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Monday, April 8, 2013

Unfocused Attention

Janey has had quite a few good days in a row lately, knock on wood.  She's been happy more of the time in the past month than I would say almost any month of her life.  It's wonderful.  There are still days with tears, and days like today, where there weren't tears but just quietness---no talking, slow moving, in a world of her own.  But most of the days lately have been happy days.

Of course, I'm trying to figure out what is causing the good days, just like I do with the bad days, so I can try to recreate those conditions.  And I think I have a theory.  It goes back to a day I kept Janey home when it was snowing a lot.  I had worried it would be a disaster, but it was actually a very nice day.  On that day, and a lot since, I've been giving Janey what I think of in my mind as unfocused attention.  That means I'm there with her, but we are both kind of doing our own thing.  For example, I'm doing dishes and listening to music.  She's in the room, dancing around and changing the music now and then.  I talk to her off and on, and I'm right there if she has a request or need, but I'm not right in her face.  I'm not quizzing her, or trying to teach her anything, or trying to make her talk.  We are just together.

Janey constantly asks me to "snuggle on Mama's bed"  I decided about 6 months ago to almost always say yes to this request.  It's one of the few non-food or TV requests she makes.  It doesn't really mean snuggle, but just to be on my bed with her.  She usually has something in her hand, a toy or a book or her iPad or something else to hold, and lately I am bringing a book to read or knitting with me.  I talk to her off and on, we giggle together, we play ghost with blankets, but we both are doing our own thing to some extent.  This kind of time together seems to work better than anything else to get Janey in a calm, happy state.

It's very, very hard to resist a couple temptations that would take away from this time together.  The first is the urge I always have to teach and quiz Janey.  Although it's never shown much of any sign of working in the slightest, I still often try to teach her shapes or colors or letters, or to show her pictures in books and ask her what they are, or to answer my questions.  I am quite convinced, logically, that Janey doesn't learn that way, at least not from me.  At school, I think she does more.  But at home, she doesn't.  She learns from observing, from copying, from seeing something often enough and suddenly getting the spark that makes her want to try it.  But she doesn't learn from drilling.  The other night, we were together in unfocused attention and she had the smile I love more than anything on her face.  She was blissfully happy.  I remembered how that day her ABA specialist had said how well she was identifying pictures of her brothers, and I couldn't resist---I asked her "Who is that boy in there doing homework?  Which brother is he?", pointing in to Freddy.  I was watching her face as I asked that, and I think I'll never forget her look, how it changed.  She went from the smile that would melt any heart to the shut down look.  Her eyes shut down, she stopped smiling, she looked visibly tense.  I saw exactly how it affects her to be quizzed.

The other temptation is to take any moment I can to be totally NOT focused on Janey.  I can only do this, of course, if Tony or one of the boys is watching her.  She can't ever be completely not focused on.  But for years, when Tony was home and able to, I tried to sneak in some time to completely NOT focus on Janey.  Often, this was fine---she was happy with Daddy.  But other times, she was desperate to be with me.  I would get frustrated---couldn't have I have 10 minutes just to myself?  Lately, though, I try to drop whatever I am doing if Janey needs my attention---not if she just wants me to give her some food or put on some show, but if she wants to spend time with me.

I think it took me a while to figure out how to interact with Janey in a way that makes us both happy because I felt I had to make use of every second.  I've read about Floortime, and it got in there someplace in my mind.  I had to challenge her, to complete circles of communication, to do things that got her a little off balance, so she learned!  I didn't stop to look at the results.  Neither of us enjoyed this time, usually.  It's a freeing feeling in a way to have Janey be eight.  I've done my time trying other people's ways.  Now I'm doing what makes Janey happy and calm.  I don't mean I'm allowing her to have anything she wants or do anything she wants.  But our time together is going to be, as much as I can make it, stress-free.  Most of the time, I have faith that if I do this, Janey WILL learn what she is meant to learn.  I look at things she can do now at home, and I didn't teach them to her.  She learned them on her own.  And I don't think she's ever learned a thing while crying hysterically.  She learns when she is calm, when she is happy.  And quite frankly, I am better at parenting when she is calm and happy.  So for now, while it's working, I'm going with unfocused attention.


audball said...

That's fantastic that things are going so well! Like you though, I'm always in a state of "analysis"; when things go wrong, what happened, when things go right…We never rest, right?

I think you are really on to something about the "being within proximity" but not actually actively teaching. My girl equates learning with work…and work is what "school time" is for. Woe to the person who tries to get her to "learn" when it's after her brother returns from school (we homeschool)!

My gal used to get irritated when I would try to take create an academic "teaching moment" during non-school hours. It was part of her rigid scheduling. She wanted to disengage that part of the brain that needed to be "on" . That part was work to her. I would see the same sort of tenseness with OT sessions when she was younger. She loved the therapist, but knew that aspects of the therapy were going to involve some uncomfortable situations. Cognitive behavior therapy has gone so much better because 1. she's older and understands that this is for her future benefit 2. she feels comfortable telling this therapist that she doesn't want to "do therapy right at this moment". They chill out and then come back to the therapy session when DD is in the right frame of mine.

I think you have a wonderful plan in mind; you will still be teaching her, but on your terms. And her happiness is such a big part of the process. And it's very much a positive-feedback loop: you are happy, she is happy. She sees you happy and she continues to be in a good mood. Win/win for everyone :D

Mary Leonhardt said...

You know, I think to some degree all children learn with "unfocused attention." Most knowledge is acquired, rather than learned through drill.

As always, I am impressed by the lovig care and attention you give to this child.

Antti said...

I remember well the day reading the post about the snowy day. It was the first day of the winter when the sun felt warm. Coming home a bit early, birds singing, having just time for a nice cup of coffee, opening the laptop and then the good news.There was even flowers on the table. Sometimes things just click to their places.
It has been a relief to read how things turned out. I strongly believe in your theory. (And I do think that there was SOMETHING she wanted from the store.)
What you told about snuggling was interesting, we have been doing the same thing here for a few years on the couch. Taking it easy on the couch is a father-son thing over here!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for the very kind comments! Antti, it made me so happy how you said you remembered the snowy day post and how it was good news to you! It just means so much to me that there are people out there I've never met in person, but that are happy for me when things go well! "audball", that is something about your daughter knowing when homeschooling time is over and not wanting any more work! I've always thought how with my older son, who is like that with work and fun being separated, something like unschooling, just learning all the time, would be a nightmare for him. He works intensely hard when he's working, but when it's time to NOT work, he's intense with that too! Mary, I love hearing from you! It's still so amazing to me, as after reading your book all those years ago, I thought about it so much! I loved seeing your comment on the NYT article! I could see from the stats lots of people viewed the blog after seeing it---that was very, very cool!