Hello to everyone! We’re Baaaack!! Rick, Sophie, and I went to the Option Institute and Fellowship in Sheffield, Massachusetts in late May. How to describe what a magical week we had?! What an amazing experience. I’ll try to give you all a brief overview of our wonderful time there. We can hardly believe we were only at the Institute for 5 very full days. AND YOU ALL MADE IT HAPPEN!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!
We flew into Hartford, CT and spent part of the day with a friend/business associate of Rick’s. The Perry’s hospitality at both ends of our trip was perfect for getting us ready for a very happy time, and re-entering the real world.
We spent the first evening checking out our new “home.” Our first encounter was with Jonathan who showed us around and we found out later was one of our main characters in this marvelous program. We spent the evening on pins and needles wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, but by reading the booklet left for us filled with letters from previous families we knew this was the right place.
The Concept of the Option Process and Son-Rise Program
The idea is to be completely present with Sophie, let her lead us in play, while we seek opportunities to capitalize on things we wanted to work on. For example, on our wish list were more verbal skills and using her right arm/hand. By the end of day one Sophie said the word “cookie!” for the Cookie Monster. (She had never really seen or showed any interest in Cookie Monster before.) Her right arm and hand were moving like we had never seen before. This was accomplished by being very excited when she initiated any movement with her right hand. The game to say cookie was based on asking and showing her Cookie Monster, slowly bringing it down from a high shelf, and using anticipation and large movements. If she said “ka” the staff person went wild with excitement and gave her Cookie Monster immediately. They were showing Sophie that words are very powerful and will help her get what she wants more quickly. She would always get what she wanted, if she couldn’t say the word the item was brought to her more slowly. This is pretty much what Sophie did all week. We were amazed at her progress in just 5 days. Prior to arriving at the Option Institute she was just starting to sit up independently for a few minutes. The first day she spent mostly upright and sort of propped up. By the end of the week she was sitting without assistance for most of the day AND SHE PULLED HERSELF UP TO SIT WITHOUT ASSISTANCE while engaged in a great game that she invented! WOW!!!
Can you believe that we left our sweet little girl with strangers that first day??! It still astonishes me. Both Rick and I were very comfortable leaving her. Of course we were only 2 doors away and we could observe her at any time, too! This place just breathes with love and happiness. Sophie spent each day with her new friends from 9am till 5pm. A new playmate (one-on-one) came into the playroom every 1 1/2 hours or so. Soph never left the playroom, and she never left the condo all week. Did she care?! NO WAY!! She was having the time of her life!! These wonderful, loving people played with Sophie with such energy and excitement, and she was in charge of the agenda. If she wanted to read books all day, that was what the staff did. Our little princess ate it up! (I wish there was a playroom like this for adults!)
And what did Rick and I do? We set about learning as much as we could regarding the Option Process and how to set up a Son-Rise Program for Sophie. The first day we spent the morning talking with “Mentors,” instructors who talked to us (called Dialoguing) about anything that we felt would create a problem for us regarding Sophie’s program or any of our relationships. These talks help us to create a loving and accepting attitude and environment for Sophie. We learned that it is important to focus our minds and hearts this way while playing with Sophie so that she can express herself any way she can and we will always be ok with that. That afternoon we observed one of the staff playing with Sophie, and then had the opportunity to each play with her for about 15 minutes each. After playing we were given feedback on how to play more effectively. We learned that there is not a right or wrong way to play with her, just ways that are more effective towards our goals. It is ALL IN THE ATTITUDE. We learned to be flexible in our goals, and to not judge what was or was not accomplished while playing. Quite a different skill for two competitive people! We also learned how to set up her playroom to be the most effective environment for learning.
Day two for Rick and I was spent doing more play sessions with Sophie and getting feedback. We were also able to see some other staff members playing with Soph.
Day three in the morning we spent playing with Sophie and being video-taped while we played. Then more feedback using the video-taped sessions to help explain. What a wonderful tool! We then learned about the basic forms they use for observing people in the playroom to keep track of what is going on, what to improve on, and what new skills are observed. That afternoon we went on a glorious walk through the property (which is in the Berkshires – full of streams, hills, and beautiful trees,) as we had what is called a “joint consultation.” This was for Rick and I to work on any relationship issues. We then went back to the condo and learned the techniques of Dialoguing, asking questions without judgments to help the person work through any discomforts they may have regarding relationships or Sophie’s program.
Day four was spent with us each playing with Sophie, giving feedback to each other, and then getting feedback on our feedback session. We also practiced the Dialoguing process again.
Day five. The last day seemed like we had been there for weeks! In the morning we met with a majority of the staff who worked with Sophie during the week. This was a demonstration of the Group Meeting, and is designed to show the team what was noticed and accomplished during the week. It was very upbeat and inspiring, and focused on the positives and how to go for more. Afterwards the group leader sat down with us to explain how it was run. The afternoon was spent discussing how to set up the program using volunteers (how to find them, train them, use them most effectively.) Finally we had some time to ask any questions that may have not been answered during the week.
We left Saturday morning with our heads spinning with new information and the desire to make this program work for Sophie and for us. It was much more than we expected to get from these wonderful people. We can continue to get support from them in many ways and have already spoken to them a few times.
Presently we are very busy setting up the playroom and designing the flyers for our search for volunteers. I spend a few hours each day in the playroom with Sophie really focusing on the skills we learned. Rick and I try to “live with the attitude” in our very full lives. It’s working. Life never looked so fulfilling and happy. If we sound different it’s because The Option Institute and its people have had a profound affect on us. We think it is a very positive one.
To dwell in the past or worry about the “what ifs” of the future is not accomplishing anything today. We love our funny, strange little girl just the way she is. We want the most and the best for her, but we’ll take her the way she is today and not love her any less. If you have had a chance to meet her, and if you are given the chance to, you’ll see that she is this amazing, beautiful child that has a gift to give to anyone who meets her. Come by and see our One In a Million Kid – it’s well worth the trip! (However, the guest bedroom is now Sophie’s special room. But our pull out couch is always available!)
This new picture shows Sophie sporting her newest look. She is so busy with her hands that she is throwing her fingers into her eye. She scratched her cornea and we are now using protective eyewear to keep her eyes safe. Once she’s truly mobile we think the “in-line skater look” (with padded head, knees and elbows) may be her fashion statement! We’ll see!
If you know of anyone in the area who is interested in volunteering we are looking for these qualifications:
ABLE TO VOLUNTEER FOR A MINIMUM OF
6 HOURS PER WEEK (this includes a 2 hour
WILLING TO BE OPEN-MINDED AND EXPLORE
YOUR ATTITUDES AND JUDGMENTS
(what we call “Discomforts”)
WILLING TO COMMIT FOR 9 MONTHS
What you get back will astound you! Learning to love more easily and be happier are just a few of the perks.
Other news: We have been in contact with another family that has a child with Sophie’s disorder. They live in Racine Wisconsin of all places so we have had the opportunity to visit with them a few times. Their daughter, Amanda, is 4 1/2 years old and she and Sophie have a lot of similarities. It is great to be able to share some of the challenges with someone who has been there and to help them with some of their issues too. Thanks, Debbie and Tom, for becoming part of our lives! We’re hoping that the girls can become good friends and help each other out as they get older.
Sorry this is such a long letter, but we truly wanted to let all of you know what a gift you have given us. Sophie is thriving due to your help and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call. I’ll say it again, no question is too dumb or personal. If it will help someone else or better educate them, we are very happy to oblige. We hope this letter finds you healthy and HAPPY!! Take care of yourselves. You are in our thoughts always.
Jody, Rick and Sophie