About 30 min into your first visit with Mason’s family, his father asks “Will he ever walk?” Mason had a stroke shortly after he was born which affected the left side of his body. He is just under two years old and is beginning to sit with very little support. His father is an athlete and dreamed of having a son who would love to play sports as much as he does. How do you answer this hard question?
Your 3 Options
There really are 3 options for responding to his question. Let’s consider each:
“Sure he will!” – This is the “yes” option, where you assure the father that Mason is young and has lots of time ahead of him to learn this skill. When you answer like this, you’re usually trying to think positively and keep the parent’s dreams alive. Consider these questions, though: How do you know? Can you know now? Is it fair to Mason’s father to answer with such confidence? What if you’re wrong? It’s been my experience that it is very difficult to know for sure that an infant or toddler with a significant neurological condition affecting his motor abilities will one day walk.
“No, I don’t think he will.” – Did you hear that? Pop! You just burst Mason’s father’s bubble, shut down his dreams for his young son and himself as a father. Consider the same questions: How do you know? Can you know now? Is it fair to answer with such confidence? What if you’re wrong? Remember that Mason isn’t even 2 yet. In most circumstances, we really don’t know for sure that a child will or won’t walk. It’s just too early to tell. The exception might be for children with multiple, significant disabilities but even then, how do we know for sure?
“I don’t know.” – This is the middle option, less certain and probably more true. No parent really wants such a serious question answered with such a wishy-washy answer, but sometimes that’s the best we can give them. I’m a firm believer that honestly saying “I don’t know” is a good answer when it’s sincere (and not an effort to ignore a hard topic) and followed by further explanation, using some of the strategies below.
Strategies for an Honest Answer
Relate Mason’s current abilities to future mobility – Point out how important having the balance and trunk control for sitting is to later walking.
Set shorter-term goals – Set very short-term goals that are important to the father that relate to his priority, like maybe having Mason sit by himself by his 2nd birthday or take a few steps with his hands held by the time the family goes on vacation.
Discuss early brain development – Talk about how busy Mason’s brain is now and how much learning he has yet to do. Emphasize the importance of giving Mason good opportunities for movement to help him learn to coordinate his body, get stronger, and even learn to compensate for his developmental differences.
Explore what “walking” really means for the father – This is important. Walking might mean walking on two feet. Or, it might really mean Mason being able to move about independently, however that happens. Mason’s father might be wondering how long he will have to carry Mason around, if Mason will be able to play on a playground, or if he’ll ever play baseball. Exploring his question a little more will help you understand what underlies this tough question. It’ll also help make sure he knows you are addressing what is so important to him, even though it might not look like walking yet.
Let Mason’s Dad Keep his Dreams
Mason’s father has a right to his dreams for his son, and Mason is much too young for those dreams to be pushed aside. The question he’s asked is a real one that is packed with emotions, hopes, and fears. It was probably harder for him to ask than it is for you to answer it. Use this opportunity to explore Mason’s families hopes and dreams for him, which will help you focus his intervention plan around what is really important to them. Having conversations about Mason’s abilities and needs can help his family prepare for his immediate future. Celebrate Mason’s progress and revel in the fact that that future is wide open!
How have you answered this tough question? Share your insights in the comments below!