It was our testing day for Speech Therapy. I sat in a child’s chair at a low table, Benji on my right hand side.
The therapist prepped him: “I’m going to ask you a series of questions.”
And we began.
“You and a friend want to watch TV. You want to watch Ninja Turtles but your friend wants to watch Space Racers. What’s the problem?”
“I like Ninja Turtles!” Benji said enthusiastically. “But Silas doesn’t. He’s three.”
My mind raced. He had rarely, if ever, watched TV with a friend. But he watches TV with his brothers! “Well, let’s say you and Silas wanted to watch Super Why and you wanted to watch Octonauts. Why would this be a problem?”
“But I like Ninja Turtles, but I like Space Racers too. We can watch Ninja Turtles and then watch Octonauts.”
The therapist concluded the segment. “And why would that be a good idea?”
“Because I like them,” Benji answered.
She went on. “You and a friend want to ride bikes. Your friend wants to go to the school play ground, but you want to go to the park. What’s the problem?”
Pause. He had twisted in his seat and was staring at the colorful posters on the walls.
“Benji?” I prompted. “Did you hear what she said? If you need her to repeat the question, just ask.”
He turned around and asked. She repeated the question.
“We can both ride bikes.” Benji replied. “I got a new bike! And I have an Angry Birds helmet!”
“But your friend wants to go to the school playground and you want to go to the park. What’s the problem?”
He didn’t answer he question about “the problem” but I knew what a problem was: He thinks “playground” and “park” are the same thing.
“Benji,” I interjected. “I know a lot of times we play at the school play ground but it is different than a park.”
The therapist looked at me and said gently and respectfully. “I can’t have you jump in. If you prompt him, it will distort the results of the testing.
Blood rushed to my face. I nodded and swallowed hard, chastised. But I understood.
So I watched and listened. At times, I don’t know who was squirming more: Me or Benji.
A realization washed over me as I sat in agonizing silence as Benji struggled to interpret and answer question after question (in 15 “what is the problem” questions, he could not identify even once that the problem was “we want different things”).
It is second nature for me to jump in and help him communicate. I know when he is confused, which words trip him up, when I need to repeat a question, or when I need to interpret his feelings for him or reinterpret a scenario so he can understand it more clearly.
It isn’t a perfect science; in fact, we probably have a 60/40 success/failure rate with our communication but over the years, I’ve forged tools to help us both cope.
I knew that our session today was just a test, a baseline. I knew we were in a safe, controlled environment, but I felt completely helpless.
I bit my tongue, at times, literally because it was so hard for me to not jump in and help him. My own back ached with the stress of seeing him carry the burden of his inability to communicate. The disconnect, without all of my normal prompts to hold him together, was so hugely real that it brought tears to my eyes.
I pressed my lips together. This is what it’s like for him, when I’m not around.
This realization reverberated through me, its concentric rings pulsing, widening, until I could see my son as an adult, and my heart broke as I saw him still struggling with communication and relationships, far beyond my everyday aid.
No! I can’t let this happen.
No. I’m not going to let this happen.
I blinked away my tears, and was back in the present. I put the pieces of myself back together because I knew the truth.
I’m not always going to be around. Someday, I really won’t be able to jump in. He’ll be on his own.
So that’s why we were in this room, this test, this therapy session right now when he is 8 years old.
I can’t help him on my own. That’s why we do therapy: It’s our bridge to Someday, the Someday when he’ll be on his own.
Yes, he struggles right now, and so do I, but each day, with the right tools and strategies, we are making the choice to get stronger, both for today and tomorrow too.