This morning, I gave my daughter a push down the hall and she walked off towards her classroom. Wait. Let me say that again. I pushed my daughter down the hall and she kept on walking towards her classroom. She didn’t flinch. She didn’t turn. She just kept walking. I know this doesn’t sound like much; but, for the first time in thirteen years, she didn’t swing around in uncontrollable anger and physically lash out. She didn’t hit or slap or kick or in any other way attack me.
In the life of a child recovering from trauma there are many triggers. Sights, sounds and actions stir deep seated memories, often ones lodged within the cells of the body before the development of cognition or verbal ability. A touch, the color of someone’s hair can cause intense reactions of fear and emotional distress. Certainly this has been true for my daughter.
Natalya has always had difficulty modulating both her emotions and her physical reactions. When triggered she has lashed out physically. A little tickle elicits a return of poking and prodding that is difficult to restrain. A simple pat could be countered with aggressive, unrestrained punches. She has difficulty interpreting the intent of physical affection and returning the appropriate response. Also typical of children who have been traumatized.
One of the most consistently frightening and re-traumatizing actions for her has been anyone placing a hand on her back whether to guide, hug or push. Well-meaning teachers have inadvertently created a climate of terror by touching her in this way. It is, in fact, one of the issues I always make clear to every new teacher, caretaker, professional and friend who spends time with my daughter.
Every parent watches for those magic moments – the first step, the first word. Parents of children with special needs often wait longer, look harder and find our miracles in unusual places.
So, I repeat, today I pushed my daughter, and she kept on walking towards her class, her future and her recovery from early childhood trauma.