Tuesday 3 January 2012

After Santa and preparing for a new year

Christmas 2011 was Uisneach's third Christmas but it will go down as the Christmas when Uisneach first appeared to get a sense that there is something different and special about this time of year. Not only does he now recognise Santa, and has even managed to create his own sign language to describe him – pointing to his chin for a beard and to his head for a hat, but he also seemed to get the notion of giving and receiving gifts. He certainly liked the idea of opening them anyway! Weeks of preparation helped. Photos of Santa. Pre-Christmas visits to a number of places where Santa and his helpers were hanging out prior to the big day. A countdown using a Mr. Men Christmas calendar – opening a door and consuming a small chocolate every day until the 25th. And of course his Mam doing all in her power to create a sense of excitement throughout the whole month of December. Even his Dad managed to get over the initial grumbles he had when this Christmas process started in November.

Uisneach's grandparents, his aunties and uncles on both sides and his little cousins all visited on Christmas Eve. Uisneach was very happy to see them all and didn't seem to mind all the noise and confusion that accompanies large family gatherings. Once Uisneach is there first he seems secure and safe. He doesn't like being surprised by lots of people in his house. He tends to cry a bit if he wakes from a nap to find them crowding his space. We'd learnt that lesson at his birthday party.

The adults all sampled a bit of mulled wine and had some nibbles. The little ones consumed large quantities of cocktail sausages and cookies – sometimes separate - sometimes in the same mouthful!
That went on for a few hours before people decided to make their way home to their respective houses. It was quiet time then as we prepared for the arrival of the main man himself.

Christmas morning Uisneach didn't wake too early so his Mam and Dad were pleased with that. We went down for breakfast together and sitting on Uisneach's table was a photo of Santa delivering presents in our sitting room. Imagine that! Apparently he left it as evidence of his visit. A very patient or unimpressed Uisneach finished off his porridge before we went in to see what Santa left.
Waiting patiently for his Christmas dinner in Grandma's

There waiting for him were a little ladybird (or ladybug depending on what part of the world your from) push along trike i.e. without pedals, a large bag of building blocks, a play kitchen and some books. Santa obviously put a bit of thought into the presents this year in the hope of maximising Uisneach's developmental potential. The trike, it is hoped, will not only help him with his balance but might even motivate him to start using his legs to move forward. The blocks – which are much bigger and easier to take apart than Lego – are aimed at help him with some of his fine motor and planning skills. The kitchen unit is primarily about encouraging him to remain standing for longer periods to build up strenght in his legs. The books – well he just loves books – and following a story is as good a skill as any to learn and develop. A non Santa gift that was also on offer on Christmas morning was a remote control car from a family friend.

He had a quick go on his ladybird trike before promptly falling off. You can't take your eye off them for a second! So that was set aside for a while until he got over the shock of his little tumble. There were a few tears but a quick recovery due to all the other distractions going on. The blocks proved by far the most popular present but not for their intended purpose. Instead Uisneach really enjoyed having the blocks emptied out over him as he was sitting down. He loves when there are loads of anything and here there were a hundred blocks raining down on his lower body. He was in heaven. Laughing his head off! Next his Mam gave him a quick introduction to the remote control car – with a simple three button control - to see if he would understand the cause and effect of pressing buttons on one thing and making another object react. He took to it straight away. His Mam and Dad shouldn't have been too surprised though as he's constantly interfering with the remote control for the television and knows that randomly pressing the button on the TV remote control will eventually do something to the television.

Playing with cousin Tom at Mamós on Christmas Day
Then he opened a couple of his books and one in particular became an instant favourite - “I want my hat back” by Jon Klassen. A rather dark tale of a bear who is searching for his missing hat! It's a bit of a whodunit so we won't spoil it by telling you the end. But for Uisneach's Mam and Dad what is most interesting about this book has been a particular reaction Uisneach has had to a part of the story. This reaction has coincided with a similar reaction he has had to an episode of his current favourite TV programme – Magic Baby Jake. In the story of the bear and the missing hat there is a point where the bear is becoming a bit despondent and is lying down on the ground wondering if he'll ever see his hat again – he's very sad. Well when Uisneach's Dad was reading the story the other day and we reached that point Uisneach started to cry. At first his Dad thought that Uisneach had bitten his tongue or something like that. It wasn't until looking at Magic Baby Jake later that we got the similar reaction. When we had got to a part of the story where it looked like Baby Jake and his buddy Nibbles the Rabbit would be unable to get an apple from a tree Uisneach started to cry again – real tears of sadness. It was interesting to watch – in both cases – as soon as the story had advanced and our heroes had overcome their difficulties Uisneach immediately got over the tears and started to cheer up and laugh – almost celebrating their victory! He has consistently repeated these same displays of emotion at the exact same point of both the book and the cartoon since.

We're no psychologists but what has been an eyeopener for Uisneach's Mam and Dad is that in the first instance he is expressing a clear empathy with others, even if at this stage its only with a character in a story, and secondly that it appears that he has been following the stories correctly all along even if that hasn't always been clear to us. It's been a revelation – a welcome revelation we think although it will be interesting to see what the professionals have to say about it.

It has been while watching Magic Baby Jake that Uisneach has also come along developmentally in another area as well. We have been without his stander since before Christmas as it has been away getting fixed after a piece broke. In the meantime we have been trying to get Uisneach to do as much free standing as he can tolerate and our time allows. Baby Jake has provided us with the perfect distraction. Each episode is about 10 minutes long. And Uisneach has been willing to watch two episodes in a row where he will stand only supported by holding on to either his Mam or Dads hand. The legs usually get a bit wobbly after about two episodes. If he wants to watch any more he has to do it on his tummy or knees so that he has to lift up his upper body to see the TV. Watching Magic Baby Jake has effectively become part of his daily exercise routine and he doesn't even seem to notice how hard he's working.

Taking his first Roller Coaster ride with Mam

The Christmas period provided Uisneach with another first. His first roller coaster ride. Not bad for a 28-month-old. In fairness it was the smallest roller coaster either of his parents had ever seen but he seemed to like it. That and the spinning teacup ride. He seemed to enjoy visiting the Christmas market in our home town – enjoyed looking at the donkey and goats in the 'live' crib – enjoyed the fireworks on its opening night – and enjoyed listening to the carol singers. He didn't like candy floss though. Not the look of it. Not the smell of it. But most of all not the feel of it. It's clear he still has some sensory issues in relation to touch and feel.

With Dad on the Teacup ride
It was at the Christmas market that he got a little Christmas present for his new little friend Sophie. He meets Sophie once a week when visiting his Grandmas house. Sophie would be a good bit younger than Uisneach but developmentally they would have a lot in common. Grandma reports that he enjoys her company and is clearly happy to see her when she arrives to visit. And while he's not always the perfect gentleman – dragging out of her arm until she falls over not being very gentlemanly – they do seem to get along.

A swing in the park the day after Christmas
His social skills and independence are improving all the time. Since September his Mam has been bringing him to a structured parent toddler playgroup once a week and as a result he's really beginning to settle into the company of other children. And behave like a more typical toddler – always wants the toy the other child has! For the last 15 minutes of playgroup the toddlers all sit at one table for a snack supervised by a staff member and the parents sit across the room for coffee. For the first 3 weeks Uisneach roared crying every time his Mam tried to leave him at the kids table. But from the fourth week on he's been a happy camper ignoring his mammy and enjoying his snack along with the rest of the kids. Now she only has to go over to him to prop him up occasionally when he slouches down so much in his chair that he disappears under the table. The playgroup took a break for Christmas and Uisneach and his Mam are both looking forward to it starting up again for the new year.