Jasper is barely eighteen months old but I cannot remember a time when I did not observe his “play” with the eye of a therapist. As a newborn, I watched Jasper constantly for the visual tracking his neurologists said would not happen. I rotated a set of bold, developmental soft blocks back and forth in front of his eyes. I rejoiced the first time, around eight weeks old, he looked at and responded to the Stim-Mobile I had placed above his crib - I knew he could see it and took video for his neurologists. Our vision educator came into our lives when Jasper was three months old. By then, I was already his keen observer. From our vision educator, I learned to observe him even better.
The stroke was bilateral, but somewhat worse on the right. Jasper kept his head turned mostly to his right for the first several weeks. As his body movements developed, I watched for asymmetry, making sure he used both right and left sides equally. He did not. He would cross his midline with his right arm to reach something on his left, instead of simply engaging his left arm. From the beginning, I tended to place objects to Jasper’s left, in the hope of coaxing him - his limbs, his eyes - to the left. I hung a black and white infant toy left of center on the handle of his car seat. A stuffed animal lion charm dangled down on the left side of his stroller. Fortunately, Jasper’s gross motor asymmetry was mild and only affected his upper body, and seemed to resolve on its own.
Last week was Jasper’s eighteen month check up. The check up appointments are becoming more difficult. When there were only three things he was supposed to be doing, Jasper was doing great. His therapists told me he was doing great. Now the list of things he should be doing has grown, along with the list of things he is not doing... yet. In addition to the list, his pediatrician asked about other skills. Can Jasper follow a command, if you ask him to go get his shoes? Does he bring things to show you? Does he clap his hands? No... not yet. I add, he does not wave bye-bye or point either... not yet.
At school, Jasper’s teachers and therapists work to diversify his functional play, and to increase his attention span. At home, I sit down to play with Jasper and automatically choose ring stacking, which Jasper can do, though his limited depth perception sometimes gets in the way. It occurs to me we should be working on more challenging play - stacking blocks, putting a puzzle together, pointing at simple pictures in books - play that Jasper has not yet mastered.
Jasper and I do not “play,” we theraplay. It is difficult to shut it off. When watching him, I can’t help but notice the quality of what he is doing, how he is or is not using his vision. He doesn’t get the ring quite right on the stack. (In our house, there are lots of re-dos.) He does not track the ball as it rolls past him, but he still knows where to find it. He can almost balance one block on top of another. Again, depth perception interferes. I sometimes wonder what it must be like to watch your child play innocently, without anxiety, expectancy. To watch your child grow, develop, hit milestones easily, effortlessly. And think, When will Junior do this or that? Instead of thinking, Will my child be able to do that?
Right now, we are on summer break from school. Summer break from therapists. Time to run in the grass, go swimming, bike with momma. And plenty of time for theraplay. All I can think about is crossing some things off the list by the time Jasper goes back to school in mid-September.