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A Sunrise EI Moment You’ll Never Forget

You know the one…that moment when your heart filled up and you thought, “THIS is why I do what I do.” It’s that moment when you see a child achieve a milestone that has been long coming, or you watch as a parent realizes that she has taught her child to walk. It’s like a beautiful sunrise – you never forget it. Those are moments that we are so lucky to witness.

Who’s Moment Is It?

When I was a much younger early interventionist, I took a lot of pride in those moments, feeling so fortunate to have had the opportunity to help a child learn to walk or talk. As my career matured and I learned the importance of my role as a support to the parent, I really had to adjust where I found this moment. I realized a much deeper sense of accomplishment and joy in building the parent up and seeing that pride in their eyes. I wanted them to own their child’s progress. I worked toward helping them understand that, as McWilliam so eloquently said, it wasn’t what I did when I visited that affected the child’s development…it was what the parent learned during the visit and did with the child between visits that made all the difference. I think I believed it all along, but I didn’t really let it change the way I viewed my role and the importance of what I did until later. I knew that families make the biggest difference in their children’s lives, not me. I knew that the most child learning happens when I’m not there. But, I’m not sure I really embraced this until I started changing my practices to shift into a new role – one of a facilitator and support to parents rather than a teacher of children. When I really focused on facilitating responsive interactions between parents and their young children, rather than teaching children developmental skills, I felt the difference. I knew who these moments should really belong to, and it wasn’t me.

A Sunrise EI Moment

I was working with Dylan, a 2-year old, while his nurse sat nearby. I was challenging him to see if he could communicate that he wanted to play with a particular toy. Dylan had multiple disabilities and his communication was difficult to read, for me and for his caregivers. He would sometimes turn his head to indicate “no” but we really hadn’t determined how he communicated “yes” or a positive choice. This morning, while I was helping him activate a farm toy, I decided to turn it off. I told Dylan to let me know if he wanted me to turn it back on. I waited and waited, trying to read his body language. He turned his head, which I hoped meant that he didn’t like my question rather than not wanting to play. When I helped him move his hand to the toy, he seemed to want to continue to play so I wondered if he was frustrated, hence the head turn. The nurse wasn’t very happy with me as I turned the toy on and off several more times, each time waiting longer and watching Dylan’s body language. Maybe the third or fourth time I turned it off and waited, I saw it. I saw Dylan’s signal. I tested it out by repeating the process, and each time, he signaled his “yes.” I was thrilled, the nurse was happy, but someone was missing.

Dylan’s mother had stepped away to take care of Dylan’s sibling, so we called her back into the room. I explained that I thought Dylan had just indicated that he wanted something. She doubted me, saying that she’d never seen it before. I explained as I helped Dylan activate the toy (he needed help keeping his arms on his tray but then could move his hands to activate the farm animals). Then, I turned the toy off and said, “Dylan, do you want play some more? Should I turn the farm back on?” We waited, watching, and his mom even became nervous because she worried I was making Dylan too uncomfortable. Eventually (maybe 20-30 sec), Dylan raised his right arm off the tray. It was a subtle sign, but it had meaning. I turned the toy back on and he played. I turned it off again, asked the question, waited, and he raised his arm again. I was so happy, and then I looked up at Dylan’s mother and she was crying. My heart sunk. I asked if she was okay, and she replied, “I’ve never had a way to communicate with my son. I’ve never been able to know what he wanted, until now.” She tried the same game I had modeled and cried more. She showed Dylan’s older brother, who was an expert in no time at asking Dylan before he did anything with him and waiting for Dylan’s gesture.

It was like the sun had come out. I was so proud of Dylan, and frankly, pretty excited to have figured this out. But above all that, I was deeply moved by what Dylan’s mother said. THAT was why I do what I do. That was one of those moments I will never forget.

What’s your sunrise EI moment?

Share your sunrise moment in the comments below, and please remember to protect the family’s confidentiality when you tell your story because it’s not just your story to tell. 🙂

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4 Comments to “A Sunrise EI Moment You’ll Never Forget”

  1. The home is dark. Mom’s primary communication with her 1 and 2 year old is to yell, scold, and command. But she’s always present during our visits. I’m there with them because her 2 yr old has speech delays. We have been working on rhymes and fingerplays during our visits. The latest, Wheels on the Bus. I return the following week and her mom is really excited to show me how they have been making up verses to Wheels on the Bus. She says she thought of it on her own. She never acknowledged that we started the activity last week. At first, I admit I felt briefly insulted. Then, my overwhelming sunrise moment occurred as I sat with this mother in her home and shared her joy of the moment she taught her daughter how to sing!

    • Thanks for sharing your sunrise moment, Michelle! In the end, who originally thought of the song is much less important than the outcome – that the mother owned the moment and saw her power in impacting her child’s development. We do find ourselves in challenging situations on visits but focusing on the strengths (like the mother’s presence on the visits) and celebrating the joys are what it’s all about!

  2. I just recently began working with a family with a child with a mild speech delay. The mom is very quiet, coaching is quite difficult because she doesn’t really talk. I saw them once last week and we worked on in and out and turn taking. Mom was very quiet, and only repeated the things I said, did not try any new word combinations. When I came back this week when we sat down to play mom was saying things like, “monkey in!”, “Hi baker,” “bye-bye baker”, “door closed,” I did not expect this mom to move from the single activity of putting a plastic piece of mail into a mail box, to generating language surrounding anything her child plays with! Her child even mimicked some of the new words that he/she heard!!! It was awesome! I pointed it out to mom and commended her efforts, and explained that she was doing the very thing Early Intervention was all about! It was pretty cool!

    • That’s wonderful, Gabrielle! I love how you said you commended her efforts because, yes, that IS what it’s all about. Thanks for sharing your sunrise moment!

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