Sunday, February 10, 2013

Is Happy High Chair An Oxymoron?

Years ago, when my daughter was about 11 years old, a friend of mine said to my daughter, "YOU are an oxymoron," to which she replied, "Well, YOU are a regular moron." 

He laughed so hard, I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance. That was the first time I heard the word oxymoron.

So, the question I am exploring today is this: 
"Is happy high chair an oxymoron?" 

And, my answer is: 
"I believe that to most parents it is."
Using a High Chair During Therapy
If a child can fit into a high chair, and the family owns one, I prefer to do speech therapy session (or a majority of the session) with the little one in a high chair.

Most parents say:  
" hates the high chair...he won't sit in it...we haven't used it in months...there's no way we're getting him in the high chair."

Then I say: 
"Give me three visits.  The second visit he'll go in with little resistance.  On the third visit he'll be running to the high chair and climbing in himself, when he sees my car pull into your driveway.  


He will be screaming, "No!" crying, saying, "More," and holding onto the tray when we try to get him out of the high chair at the end of the 60 minute session." 

"I don't know about that," the parents reply, making the "she's crazy" sign to each other behind my back, when they think that I'm not looking.

I've also had a social worker, at a Child Study Team meeting, roll her eyes, laugh and say..."Oh, yeah...the high chair," when I mentioned it, as if using a high chair was a totally inappropriate thing to do with a two-year-old child.

I will admit that I didn't always use a high chair, however, what I found was that being in the chair helped the child to focus or attend for a greater length of time.  In addition, by pairing a pleasurable play activity with the high chair, the child began to enjoy sitting in the chair for periods from 10 to 60 minutes.

The first time I would show the child a can of Play-Doh and say, "Do you want to play with this?"  "Yes?"  "Okay...then sit in the chair."  

I may have to repeat it a few times, and the parent may have to help me to get the child in the chair the first time, but once I start channeling my Zen Play-Doh Master and once I get going with my Dough-Show Speech Therapy techniques, there isn't a kid within 100 miles who can resist my mesmerizing charms. :-)

If the parent, eventually, wants to include some "high chair" time during the week I always suggest getting a shoe box and filling it with things that can only be played with when sitting in the high chair (ex: Play-Doh, markers, water color paints, a few tiny cars, stickers, crayons, etc.).  The box (and its special contents) should be stored out of reach and out of view when the child is not in the chair.

"Out" or "Down"

If a child asks or gestures to get out of the high chair, I will immediately try to get him to point to the floor or say out or down, and then quickly help him out of the chair.

I never want the child to feel confined or trapped.  I want him to trust me to let him out of the chair any time he asks, and after a few times the children usually stop asking to get out.

Videotaping + High Chair = Clear Proof of Improvement

The first time I used a video camera to tape a child during therapy was about ten years ago. 

I was in a home with many other therapists.  We were treating a non-verbal 18-month-old boy who had been diagnosed with autism.  At the team meeting all the other therapists wanted to discuss the problem that the boy was very resistant, uncooperative and crying a lot.  

I had no clue what they were talking about.  This little boy was cooperative and never cried with me.  When I explained that to them they didn't believe me.  And, so, I decided to prove it to them by videotaping our next session.

The next day, after letting the mom know about my plan, I sneaked into the house quietly and set up the high chair and video camera (on a tripod).  Then I called out, "Jordan! Noelle is here!"

Jordan came lumbering down the hall and towards me.  His gross motor skills were not the best, so I stayed behind him as he tried to climb up into the high chair.  His face was towards the camera and I was busy giving him a boost with my hands under his feet, as I said, "Up, up, up" over and over again.

I filmed the entire session and went home to watch it, to make sure it was evident that he was content and happy throughout the session.

Well, holy smokes!  

I looked at the first few minutes of the film in amazement.  As Jordan was trying to climb up into the high chair (and his face was toward the camera - which I couldn't see) he was mouthing the word "up."  Wow!  Our little "non-verbal" boy was no longer "non-verbal," now...was he?

What a blessing that high chair was!

It turned out that Jordan had Verbal Apraxia, so his verbal utterances were few and far between.  I remember, after he turned 3 his mother called me to continue to work with him, and I was filming him in the high chair again.

I had a car that, when I pressed down on the roof, a guy leaned out of the door sideways.  I was there for an hour pressing down that roof, and each time the guy came out I said, "Hi, Daddy!"

At the end of 60 minutes Jordan said, "Hi, Dad."  

I lunged toward the camera, saying, "Please be on the tape, please be on the tape" over and over again in my head.

When I looked at the display, I saw it flashing, indicating that the tape had run out.  Oh, no! I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, but I still had an ounce of hope. 

I quickly rewound the tape, and sure enough, just before it ran out it had recorded Jordan saying, "Hi, Dad."  I was ecstatic!

I called for his mom and told her.  "Jordan said, 'Hi, Dad.'"  She often referred to Jordan as non-verbal, even though I had told her that he wasn't non-verbal, so she really didn't believe me.

I rewound the clip and played it over and over again for her.  Finally, she admitted that he really did say, "Hi, Dad."

The biggest thing holding back kids with Verbal Apraxia is that they, themselves, don't believe that they are "talkers."  Helping them to see themselves as talkers is key.  Their parents must also see them as talkers, and believe that they will talk.  A high chair is a tool that we can use to support that happening.  

A high chair can create a safe, happy place where a child can use all of his efforts on communicating, and not on maintaining posture, maintaining balance or moving about. 

"I'm Noelle Michaels."
"I believe that happy high chair is NOT an oxymoron."

"I know, without a doubt, that I truly love my job!"

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Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist
Text: 201-919-4805





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