My favorite part of Thanksgiving this year didn’t actually happen on Thanksgiving Day, but a couple days afterward. It may not seem like a big deal, but for my family, it felt like a significant breakthrough.
Our 11-year-old daughter Anah has Down Syndrome, which brings some cognitive delays, but her bigger issue is that all her formative years were spent in an orphanage and from that she has learned to be helpless even in areas where she has the capacity to understand or to act. So for the past four years, we have been trying to train–actually un-train and then re-train–certain behaviors in her. Mealtimes have been one major training battlefield.
One of the behaviors we are trying to instill in Anah is to ask for more food or for dessert, rather than just looking at us and smiling (which is what she has used to get her way previously, even though she is fully capable of using words to ask). She has learned to mimic what we tell her she must say, but still hasn’t seemed to grasp the significance of what she is saying.
But a couple days ago the lightbulb went on for her! We had several dessert items left from Thanksgiving, so we were eating some pastries but there were some cookies on the table also. Everyone in the family usually models what we want Anah to say (“Mommy, please cake?”) and half the time she still doesn’t get it, but this time she looked at her mom with a big smile and immediately said “Mama, please cake?” We cheered for her, gave her a piece of the pastry, and proceeded to eat ours too. As soon as the pastry was gone, Anah looked up again with another big smile, and without hesitating said “Mama, please cookie?” We were blown away–she has never done that before! It seemed like something finally clicked in her head and she understood what those words actually meant.
We have been praying for a long time that God would awaken Anah from her mindlessness and learned helplessness, and this was a huge answer to prayer–definitely something to be thankful for!
Today also, Anah was playing with some puppets and my son remarked that it looked like she was actually playing with them, rather than mindlessly repeating motions devoid of meaning (which is her usual mode of “play”).
I am thankful.