Friday, November 1, 2013

Listening with My Heart

I take care of two little two-year-old girls. I've tended one of them since she was a year old and not speaking at all. The other has just been here a few months and is just now becoming more comfortable and more vocal within our little daycare environment.

It is fun to listen to these little girls chat amongst themselves. Part body language and demonstrative; another part verbal and inflection. Every day I understand more and more. There are some things that are cuter than others ... but the ability to communicate relieves some of their frustration (and sometimes creates more when they know that I know what they want and the answer is still 'No').

Enter our new four-year-old girl. She has Down Syndrome and she is fitting into our family like we have been waiting for her all along. She is sweet, loving and is very demonstrative. She communicates ever so clearly ... but she simply doesn't speak in words that we recognize.

The first day was so easy. It was just her and my two-year-old girls. They communicated amongst themselves and our New Girl found a favorite within the group and lavished her with hugs and affection.

The second day was full. Our three-year-old returned after a two week absence and our new one-year-old spent the entire day as his final trial run before his mom goes back to work next week. My three regulars were so happy to be back together that they noticed little beyond their own little circle. Everyone went about their day in their regular fashion and the new ones coasted along with ease.

The third day? It was rough. We were down to 'four'. In my prior experience, even numbers work out better than odd. But My little New Girl hasn't found her place within the group yet.

The three-year-old boy hasn't figured out how to play with our New Girl. This isn't much different than when our second two-year-old started coming here a few months ago. It almost seemed like he ignored the new addition to our family until he figured out who she was and how she played. They are now like two peas in a pod.

It is too early in the game to say if the language barrier is going to make a difference as to how our New Girl finds her spot in among our little family. Kids are so innocent and accept everyone they meet at face value. I keep thinking that is exactly what is going to happen here. But I can't help but wonder if the communication barrier is going to make a difference.

She is very good at communicating what she wants. But the world is filled with situations that go much further than wanting something to eat, inviting someone to play or showing someone what you want them to do. Those are the scenarios that concern me - the times when someone is crying and no one has the ability to communicate what happened. And that is only the beginning.

My daycare day is filled with a house full of little people developing their new language skills. It is interesting, challenging and fun all at the same time. It is intriguing to watch and listen to the development of their vocabulary and how they put things all together. It is frustrating when they know what they are trying to say and I don't understand. It is delightful when their simple language puts a new spin on our tired old language. Their language skills are growing in leaps and bounds.

But what of my little four-year-old that is not yet verbal? She reminds me so much of my two-year-olds in so many ways. She is a tiny girl and one would never guess that she is as old as she is. Her inability to talk adds to the illusion that she is younger than she looks.

I'm just winging this so far. I talk to her the same I talk to any age of child. I know her comprehension is far more complex than her vocabulary so I don't want my manner to be demeaning to her. I don't want her to feel lost in this crowd. I am not sure how to try and enhance her ability to communicate but I am wondering if the kids will intuitively find ways to communicate with her easily.

The progression of our communications skills is yet another one of those little things that we take for granted when all goes as we expect. I am eager to watch the development of friendships and communication within my young daycare family.

Verbal expression is just one means that we have to communicate. As I sit back and watch our cats interact with each other, not a word needs to be said to understand what they are 'saying'. When all is good in their world, that is enough. But when its not ... a few words of understanding go a long way.

I must listen with my eyes and my heart to hear what this little girl has to say. That is a good motto to live by no matter who you are trying to hear.

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