One of our biggest struggles with Rhema is motivation. She has the physical capability to speak and the ability to complete tasks and the ability to interact. But most of the time she simply does not want to.
Many of her therapy programs, namely ABA, have a reward component. You do this, and I’ll give you this. The problem is that Rhema has a very short list of reinforcers. And when we do find something motivating enough to get her to participate or respond, that motivating item is only motivating for so long.
An example might be a Dora video. A brand new video will not hold her interest – because it is novel and unfamiliar. But if we play it enough times, pretty soon it will become familiar and Rhema will begin to watch and enjoy it. Soon, however, the familiar will become too familiar and then she is bored with it and no longer interested.
Rhema’s therapists and teachers (God bless them!) have tried a myriad of toys and games to try to teach Rhema, to stimulate learning and language. I have wracked my brain along with them, having brain-storming sessions in my head at night when I should be sleeping. Always asking God, show me, show me… how to get through to her.
Rhema’s interest and motivation has to be great enough and last long enough for her to “get” the skill her teachers are trying to teach. When it doesn’t, we must go back to the drawing board. Meanwhile Rhema stagnates, or worse, regresses. That’s where we were a couple weeks ago, and I tell ya, it’s a hard place to be. Every therapy visit from start to finish consisted of Rhema melting down and trying “escape” strategies because she simply had to no desire to participate. One of her therapists seemed ready to pack her bags.
At night I hit my knees and mumbled that prayer, Lord, show me, show me… how to get through to her. What do I do? Get more OT? Change the seizure meds? Sell her on eBay?
I found the answer at Walmart.
At therapy, I slipped the lizard to T, her therapist. Use this as a reinforcer.
Suddenly Rhema sat down in her chair, and T gave her the lizard. (We were at the point where we had to reinforce her for just sitting in the chair.) Rhema LOVED the lizard; she enjoyed squeezing it, flapping its arm, and making “roar” sounds! When T took the lizard away, we had our Rhema back. She was ready to work.
(Insert Angel Chorus of Hallelujahs.)
For the past couple weeks, school and outside therapy have been going well. Rhema is engaged and attentive. But most of all, she seems to want to learn and participate. She’s actually repeating some words and blowing our minds! We pretended that the toy lizard was sleeping, and T got her to say, “Wake up.”
Thank God. Thank God for that little lizard!
What motivates. Sometimes it truly is the little things. What motivates me to get up early on a Saturday morning and drive her to her quadrillionth speech therapy appointment? What moves me to crush a handful of supplements and meds, and mix them in juice, and draw them up in a dropper, and squirt them down her throat every day twice a day? What compels me to pray every night and day that God would heal her and protect her? What drives me to stay up late reading up on the latest research and treatments?
Rhema is currently motivated by a squishy lizard. I am motivated by my love for her and a never-ending desire to connect with her, but sometimes it’s little things like this:
I’ve noticed lately that she is smiling more. It had been a while.
I think God is motivated by little things, too: us. We are little, but His love for us is great:
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. John 3:16
He goes to great lengths just to “connect” with us and have relationship with us, just as we do with our children.