Let me introduce you Savannah, a musical genius
It's around April time. My manager announces me that I get to work in a primary school that has an in-house Visual Impairment (VI) Centre, once per week. I will assess and then start weekly sessions with the students that have Occupational Therapy provision outlined in their health care and educational plan.
1st day, I am meeting Ritchie, the head of the department. We introduce one another, we have a brief chat, and then he gives me the list of all students that need to be seen including the 6 VI children, to have a look on their folders and make a plan and a schedule.
As we are looking throught the students’ files, diagnoses, background history, etc. we stay a bit longer in Savannah's file.
-Savannah, Ritchie goes, is 4 years old, has 85% vision impairment from her left eye and 100% blindness on her right. She is on the autistic spectrum, has serious feeding and toileting issues and is anti-social.
-What do we mean by anti-social? I ask him.
-She just doesn’t like other people in general. She doesn't talk much, except to her mom and her 1:1 Teaching Assistant (TA) sometimes (selective mutism I think in my mind). Since September, she has spoken to us very little. Her mom has just given birth to a baby boy, and Savannah is very annoyed by it. Lately, she doesn't even talk to her mom.
-Fine, I respond, and how will I work with her if she doesn't talk to me? … A rather rhetorical question this one.
We make the schedule. We send it to the teachers so that they know.
Savannah to be seen at 10:30.
I see the first child- 100% blind; I see the second -85% with impaired vision in both eyes.
This is difficult. Trying to apply Ayres Sensory Integration to children with impaired vision and I have never done it before, so I need to search for studies and publications or books to get information on how we apply this approach in children with one of their senses completely out-of-the-game. And there are not much out there in what I am looking for to be honest.
Well, I managed to have great sessions with the first two kids. Their TAs were present throughout and observed the activities we do and how we use the equipment.
Then is Savannah’s turn. I walk all the way to her class to pick her up. I knock on the door. I open up, I say to the teacher, 'Savannah?' she then points at her to show me who she is.
Savannah sits alone on a desk, with her head bowed, motionless. The class has about thirty children. Her teacher talks to her, ‘Savannah, Nektarios is here for you, remember we talked about this?, 'Ms Mount will take you by the hand and you will go to the Occupational Therapy room and play nice games with Nektarios'.
No response. No movement. I go close to her, touching lightly her back, saying to her ear 'Hey, I'm Nektarios, do you want to come with Ms Mount and play and maybe have a go on the swing?' No response again.
I'm going back to the VI Centre. I am describing Ritchie what just happened and then I’m like, what are we going to do now?
-Well, we can't do much. Wait until the next appointment at 11:15.
I feel like I lost a battle… I sit down nervously to reflect and think. I open her file unconsciously and start reading.
Between the lines I am reading 'High musical skills and interest to music'. I close the file.
I go back to class. Knock on the door. I enter with teacher’s permission, I go near Savannah and I am just singing to her ear so that we don’t distract the other students: ‘you wanna come with me-you wanna come with me-you wanna come with me ’with alternating high pitch and low pitch tone of voice, repeating this for 5-6 times in a stable and cheerful rhythm, hoping that she will like this rhythmical way of talking– with the risk of sounding ridiculous...
She draws a smile on her face, does a bit of stimming with her hands and her head, showing me that she is happy and I’m like YES, THAT’S IT.
I give her my hand; she gets up and I do thumbs-up to the teacher and here we are now walking together towards the VI Centre. - my heart’s beats per minute must now have reached 180!
Down the corridor we are walking, Ritchie sees us, he rolls his eyes, I make a signal 'We are good' and that's how the first session with Savannah took place!
Since then, we work on activities to support her development of her independence in life skills and her well-being. Savannah is a tremendous talent in music, she learns and saves in her memory everything you say to her that has some rhythm within it, we count together in 3 languages (English, Greek and Spanish) during the activities and she is always excited when she meets me at 10:30 every Friday.
To be Continued...