Thorin has been with us for just over three years or 1,068 days. Figure three meals a day – omitting snack time – and that represents 3,200 meals. Given those parameters I think it is safe to say he has thrown his plate, cup, silverware, food, juice, milk or any combination of those including numerous sundry items that are within reach of his place setting approximately a million times.
Ok, slight exaggeration. Currently, his incident with relation to meals probably results in an average episode every 3.5 meals. (He has slacked off significantly in the last year or so. His early average was probably 1.2)
Every meal is an opportunity for something getting thrown. At home Thorin drinks out of a covered cup with a straw to minimize spillage if said cup becomes a missile. I am reminded of the time I put his juice in a little coffee cup with Santa on the side of it. As a distraction from the fact it wasn’t a covered cup I said, “Hey, he’s our favorite guy Santa!” It all went well until Ward walked in the room and said, “Alright! A big boy cup!”
Sweet Jesus, Ward what are you thinking! Why call attention to the cup? That’s like waving a red cape in front of a bull. And – I said as much under my breath in another room out of earshot from Thorin. We walked back in the room and he dropped the cup and it’s contents on the floor.
His accomplishments have earned him the nickname “Throwy Peck” (aka Bendy Peck and Hammy Peck). Throwy is a bit of a misnomer. Aside from throwing objects he can reach over and ever so slightly knock over his juice, milk, etc to create a pool of liquid that I have come to realize has meaning in the way Nabokov in Bend Sinister uses puddles, ink stains and spilled milk to reflect among other things tenderness and beauty. Deep, uh? Well, I am trying to explain to you his puddles have depth.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. What has been my response to the puddles over the years? I have alternately ignored it, pretended it was an accident, gotten upset and while ineffective I have cried over spilled milk.
For a while I thought maybe it was Pavlovian. What was troubling is I thought he was training me with the unconditioned stimulus of throwing things to elicit a conditioned response. How frustrating for him that I kept changing my response.
Ward and I attended a conference for parents, providers and teachers of children with Down syndrome. The keynote speaker was from Boston’s Children’s Hospital. His practice is exclusively children with Down syndrome. The title of his speech was simply “Behavior”. His first question to the audience was “Does your child throw things?”
He also asked if they hit, pinched or yelled at other children. I forgot to mention Thorin is capable of hitting, pinching and yelling at other children. I know I sound like Charles Manson’s mother but he hasn’t really hurt anyone. His heart isn’t in it. You know, like a real creep.
Here is what we learned – children with delayed speech and language get upset by not being able to take part in the world of talkers.
It goes something like this:
– No one realizes the sounds you are making is actual talking – throw something!
– Everyone is talking to each other but not you – throw something!
– You don’t know yet how to get Bobby to play with you – poke him!
Talk about your Oprah Aha! Moments.
He is telling us something.
His pools have depth.
As Ward and I have become what in speech language parlance is known as the “familiar listener” or the decoder of his speech we have more understanding and less frustration. Our home is not a place where he is competing to talk with 10 other kids and four teachers.
Thirty percent of children with Down syndrome have behavioral problems.* That is the statistic we learned. Why isn’t it seventy percentage of Typicals don’t take the time to engage the delayed talker?
We live in a world of talkers. Fast talkers at that. My advice – slow down.
*Thorin doesn’t have a behavioral problem so much as he has issues.