Last weekend as part of the weekly "give dead trees to those you love" ritual, wherein all classwork completed during the week is dragged home and piled on my bed, Ben handed me a "feelings" worksheet that his classmates had completed. I say "his classmates completed" because Ben's own copy was blank.
The assignment had been to draw a picture of himself looking "happy" in the top box on the page, and then in the bottom box, to draw himself feeling any other emotion that he might have also felt that day. Suggestions beneath the box included sad, anxious, embarrassed, disappointed, excited, etc. I took the bait. "Ben," I asked, "why didn't you draw any picture on this worksheet?" He shrugged. "I don't know." Undeterred, I tried again: "Ben, how about the bottom box? What kinds of feelings did you have that you could draw here?" Another shrug. Now, the definition of insanity is repeating the same action while expecting a different result. I'm obviously insane. "Ben," I asked a third time, "Didn't you feel happy, or maybe you were worried about your spelling test? Or something?"
That was enough for Ben. He looked away and shouted, "I was feewing nuffing!"
Yes, he'll work on "l" and "th" sounds with the speech therapist this year. More troubling to me is that this isn't the first time he has said that he "feews nuffing." A couple weeks ago, when he was having trouble with impulsively hitting his peers, I tried to understand what motivated that behavior. I asked him then what he was feeling when he hit his classmates: "Nuffing." I thought he might just need some words, so I offered some. "Ben, were you feeling busy inside, or all crazy inside, and it just made you hit somebody?" Another shout: "No! I don't feew nuffing."
Is it possible that he really doesn't feel anything? I don't think so. I've seen him when he's sad. I've seen him when he's excited. I've seen him when he's worried. The emotion is in his eyes and in his voice. He feels things. I think it's just really hard for him to process the emotion, analyze what it is, and give a name to it. That's a complex cognitive process--many "normal" adults struggle sometimes to identify what they're feeling at any given moment. I don't know what is fair to expect from him, and what is beyond the reach of any 6-year-old child.
I wish I knew how to help him make those connections. But I don't. His IEP goal, which he's working on with the school psychologist, is to be able to identify and express his emotions. But so far, when I ask him what he does when he visits Mr. Gallacher, he says, "We just watched a movie." When I press him to find out what the movie was about, I get the perfunctory "I don't know" response. I guess that means "nuffing."
We were feeling hopeful that Ben was connecting with some of his peers when he was successfully interacting with his math partner for a week or two. As of last week, however, he regularly hits his math partner, because the partner "doesn't obey the rules." Now, I hate it when people don't follow the rules, too. I don't need to hit them (well, let's be honest--sometimes I'd like to hit the guy who drives too slow in the left lane on the freeway), but I guess Ben doesn't have any other way yet to express his frustration. His teacher indicated yesterday that she was going to switch him to a new partner. I'm hoping it's a really rule-bound kid, for his own safety. After all, Ben may be feewing nuffing, but he's got a heck of a right hook.