, you will do each and every step, all on your own.