Therapy and Bubble Gum

A few years back we had an evaluation done with Cherub. It was one of many, but this one stands out – Dazzingly stupid is the way a friend characterized when I told him about it, and unfortunately, that is the best description for what made it stand out.

The therapist was supposed to be evaluating the Cherub to see if she could be a candidate for an Augmentative Communication Device (a portable communication tool using pictures, to enable the nonverbal who cannot sign to broaden their communication options). Before the appointment she called me to ask me how the Cherub did with picture recognition. I said she was fine with color photographs, did okay with very clear, but not too cluttered black and white drawings, but could
not make sense of more symbolic drawings (like the funny shape on the door
of public toilets that is supposed to designate gender). She said she’d be
sure to have cards there that matched Cherubs ability levels.

When we came to our appointment, all the cards she had were strange symbols that _I_ couldn’t always interpret. That pretty much tells you how the rest of the session went.

She would give Cherub three cards and tell her to choose one. Each represented some activity- using a bubble gun (a toy none of us had ever seen or heard of then, because we’re more homespun type people and spend little time browsing the aisles of toy stores); making pudding; or playing a toy piano. Cherub chose the piano- and, indeed, she loves plinking out her own music on the piano we had at home. The therapist hesitated, gave it to her, and then took it away– saying she did not think Cherub had understood the task (I guess she was supposed to choose the bubble gun), and handed her the cards again. So now, of course, Cherub figures she did something wrong, because she is retarded, but she is not stupid. She learns through imitation and through successfully communicating, and what she has just learned is that whaever she did the first time, it did not successfully communicate what she wanted. If the poor dear had brighter parents, we would have stopped the session then and there and told the therapist she didn’t know what she was doing.

So now Cherub tries something else- she points to the bubble gun- which the therapist has pronounced for her several times, in bright and enthusiastic tones- “The Bubble Gun, don’t you want the bubble gun, oh it would be fun to have the bubble gun, wouldn’t it?.”

The therapist hands her the bubble gun, Cherub tries to put it in her mouth. The therapist takes it away, bubbling away cheerily about the bubble gun, and blows some bubbles with it, which Cherub tried to put in her mouth, smiling and grinning with obvious delight the whole time.

The therapist decides Cherub is clearly unable to understand anything, and so she takes it away and decides to make pudding with her instead. Cherub has now learned that what she does with the pictures has nothing to do with what she’s going to be allowed to do.

Cherub is usually a patient soul, so they make instant pudding together, the Cherub stirring when told, pouring when told, and smiling all the time- and then the therapist won’t let her eat it.

Cherub, brighter than her normal parents, was through with the evaluation at that point. She flatly quit cooperating and made her displeasure clear in very audible sounds. She can’t talk. She does communicate.

We leave with Cherub absolutely furious (and who can blame her) and her parents feeling frustrated and helpless. The evaluation we later received by mail was worthless (except for the parts they lifted, verbatim, from the IEP I had written and shared with them- though they didn’t credit the author). Approval for ACD denied.

Our Equuschick was then 13, and she had come with us because she was interested in pursuing therapy as an occupation (this put her right off that notion). As we left the office she said, “Don’t you think Cherub was trying to eat the bubbles coming out of the bubble gun because she’s never heard of a bubble gun, so she thought the therapist was saying bubble gum?”

We were struck by her quick grasp of the obvious, and wished we’d realized that during the therapy (or that the Equuschick had spoken up). Cherub loves bubble gum, and the poor dear thought she was being promised some. Intimidated by the condescending attitude of the perky expert, who spoke kindly but loftily to all of us as though we were small and more than unusually dim children, we found ourselves responding by feeling small and dim and mentally shrinking down to her expectations. Glumly, we sat by in our chairs, hoping our feet reached the floor. We felt that same helplessness one felt as a small child when confronted by an adult who used unfair advantages of size and position to overcome the small gift we had of being right. We were helpless to defend ourselves or our child in the face of her cheery superiority, and her smiling bulldozer methods of going ahead at full speed without consideration of anybody else in the room.

This happened several years ago, and I do not remember the rest of the afternoon, but I do hope we stopped to buy Cherub and Equuschick some bubble gum on the way home. They certainly deserved it.

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