We’re herd animals

Final thoughts on Guidepost Three …

About 15 years ago, we had a little trouble with our arrangements for occupational therapy when Sam was in elementary school.

I had managed to find a clinician who knew enough about sensory integration to afford Sam weekly sessions. She was a professor at Texas Woman’s University and ran the clinical program for the students. We’d go once a week and Sam’s 50-minute session would be led by one of the two students in the practicum, with the professor supervising.

It was a bargain for the school district — $20 a session — and Sam enjoyed the time there. It was easy for me to shuttle him there after school, since I worked across town at the University of North Texas. And, most importantly, we saw progress over the months and years he was there (from about age 5-12).

Somewhere along the line the professor and the district’s director of special education got crosswise with each other. The special ed director decided it was time to pull the plug on the arrangement. We had a sense there were reasons for the conflict on both sides — reasons that were never disclosed to us, which to this day still bothers me. The director made arrangements for clinic therapy with another professional in another town, at about four times the price by the way. That was that.

We’d heard of this OT’s work. Another parent raved about what her son had accomplished in her care, so we knew the director had put some careful thought into the change.

However, it was not possible for me to shuttle Sam there and back without negatively affecting my work schedule. If we allowed the school to bus him there, they would surely cut into his class time to make it happen.

Most importantly, though, we were concerned that Sam would have to learn to interact with a new person and new routine. That isn’t always a bad thing. But we’d just gone through several upheavals with speech therapists and these had cost him months in progress. While he was motivated to learn to talk, OT was another matter. He was, and remains, very defensive about challenging his senses, his balance, his way of moving in time and space. We thought he would lose a year just trying to get to trust this new person.

To this day, I have to ask permission for a hug. I don’t always get it.

We refused the change and insisted that the director renew the contract with TWU. The battle lines had been drawn with us, and the school superintendent, and the special ed director.

We sat down to negotiate. The special ed director never gave a compelling reason for the change. The superintendent sided with us.

This is perhaps the best example I have from our family history showing how the quality of social interactions affected decision-making. We couldn’t know whether we made the right decision, given that we weren’t afforded all the facts. We could only take comfort in knowing that Sam continued to flourish at TWU’s OT clinic and has very few sensory integration problems as an adult.

He also enjoys a connection with the professor, who has long since retired and moved to North Carolina.

Don’t underestimate the value of those social connections. At our core, we are social beings, much more like cows, horses, goats and other herd animals than the loners, like owls and eagles.

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