Benji’s Story: Surprised by Joy

At times, words can only be defined by our gut feeling, that deep down sensation that something is good and right and a long-time-coming.

I took Benji to Occupational Therapy (OT) today. Since his diagnosis we go to OT twice a week and I usually have 1-3 other kids in tow.

Today I had the rare privilege of taking him by myself (although for the sad reason that Silas has a fever. Aaron came home from work to be with him so I could take Benji to his appointment).

I sat in a bean bag chair and watched as my son worked with his therapist, a dark haired women who smiles with her whole face.

I smiled too when I watched Benji whoop with delight as he soared back and forth on the big platform swing.

I marveled at his determination as he pulled tiny beads out of sparkly putty, the work disguised as play as he strengthens his finger muscles.

The first time I was surprised by joy was when I watched him work slowly and methodically at the blackboard, pinching the chalk in his fingers. He carefully followed his therapist’s instructions to “bump” each letter against the line.
When he lost his place in the alphabet, he paused and went back to the beginning, whispering the letters to himself until he came back to the place where he lost his way.
NO SINGING THOUGH. He does NOT like the alphabet song!

I cannot count how many tears have been shed over handwriting, how many fits have been thrown, how many doors have been slammed–by both me and my son.

And here he was, forming each letter with motivated precision.

He did get a little frustrated once.

We’ve been working on that too with Belly Breathing, a suggestion from his Counselor whom we visit every other week.

The Belly Breathing is basically deep breaths when he gets upset, a pretty classic “You need to calm down” exercise, one that I’ve tried to implement in the past with zero success.
(Yeah, for some reason, he just didn’t like me ordering him to “TAKE A DEEP BREATH!” in the middle of a meltdown).

His Counselor encouraged us to practice Belly Breathing when Benji is calm in order for him to build a familiar habit that he can utilize when he feels out of control.

So we’ve been practicing every day, usually several times a day.
While watching TV (his favorite calm activity): Belly Breathing
After eating his favorite dinner: Belly Breathing
While playing with Legos: Belly Breathing

Yesterday, when we hit a bump in his homework, instead of completely losing it and dissolving into screams and foot stomping, Benji said:
“Ok! Belly Breathing! Pissssh! Whhhhhish! Pishhh! Mom, you count!”

IMG_4431I counted, stunned and thankful.
It’s working.

So today at OT when he hit a snag again while writing his letters, Benji announced, “BELLY BREATHING!” and proceeded to breathe in and out (probably a little too rapidly).
Then he announced, “OK! I’m good!”

And a big ol’ lump of joy rose in my throat.

We ended his OT session with the Crash Pad, a 5 foot by 5 foot pillow of foam cubes that he jumped and crashed onto from a mini trampoline.

He laughed and laughed and my heart and eyes were full as I watched his toothless grin.

He was so happy.
And so was I.

IMG_4419No, not happy–joyful.

Happiness will bring a smile to your face…but real, deep, longed-for joy will bring tears to your eyes.


  1. Laurel J

    That is so beautiful! Things are working! What a joy. I like that idea of practicing the belly breathing at calm times. We will try that.

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