If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you know that we’ve been working with Brooke on identifying emotions for YEARS. Despite fleeting glimmers of hope along the way, Brooke, like so many kids on the spectrum, has had a very hard time identifying feelings – both her own and those of the people around her.
We’ve spent years tagging emotions in conversation, “Honey, that looks a little tough. I can see that you are frustrated.” and “When I see someone who has been away for a while, I feel excited!” or “What a wonderful gift from Grammy, I’ll be that makes you feel happy!” The successes came, the words were repeated, but never seemed to really stick nor have a whole lot of depth beyond the most basic associations.
Recently, the full court press to teach Brooke emotional identification has taken on a fever pitch. Exercises are woven throughout every part of her day. With her aide, she writes a note home to one of us every day telling us one thing that she did that day and then circling the egghead portraying the emotion of her choice to tell us HOW IT MADE HER FEEL. She reads stories with her speech therapist and fills out worksheets about how the events in the stories MADE THE CHARACTERS FEEL. With another, she colors in single scenes from a coloring book and talks about the action within and HOW IT MAKES THE PEOPLE IN THE PICTURES FEEL.
Emotional identification has become constant in her world.
On Friday night, we were driving home from dinner when Katie began to sniffle loudly. Brooke can not stand sniffles. They are almost as bad as coughs. They send her entire sensory system into overload. She yelled a strained version of the line that we’ve been working on to replace an outright scream. “THE SNIFFLING IS BOTHERING ME!!!!!”
Not quite the WAY in which we’d hope to hear it delivered perhaps, but nonetheless a huge step forward from an ear-piercing shriek.
As Luau drove, he said, “Great job telling us that Brooke. How does Katie’s sniffing make you FEEL?”
I grabbed a tissue box and handed it back to Katie who tried to tell me she didn’t need it. Apparently it’s the law that at nine and three-quarters, when you’re sniffling and your mom hands you a tissue, you have to say “No, thanks.” I insisted. She took it, made a half-hearted attempt to blow her nose, then resumed snorting. Ew.
Brooke answered immediately, her voice still tight and strained. “Annoyed!”
I began to celebrate. “Brooke, that’s awesome that you could tell .. ” She interrupted before I could continue.
The word hung in the air as she searched for whatever it was that she planned to add.
My girl is getting this, I thought. She’s REALLY getting it. The idea that emotions can be rich and textured and layered and three-dimensional. That one word is almost NEVER enough to describe how we FEEL. That so often we need to circle two, three, four little eggheads to really describe where we are at any given moment. That emotions – even conflicting emotions – aren’t mutually exclusive, but often co-exist on the tumultuous seas within our hearts. Ok, perhaps I got a little carried away with that last part, but she had said ‘and’. Something else was coming.
I wondered what she was going to add. The anticipation was killing me. I thought through some of the emotions she’s been working on. Anxious? Nervous? Had they taught her ‘Uncomfortable’?
With tremendous conviction, she gave us the final word on how she was feeling.
Hey, guys? I think she’s getting it.