Escaping the chaos

By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
17-JUN-04

Ever make a fabulous dinner out of leftovers, and the diners eat heartily but make not a single mention of the meal?

Ever redecorate an impossible room, from the color on the walls to new carpet on the floor, and have a whole group of family members traipse in without a single comment?

Ever graduate from college summa cum laude without a single congratulation?

The most frustrating part of early childhood education is the leftover impossible child who graduates summa cum laude and nobody notices.

Arabella was overweight, did not have a single social skill and couldn't speak in sentences. Her mode of communication was to scream at the top of her lungs and hit.

The child spent hours at school just learning to make sense. Every verbal effort was a new experience for the child. She couldn't answer a question, because nothing going in was in the habit of coming out. Response was an alien idea to the child.

She needed time, patience and encouragement to begin the process of thinking and responding. She needed to trust and to find affection so she felt safe with life's learning experiments.

"How are you today, Arabella?"

"I'm here; I'm here."

"I like your pretty dress."

"Dress; dress."

Arabella was 5.

Six months of intensive work settled the child down. The tantrums stopped. She began to grasp the verbal exchange most of us recognize as conversation.

Eye contact was learned after weeks of insisting she look at the adult who was speaking to her.

Reality was finally dragged from the torturous silence of confusion when teachers insisted that she repeat and repeat and repeat what she was trying to say until it made sense and had meaning to the child and her audience.

Periods of order began to escape the chaos. She began to listen and make connections. She began to understand that she was loved, and that the learning might be hard at times, but she would always be the winner. Rewards and prizes became an ideal she could strive to win.

A long and strenuous exercise program was established for her. A regular lesson on eating, sitting, calling out, standing in line and all the other good habits needed for success were taught her in a slow, painful daily routine.

The child began to flourish and to develop real self-esteem. She became a pet to some of the teachers. She smiled, laughed and played for real with purpose and a goal.

The child could not have achieved anything without the desire to achieve. That always comes from the child. The teachers were there to guide her out of her prison of chaos.

She took the scraps of her personality, redecorated herself and graduated summa cum laude.

She came in in chaos, and she will go out in order, and few will have seen her intense struggle. Perhaps that's the way it should be.

"I like your pretty dress, Arabella."

"Thank you, Miss Judy. I like it too. It's blue."

"Is blue your favorite color?"

"Blue. I like all the colors."

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)