Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Be Careful!

I always find myself grinding away at the phrase "Be careful!" It is heard at least four times a minute around my house. Jonah has what they call poor motor planning skills. Meaning, he can't always make his body do what he wants it to do. He has a hard time coordinating all of his body parts to move appropriately in certain situations. He finds it difficult to adapt to different terrains or obstacles. For example, our playground has an area that is padded with woodchips. There is a grassy field just beyond this area. If Jonah wants to go from the wood chips to the grass, it is hard for him to keep his balance when transitioning from textures of the ground beneath him. He often falls down. He also has a hard time realizing where his body is at in relation to things, so he always bumps his head or walks into things. Sitting in a chair is quite a chore for him because he has to figure out how to get his body into the chair, and through a feat of several changes of his center of gravity, get his legs in the proper position for sitting.

And so I drill the mantra "Be careful, Jonah!" like a broken record, over and over. Be careful on the stairs, be careful when your sister is on the floor, be careful when getting into a chair to sit down, be careful when you are petting the dog. Just be careful!

But recently I've come to realize that all of these warnings to be careful don't really help Jonah that much. Seconds after being warned "be careful!" he tips the chair over, or he trips over something most kids would step over.

What would be more helpful is telling Jonah *how* to be careful. He needs someone to give him information about the environment he's navigating. Saying "you're on the slippery part now, walk slowly" is better than shouting "Be careful!" when he is on the climber at the playground. Telling him that his sister is on the floor, so he should not step in that area of the room is much more effective than telling him to simply watch out for Sissy.

Imagine living life in that old computer game called minesweeper. The numbers tell you how to navigate through the cells without clicking on a mine. They give you information about the surrounding cells. You know you must be cautious, and you are gaining information to do so. Now imagine that instead of numbers (useful information) the cells only had random markings. You now have no idea which cells are safe to click on and which ones contain mines. There is no useful information. You will most likely hit a mine in just a few clicks.

This is what it is like to simply tell Jonah "be careful." He knows he must, but he cannot process any information to tell him what it means to be careful in that situation.

It's really hard to remember to do this. I usually catch myself saying "be careful" first, and then I remember to add on "be careful, the cup is very full. Don't tip it as much."

I think that this would be helpful for all children, not just those with sensory processing disorder, autism, or poor motor planning skills. I wish I had come across this little piece of wisdom when I was teaching preschool. It would have saved me from a bit of repeating myself!

1 comment:

  1. It seems like such an obvious piece of knowledge, but I have to say I never thought of it. I'm forever telling Finn to be careful and he is forever running into walls, falling off furniture, or like yesterday, cutting a finger open. I think I was just passing it off as a "kids will be kids" thing, but I can definitely see that just telling him to be careful isn't giving him all the info he needs to actually avoid a catastrophe.