Nine months later, after receiving physical therapy at school for increasingly subtle problems, Walker could jump and run, though perhaps not as vigorously as most children. He could cut paper with scissors and do particularly well-aimed and sneaky things with a squirt gun.
Walker still suffers from allergies and from occasional gastrointestinal difficulties. At times he is an overly sensitive child; in his first year of preschool he was frightened by loud lawnmowers; now, two years later, he's inured to them, and can spend hours happily in a noisy arcade. But he is sensitive in positive ways as well. I would argue that his therapy, or perhaps some inherent gift related to his sensitivity, has afforded him a high degree of emotional intelligence—ironic, given his early patterns.
At three and a half years old, Walker came into the kitchen holding the beige-plastic body of Mr. Potato Head puppet-style.
"Hi!" he said in a high, squeaky voice. "I'm Mr. Potato Head. Actually, no," he corrected himself, still in the potato voice. "I'm not Mr. Potato Head ... I'm Mr. Nobody."
"Why Mr. Nobody?" I asked.
He showed me the body. It was blank. "Because I have no eyes, no nose or a mouth. I'm sad and lonely."
"Why are you sad?" I said.
"I want my whole self."
"Then you'll be happy?"
"Yes," he said.
Perhaps most important of all, Walker has a deep sense of empathy. When his great aunt died, more than a year ago, he worried most that her surviving sister would be lonely. How often are typical four-year-old boys able to put themselves in someone else's place?
In May of 2000, when Walker was three years and seven months old, Greenspan filmed us playing and working with our son. In the past he had usually filmed us twice, correcting our floor-time method during the second round. This time he filmed us once, turned off his video camera, and sent Walker out of the room. He told us that Walker was doing wonderfully by any standards. "He's intelligent, a great problem solver, creative thinker, has a can-do attitude. More important, he's got that spark in his eye. You don't see the average kid looking this wonderful." Far from being self-absorbed, repetitive, or stereotypical, Walker has now emerged among his peers as one of the most engaged, warm, and intelligent. Walker is now a kindergartner. His teacher has said that she thinks of him as "a typical child" and "very bright," though she admits he occasionally has his unruly moments. Most important is his social development; people at school see him as friendly and animated.
That day in Greenspan's office we began talking about child-rearing in general. "It's great when parents spend time with their kids," he said.
Great when parents spend time with their kids? I would have slugged the man if I hadn't been so grateful.
In his The Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel asserted something fundamental about self-awareness: "Self-consciousness exists ... in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness." We can be complete, conscious beings only when we have known ourselves through the eyes of another. To call this process the healing power of love would be sentimental—especially since in Walker's case so much pragmatic, unsentimental energy and work was involved in overcoming biological obstacles and forming a relationship. Still, early human interaction is the starting point of all knowledge. How important it is, then, to teach a highly sensitive child to bear the often unbearable light of another person's gaze.