Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Button

Imagine living a life as a 5th grader in which something so simple as a button can make all the difference in your day. Imagine, even further if you will, the irony of this when your life is extremely complicated - you battle adult illness like bipolar, take several medications, and struggle each day with impairments in your sensory system and social functioning. Your after-school activities include a wide range of therapies, not the soccer field. Imagine boiling it all down to something so simple as a button one Saturday morning.

There are fewer things simpler than a button. They can be solely functional, and have been found in societies as early as 2800 BC. Yet, they can be ornamental and intricately designed, making all the difference to the apparel they adorn. To many children with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, something as basic as tying shoes or buttoning shirts, especially those with fine motor issues, can seem impossible. Tommy and Will are no exceptions. Despite repeated attempts by my husband and me, they only learned to successfully tie shoes this fall with their OT. Will still struggles with buttoning his khakis and Tommy has always found any button a challenge. I failed to realized when I bought this one, seemingly innocent, shirt at Target, that it actually presented itself with the mother of all buttons. It seems a little too large for the button hole, it's a bit rough (as opposed to shiny and slick) and the button hole is horizontal, instead of the traditional vertical. Throw in the fact that its position near the top of the shirt adds an extra handicap, because of his eye tracking and focusing issues. It's the ultimate button challenge for a sensory kid.

Until now Tommy had never been able to make a skilled attempt at buttoning that button. I always had to do it for him, after several failed and frustrated tries. Not a huge deal, just an annoyance, and a reminder that there are things he cannot do that should be no brainers for kids his age. But, last Saturday night, while undressing for the bath, he grinned and pointed to that button and said, in a small but triumphant voice, "I buttoned that button today." Maybe it was just the glow of the evening lamp, but I swear his huge blue eyes twinkled at me.

I hugged him, congratulated him and made my hoorays. Instead of joining in my celebration though, he just went on about the business of getting himself in the bath. And he has never brought it up again. Then I realized that Tommy has been making enough positive progress lately, that this was a good thing to him, but it was still just a button. As for me, I need to see it as an intricate, decorative, complicated button - maybe even a fragile, antique button that needs to be fastened gently and with extra care. I need the powerful punch of his success to keep me going and reassure myself that things will turn out okay in the end. His ability to see it as a triumph, yet just another step to his becoming a fully functioning boy, is quite humbling. Though I am sure he views it as a plain old boring button each time he fastens it now, I still think he will feel lighter and freer inside each time he conquers it. And hopefully I will feel a little less excited, with my eye on the future, next time I see him do it.