I don’t want this to sound like Chicken Soup for the Early Interventionist’s Soul, so I won’t be starting this  post this way:

Compassion comes in all sizes and abilities.  (Excuse me while I go blarf.)

However, this is still a touching story, one that makes my heart sing (if I can say that without making you want to blarf as well…). 

Lunchtime on Mondays is challenging.  We have 2 little boys working on, among other communication goals, feeding.  I call it “feeding” as opposed to eating because it can be a painfully slow, clinical, trial-and-error process of getting one new food in a child’s mouth over the course of a year.  This is not the joy of eating, dining, cuisine, or social mealtime.  This is clinical feeding, a domain which falls under the auspices of speech therapy. 

In the case of one little boy, Allen, the feeding goal is to get him to eat anything at school.  He has such a limited repertoire of foods it’s no wonder we’re all so concerned with trying to help him experience food in a positive way.  He only eats Ramen noodles (beef flavor) and drinks Pepsi.  Maybe he eats baby applesauce puree.  And that’s at home.  That’s it, folks.  We’ve gone on home visits, tried to send him to an intensive feeding clinic, but we’re still supporting him to touch food with his fingertips.  That’s where we are today.  And that’s what we were doing at lunch.  Touching a carrot.  Holding a carrot in his hand for 5 seconds, while the tears flowed down his face, even as we praised him for doing hard things and being a big boy.

The other little  boy, Jacob, sitting around the corner, also has feeding concerns, because he’s on a special diet.  He eats more foods at home, and occasionally eats baby food puree at school.  I have only just begun to tap into this little guy’s potential.  In the beginning, he ignored all other humans.  He became very upset when we entered his space and tried to play with him.  Now he enjoys imitative games, silly tickling games, and peek-a-boo type games.  They’re all interactive, and he’s becoming a veritable social butterfly, especially at lunch.  Well, he had a lovely time with mashed bananas today, flirting with me as he tried to shove a banana-covered finger in my mouth.  He actually ate quite a bit of his baby food, and even the little carrot pieces I surreptitiously hid in his bananas.  On seeing the other child crying, Jacob looked intently at the falling tears, and remarked, “boo boo”.  This from a child whose limited expressive language abilities include imitating syllables, saying, “ah di” for “all done”, and reciting the ABCs. 

When Jacob finished his meal and had washed his hands and brushed his teeth, he went off into the classroom, intently searching for something.  He came back, grinning as he clutched his prize — a wadded up tissue — and approached Allen.  Allen then allowed Jacob to carefully blot his still-wet eyes and nose. 

These children do not score points on their language tests for empathy and compassion.  No one measures how kind or thoughtful they are.  It is a superior teacher who takes time to use words to praise children for their acts of humanity, instead of always scolding them for fighting.  It is nice to see that some of these children who are so impaired in other abilities, remain human in the most important ways.