Smile talks

“I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you.”
~Ben Folds


A behavioral consultant named S has been visiting us at home with the goal of implementing a Busy Book for Rhema. (The Busy Book is made of picture cues that Rhema can use to structure her play time. It’s similar to the Picture Activity Schedule she uses at school. )

Because the goal of the Busy Book is independent play, S instructs me to remain silent and “hands-off” throughout the activity. S begins by “baselining” Rhema using the Busy Book.

“Rhema! Do Busy Book!”

Rhema crawls under the table.

Quietly, we help her back into her chair.

“Rhema! Do Busy Book!”

She jumps and sprints a couple laps through the house.  

Back in her chair, she collapses into a fit of giggles.                             

Undeterred, S guides Rhema’s hand to the Busy Book and helps her pull off a puzzle icon velcroed to the page. Next she guides Rhema’s hand to the new puzzle I’ve placed on the table.

Rhema begins assembling the puzzle; it’s a difficult one with more pieces than she’s used to.

It is quiet, too quiet. Rhema looks up at me curiously. We periodically do puzzles together, and I always cheer her on as she works. But since I am not supposed to speak, all I can offer is a smile. She smiles back.

Social referencing. A skill that comes to the typical child at 10 months old. We’ve been working on it for years; now she’s got it, and it’s lovely.

And so it goes. Long minute after long minute. She stops briefly, looks over at me, and smiles. I smile back until my cheeks hurt, trying to put all the love in the world on my face, just for her.

And then we have a whole conversation with our eyes, the two of us.

This is kind of weird, Mom.

I know. But thanks for playing along.

No one’s talking and you guys are just staring at me while I do this puzzle.

I know. But have I told you how very smart you are? How I love you.

She giggles.

The edges of the puzzle are done, and she looks at me, smiling again.

Hi Mommy.

Hi baby. I love that you look at me. And let me see you. Thank you.

She begins to hum… softly, almost out of respect for our guest.

She stays on task the whole time. She resists the urge to flap or bend the pieces. It’s a tough puzzle, but she finishes it all on her own.

We always cheer big when Rhema finishes a puzzle.

Before I can let out a Whoop, S is waving at me from across the table to hold the applause.

Rhema just smiles at me again.

I did it.

Yes. And I am so proud of you, so proud of who you are.  

Really I could not be more proud.

And I have longed for the easy connection and dialogue I’ve witnessed between other mothers and their children. Now I think – I know – it’s true that some of the best conversations happen in silence. I feel special to share all these words unspoken with my daughter.

S is motioning for her to clean up now, and put it away. They struggle with their hands as Rhema tries to close the book repeatedly while S tries to pull off the All Done icon.

Finally the exercise is complete and S says, “Hooray Rhema! Good job!”

I touch her hand, tell her with my eyes, with my heart,

Know this, sweet child of mine. Every day and always, at the top of my lungs, I’m cheering for you.

Before sprinting off, she looks at me one long last time.

She already knows.

16 thoughts on “Smile talks

  1. Good job, Rhema! What a sweet and special moment…We too have trouble getting Ethan to structure his play time and I’ve tried giving him options like puzzles. Unlike many kids w/ASD puzzles are not his strong point. Not that the puzzle was the point. It was all about the smile.

  2. The sweetest of moments. Thanks for bringing us in..

    We are working on “leisure skills” with Jack too. Easier said than done!

  3. What a wonderful experience for you both! I remember Michael having play strips in preschool that showed him what to do with a toy when he played with it – they were helpful for expanding his play too.

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