Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Developmentally Speaking: Motivation

My grandson Logan, who'll be four this summer, had a stroke somewhere near or during birth. The stroke left his right side paralyzed and over the years my daughter Joy has spent countless hours with doctors and therapists helping Logan to recover the use of his right arm, hand and leg.

As you might imagine, Logan was decidedly left-handed. Each time Joy placed something in his right, he'd immediately snatch it away with his left.

Similarly, Logan favored his left leg. Rather than crawling using both legs uniformly, he'd curl his right leg under him and pull himself along with his left, scooting along as though his right leg were a skateboard.

Joy had to get creative and develop strategies that encouraged Logan to use his right side.

Of course, the beauty of helping a child who hasn't yet developed speech nor a moral compass is that you can't motivate him with guilt and obligation, nor with promises of reward; all motivation must occur in the moment, non-verbally. Logan had no problem with only using his left-hand; everyone else did. So, to get Logan to use his right, Joy had to find at least two things that Logan wanted to hold simultaneously. His left hand fully occupied with one cookie, he had no choice but to use his right for the other. To get him to use his right leg required activities that couldn't be accomplished with just his left; activities in which he wanted to participate.

Almost four, Logan is doing great. He walks. He runs. And although he's still decidedly left-handed, he uses both hands.

The one thing that hasn't changed is the basic premise: If you want Logan to do something, then you need to think about what's in it for him. For example, one day at the beach we began playing with a couple of foam water cannons. To load them, you place the end of the barrel into a pool of water and then pull back on the handle sucking in the water like a hypodermic needle. It's an activity that absolutely requires the use of two hands, and although Logan was not particularly interested in loading the water cannon, he was definitely interested in shooting water at Grandpa. Before you knew it, he had both hands working together, no problem.

This led to another opportunity. In addition to the paralysis, the stroke played some games with Logan's neurology and sensory systems. His tactile system (sense of touch) is hyper-sensitive and he can become inconsolable after certain tactile experiences. For example, he doesn't like the feeling of sand on his feet, especially wet sand that doesn't shake off. Although he likes wearing his bathing suit, he doesn't like to wear it once it's become wet. If it does, he'll immediately run to his mom and insist that she give him a dry one, that is, unless running on sand and getting wet is a prerequisite to shooting Grandpa with a water cannon.

After a few minutes of loading the cannon and shooting me with it, I decided that it might be fun to raise the level of the game; I ran away from Logan before he could shoot me and after just a moment's consideration, he decided to chase me. We zigzagged up and down the beach, I'd slow down just long enough for Logan to catch me and shoot me, and then we'd head back to the pool of water to reload and begin again. By the third time if I didn't run immediately, Logan would shout, "Run away!"

Our zigging and zagging brought us closer and closer to the water's edge. By the fifth iteration, Logan was happily splashing through six to twelve inches of salt-water, pausing occasionally to stoop and reload, never concerned that his bathing suit was soaked or that he was covered in sand.

Did Logan's neurology change? I don't think so. What I believe happened is this: the additional activity fired up other parts of his neurological system stealing stimuli away from his overloaded tactile system and making him feel comfortable.

The best part was, Logan didn't need to know any of that. He didn't need to know why he "should" be using both hands or that "big boys" aren't afraid to get their bathing suits wet. He just needed something that he wanted to do, something that was fun.

Happy Tuesday,

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