The Humble Marble

Oct 12, 2020

The story of the Humble Marble

One bright sunny day, as I sat in my therapy room waiting for my three-year-old client, the wide array of toys all around me caught my attention. They were all branded, shiny, bold, and bright coloured toys.

The child who would come to me for Autism intervention had language limitations. “I am sure he would have fun playing around here. These toys are way too good. They will surely engage him. Sure they will also alleviate parental concerns and give me an opportunity to help in his treatment” I thought.

Hiding behind the mother, the kid walked through the door. The cat-eyed cute little boy saw me from the corner of his eye for a fleeting second and quickly looked away. As I greeted and welcomed him, he continued to shy away from me.

After a while, his mother and I sat down to talk. Back of my mind, I was sure the little champ would head straight to play with the toys I had laid out.

Not really! A tiny green pebble kept in a vase on my desk caught his attention. He immediately took one of them and went to the other side of the room. Smiling, laughing, and making excited but meaningless sounds, I could see that he was in a blissful state.

I got up, put all my toys in his view, and made sounds on different musical items. I even showed him the glowing galaxy ball, but none of it caught his fancy. He sat down and held the pebble in his hand above his head and was observing where the sunlight hit the pebble.

I was at a loss for words for some time. He didn’t really bother about us being there. He didn’t bother about my presence. Neither did he show any intention or importance to connect with me. And now, it was getting a little troublesome for my ego!

So, I decided to join him. I was curious to see why this tiny little piece of marble was beginning to hurt my humongous ego!

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I took a similar marble and sat down across him. I started playing with it exactly as he was doing. Feeling its texture, its edges, and holding it up against the sun.

To my surprise, he came towards me, sat beside me, and again continued his play. I too continued to play and imitate him.

After some time, I flipped the marble in the air and caught it. This somehow amazed him. He looked at me straight, smiled, and tried to do the same thing with his marble.

He touched my hand and said “again”. “Oh wow! That was imitation and language all at once!” I flipped it again and caught his attention.

Then I took a shape sorter from my toy collection and dropped the marble in it. He stared, paused, came forward, and dropped the marble in it too. Meanwhile, he also noticed the many other shapes and tried putting them inside. And we carried this play along together.

That humble marble which was lying around aimlessly found its purpose. It helped me do so much for that little child on the autism spectrum. It made me connect, engage, develop imitation, and most importantly helped me gain his trust!

And here’s where I drew my take-home lesson.

Irrespective of whether a child is neurodiverse or neurotypical, what is important is to develop a sense of connection with the child. And that can be truly and simply done by entering the child’s world - the way it is.

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Dr. Neeta Mehta

Dr. Neeta Mehta a pediatric physiotherapist, autism interventionist, Remedial educator is the Director at SAHAS physiotherapy and wellness centre India.