A week or so ago I wrote about the importance of which names and roles we “answer” to (8/20/21). But what about the names and roles we ask others to answer to? What happens when we call and call to someone, and they don’t hear us, figuratively or literally? Will we do the same thing to get someone’s attention? Even though it hasn’t worked in the past? Or will we get creative and tailor our outreach to fit the intended individual?
I had an experience with Zach many years ago that I was reminded of as I was writing about this topic. With special needs and despite relentless therapies (OT, PT, ST) Zach really wasn’t speaking until well into his fourth year of life. I was grateful he could utter “Mom” and a few other words.
We spent endless amounts of time, resources and creative power on helping Zach speak. If you saw the movie “The Color Purple” you may remember the two sisters taping words on index cards to household items with the goal of helping the younger (Miss Celie) learn to read. Well that was our home. PEC symbols everywhere, constant naming and spelling of words and items.
It was difficult to stay focused when the progress was so slow. We wanted to believe Zach was learning, but he didn’t volunteer to demonstrate his skills, unless he felt like it. Respectable if you ask me.
And so he did. One evening he was settled in the bathtub. I was multitasking as usual. Within footsteps of the open-doored bathroom I could hear him AND do a million other tasks like fold clean laundry, put it into drawers, tidy up, change a bed, restock supplies, and wipe down counters (just to name a few.) When Zach was in the tub it meant at least five minutes of free hands to get something done. And I never wasted a second.
On this particular evening, while multi-tasking I must have gotten more deeply into another activity than usual. I was in Zach’s room and could hear him just a few feet away. He to called me: “Mom?” I replied “Yes honey, will be right there…” and kept focused on my task. A few moments passed and he called again “Mom?” And repeated this several times.
I answered Zach, every few “Mom?” utterances with the same response, working furiously to complete whatever I was doing before time was “up” and I had no free hands for several hours. I heard him in the distance, I knew he wanted my attention, but hearing him call for me a million times was something I was used to since it was one of the only few things he could say, and would do so all day long.
What happened next had me literally laughing out loud and stopping in my tracks. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting me to come back using my “given” title of “Mom” Zach changed his tone, and his approach. It went from inquisitive “Mom?” To a stern, determined and loud declaration: “LISA!” He said, as if scolding me in the middle of a bad act I’d been caught in.
What? I didn’t even know he knew, I had a name other than “Mom”, let alone what it was and how to say it. Sandbagger, he must have been saving it for a rainy day!
Smiling a huge smile and beaming with pride for him, I ran to the bathroom and saw him sitting right where I left him. “Yes, honey, what is it Zach?”
”Hi Mom,” he said.
”Hi Zach.” I laughed, leaned over the tub side and started washing him up.
If you are trying to get someone’s attention, or calling to them in a literal or figurative way that is not heard, don’t do the same thing over and over hoping you will get a different result. Know your audience and switch things up. If Zach can apply this strategy from the bathtub as a toddler, I’m pretty sure we can all figure out away to reach the people we most want to connect with.