Syona and her cousin, Divya, playing together.
I noticed it for the first time two weeks ago. Dilip’s sister-in-law was visiting Toronto with her two kids. We were sitting in the floor in the basement playing with the kids. All of a sudden, Syona turned her head to look at her cousin Divya (almost three years old), reached her hand out to touch her and said “hhh” — her version of “hug”.
Divya looked at me, and I told her that Syona was asking for a hug. With a huge smile on her face, Divya reached over to hug Syona. And this routine played on repeat for a long time, in true toddler fashion.
This was definitely a milestone moment. Up until now, Syona hasn’t been all that interested in other kids. She will tolerate them (sometimes), but she always prefers the company of adults.
But since that incident I’ve been picking up on her observing and initiating play with other kids more and more.
We ran into my friend Cheryl and her daughters when we were out just last week. Cheryl’s daughter, Jillian, also has cerebral palsy. She reached over and held Syona’s hand. Typically, Syona would have reacted by screaming and pulling away. Instead she looked over and gave her a smile. When Jillian stopped holding Syona’s hand, Syona immediately reached out for her hand again. It was a super sweet moment to watch.
So where is her sudden interest in kids coming from? First of all, I think it is age-appropriate, which is always a good thing in our family — it’s the same reason we were grateful when Syona started saying "NO"! Second, I am hoping that some of it is related to her nursery school exposure to a room full of toddlers.
But, like everything else that is part of our special needs parenting experience, her interest in other children also foreshadows some challenges we are likely to face in the future.
When we were at a party over the weekend there was a group of small children playing with a balloon in a typical way. They were standing in a circle throwing the balloon around and chasing after it. I was sitting on the floor helping Syona stand up, since she can’t stand independently yet. She was staring over at the group, reaching out to them, but she wasn’t able to participate on her own. It was one of those moments that was bittersweet: I was excited that she noticed the group of kids playing, but felt a small tug on my heart since she couldn’t play with them in the same way.
I know that Syona will find ways to participate. And when she can’t do it on her own, we will be her legs. We will be arms. We will be her voice. Because as her parents, that is our job and the most important role in our lives. And those moments of joy where she is part of the group, well, that makes it all worthwhile.
When did your kids start to notice other children? Did you need to make any accommodations to help your child participate in group play?