Family & Friends, Nikhil


Do you remember the time your child learned a new word and surprised you by using it in the right context? We had many such opportunities with our daughter when she was a toddler. However, after the first few times, we took it for granted and given the normal trajectory of development, what started as a trickle of words soon became a raging torrent that swept us in its flow.

With our son, Nikhil, things are different. As I had alluded to in an earlier blog, he is non-verbal and he was about eleven years old before he started communicating with us using his iPad. Occasional words here and there which he has gradually been stringing together to make coherent sentences. Not necessarily correct grammatically but absolutely intelligible.

Nikhil is a creature of habit and thrives on a routine, much like other special needs children.  We jokingly call him a “bhatmaam” or “priest uncle” as we refer to the avuncular priests who would drop by home when were in India to perform some religious ceremonies. These priests are fastidious and follow a specific routine based on strictures. No ceremony is performed without having a purifying bath.  So it is with Nikhil.

As soon as Nikhil wakes up, we have to make sure that the blinds in his bedroom as well as ours are open. We then have to brush his teeth, give him his shower and dress him.  He then walks over to where his iPad has been placed at night and brings it over to the kitchen counter.  My wife then feeds him his breakfast while he maintains a conversation with her using the iPad.  Oatmeal every day, different varieties are tolerated but nothing else.  Pancakes, omelettes, idlis, dosas don’t pass muster.  During the last couple of months, after his breakfast,  he either retires to the sunroom or his own room for some contemplation.

Last Saturday, I took Nikhil through his routine and as he went to pick up his iPad prior to breakfast, my wife called me. She was in the middle of a chore in the sunroom and needed some help. It was going to take approximately five minutes and so I went to help her. Nikhil was initially nonplussed at our temerity to change his routine. He let his displeasure be known but we continued with the chore. When that did not have the desired effect, he yanked my arm to tell me in no uncertain terms that he was ready for his breakfast. He then threw a mini tantrum all the while eyeing us to see if it had the desired effect. We kept telling him to be patient and that we were almost done and breakfast would soon be served.

When we were done with our chore, my wife went back to the kitchen and Nikhil followed her.  When he was sure he had her attention, he produced a word from his iPad that we had not heard before.  “Frustrated!”  A solitary word, the one he figured his parents would understand!  We burst out laughing.  We were thrilled that he was able to describe his feelings and emotions but it was not something we had expected him to express.  In the past, he had used the word “sad” when he was frustrated or angry but this was a first at home.

We were curious to find out whether he had been taught this word at school and we reached out to his speech therapist. She replied that she might have modeled it in context in school when Nikhil was upset or frustrated in the past. Either way, it was impressive that in his frustrated state, he was able to find the right word on his iPad.

Frustrated – feeling or expressing distress and annoyance, especially because of the inability to change or achieve something.  Nikhil was spot on!  The sometimes “frustrating” adventure continues!

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