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Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLV: Tools

A couple weeks ago, Alice wanted “Daddy/Daughter Time” and I had planned to do some work in the shop. I asked her if she wanted to do that and she agreed. It went well, so we did it again today.

Safety first: Alice is wearing glasses and has ear plugs. I had to trim the plugs to fit her smaller ear canals, but good enough.

So what can you do? For the first try, I had her doing some basic things: helping mark pieces that I cut, holding things that can be tricky with only two hands, helping clean up (which she really enjoys). For the second try, we did all of that and a little more. I had her put glue on some parts and then taught her to pin them together with a nail gun. Nail gun? Yes. The most important thing that led me to make that decision was her ability to listen and follow directions. For example, I made a rule that whenever I did a cut on the table saw, she had to keep her hands behind her back. So with the nail gun, there is a two-step safety. The trigger won’t work unless the nose switch is pressed down. So I showed her how to hold the gun with a finger nowhere near the trigger and to only put your finger on the trigger when you were ready. I shot in several nails so she could hear the noise and wouldn’t flinch. That took several tries. Then we did a hand-over-hand where I held onto the body of the gun and controlled the nose safety and let her pull the trigger. Perfectly safe.

What really makes this work is that she has some interest and she’s motivated. So in order to do this, it involves thought as to what you’re willing to try while gauging the risk. Then comes the clear communication and setting expectations at each step in the way.

This is a list of things that Alice has done with me:

  • Sanding
  • Marking lines
  • Turning on the shop vac for the router dust collection
  • Sweeping up sawdust
  • Applying glue
  • Tightening clamps
  • Holding pieces

Today, Alice’s patience ran a little thin after a bit today and she told me so, so I transitioned her into going inside and again set expectations so I could go back out and finish up.

In a way, I see the process as being similar to jazz. A song has a particular structure, but once you get going you don’t know if you’re going to follow that structure closely or if it’s going to be improvisation. With safety being an issue, clearly more structure and communication is needed, but if she asks to try something, most of the time the answer is going to be yes.

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Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part CXLIV: Two Hands

As I’ve mentioned before, Alice had a stroke when she was born, which has made two-handed tasks super difficult. In the past 4 moths, there has been a new skill that has come on line: Alice is now cutting her own food with a knife and fork, and honestly I couldn’t be more surprised by this.

Here’s why – we’ve tried at various points over the years to help teach her to use two hands to cut her food and failed. It was just frustration for everyone involved. Then out of the blue, Alice decided on her own that she wanted to do this. I don’t know what clicked for her, but she was adamant that was what she wanted to do.

She uses her weak hand to hold the fork straight up and down and then cuts with her good hand. It’s not without its frustrations. Alice needs cues to cut things into smaller pieces so she doesn’t choke, and yes, she’s choked a couple times, but this is still a big milestone. She was clearly motivated and that paid off.

And that has paid off in other places as well. We got a puppy this spring and we’ve been teaching Alice how to train it and how take care of it.

Ignore that her mask dropped below her nose. Yes, we work on that. Instead, look at her hands. She’s using her right hand to adjust tension and is keeping her strong hand as a backup on the leash. She’s clearly very proud of what she’s doing and again, motivation is a big part of this. Way to go!