“I don’t think his final diagnosis will be Autism.”

In 2002, I met a girl online while searching for other fans of a Spanish pop singer. We quickly became friends and, when my best friend died of lupus a year later, she was a huge support for me. Fifteen years later, we remain close friends and confidants. During those fifteen years, she went on to become a Pediatrician. Dr. Friend now works at the clinic of a prominent hospital in her city.

She lives far away from us, so she hasn’t seen Big Bear since he was a baby and this was her first time meeting Little Bear. She knows that Little Bear has an ASD diagnosis and I had told her about my husband’s freakout on Monday.

Little Bear has done phenomenally at home with me this past week. On Monday, he was throwing tantrums and wouldn’t sign “want” at all. Today he didn’t throw a tantrum until 3 hours into our day when he was legitimately tired and done. When we did our puzzle together, he not only signed “want” every time, but he coupled it with “Yo” (“I” in Spanish) and the name of the animal that the piece was related to. This was after only four days of working with him at home. He is like a different child.

So it was this Little Bear that Dr. Friend met. She gave him a board book of Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See and, after reading it twice, read Dr. Seuss’s ABC with him. She was surprised to see that he knew huge portions of the book by heart and was able to turn the pages with minimal help.

Later, we took our cat to the vet since she had been suffering from a UTI for a week. Little Bear fell asleep in the car on the way. I asked Dr. Friend to stay in the car with him while I took the cat and Big Bear inside for our appointment. At some point during the appointment, he woke up and she brought him inside and showed him the cats and the fish. During the entire time, he was well behaved, held her hand, and smiled at her while he laughed at the animals.

Later that evening, Papi Bear and I took her to a Brazilian restaurant for live music and too many caipirinhas. After two or or three, I asked her for her opinion on Little Bear.

“I only just met him, but I don’t think his final diagnosis will be autism. He doesn’t exhibit a lot of the signs of children on the spectrum. He is delayed linguistically and socially, but he was completely fine spending time with me and he’s very interactive with people he knows. He’s very affectionate, he follows directions or he at least understands them and chooses not to follow them.”

She advised us to continue with his therapies, get as many as possible, have him in the special needs school for at least a year, but she thinks he will eventually mainstream.

I think this is what my husband needed to hear and I do think her comments are more along the lines of what the neurologist feels, even though his therapists and pediatrician continue to say he is autistic. Ultimately it’s the symptoms that matter rather than the actual diagnosis, but to hear from a trusted friend that he is social and cognitively where he should be definitely relieved some of my anxiety.

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First Sentence!

Little Bear was sitting in his seat the table eating his favorite food ever: smokey mozzarella salad from Fresh Market.
“Ques be shek.”

Papi Bear and I looked at each other. Little Bear pointed at the TV.

“Did he just say…”

“I think I heard it, too.”

We put Baby Shark on the TV. Little Bear got a huge sm
ile and started singing along.

April 11, 2017. The day Little Bear made his first non-memorized, not-requested sentence: “Quieres Baby Shark?”Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 12.49.15 AM

Ear Tubes

Little Bear got his shiny new ear tubes put in yesterday morning. We were up bright and early, before the sun, and before Little Bear knew what hit him. We got to the hospital, went through registration and hung out in the pre-op room for a good hour, watching cartoons, playing on the ipad, and taking trips around the floor in their wagon. He started to get antsy towards the end – mainly because he realized I had a muffin tucked away in my purse, but luckily the CRNA came in with something to calm him down. When he was starting to feel the effects, they pulled out a phone, put on Baby Shark for him, and started to wheel him away. He was halfway down the hall before he realized I wasn’t with him.

The surgery itself was about 30 minutes from when they took him in to when they called me to recovery. Little Bear licked a popsicle, drank a cup of juice, and waited to be cleared. Little Bear was increasingly insistent that he get up and move, but he was still really woozy from the anesthesia. They said we could leave without seeing the doctor and that I could call later on for any information that wasn’t on the papers. This wasn’t our first rodeo, so I wasn’t too concerned.

When we got home, the improvement was immediate. Little Bear was listening. He was babbling. He was saying words. He still was far from where he was before the tubes fell out, but there was definite improvement. I put him down for a nap and when it became clear that he wasn’t going to take one, I went in and he said, “Hiiiii Mama. Hiiiii.” He’s never done that before. Usually he just says bye bye, but socially too late. Seeing him give  a social greeting at the correct moment, made me feel wonderful. He said peepee and caca when he was practicing on the potty. He followed simple directions again. I started to get hopeful.

Then I talked to Papi Bear, who had spent his morning in a meeting with Fancy Religious Child Care Center. He’s on probation for a week, starting on Wednesday. Papi Bear and I had already decided that we’d pull him after next week as it is, but this confirmed our feelings. Apparently Little Bear was biting his teacher and it hadn’t been reported to us previously. They suggested we look at special needs schools.
I think we’ve arrived to the point where that’s where we’re headed.

Papi Bear and I had a long conversation about it last night. He’s afraid to put Little Bear into a school where kids may be behind him. I had to make him realize that Little Bear is behind. Almost a full year at this point. He wanted to make comparisons with his older brother, who has an IEP right now at age 4. I showed him videos of Big Bear when he was 2.5. That’s when it hit him. That’s when he realized our son is severely delayed. At this age, Big Bear wasn’t saying full sentences, but we have one where we went to the zoo, and he pulls my husband over to the camels and says, “Mira! Camel on the ceiling! C C C!” Little Bear occasionally pulls us towards things, but not with the same eagerness and awe that Big Bear did at the same age.

Little Bear has improved since his tubes went in. He has only bitten me when he’s cranky from being hungry or just waking up. He’s still hitting. He actually pounded his brother over the head repeatedly with a small plastic baby ball today because his brother took his soccer ball. Of course this happened in the middle of a store. That I was doing a mystery shop at. Because that’s just how it goes when you’re the mom of two toddlers, one of them special needs.

Little Bear has been speaking more, singing again, daring to say new words, and dancing along with all his favorite videos on PinkFong. He speaks louder and more clearly. When I repeat one of his approximations in the correct form, he tries to correct himself. It’s an improvement. It’s a step towards where he was a month ago.

At the same time, I’m not sure how to handle school. He’s on probation already. They suggested trying maybe just the mornings for now, but he’s in school mainly because I’m teaching a night class on Mondays and Wednesdays until the first week of May. After that, I can pick him up without any problem and have him home before nap time.

I called every special needs school in the area today. None of them have space for him. One has a long shot space for him in the third week of April. They’re opening a class in his age group, but it’s already fully pre-registereScreen Shot 2017-04-04 at 10.43.05 PMd. He’s on the wait list. If you’re the wishing on a star type, please ask the stars to give him an extra push of luck to get in. I’m touring the school tomorrow and preparing for the emotional rollercoaster of acceptance that will come along with it.

Papi Bear and I have to decide tonight whether he’s going back to school tomorrow. He’s done so well the past two days. I see improvement and I’m absolutely terrified that it will go down the drain if we send him back to school. The special needs schools are not a problem, since he’ll almost certainly transition to one in August anyway.

We have a long discussion ahead of us tonight.

Little Bear… I hope whatever we choose is the best option for you. Always know we’re doing our best to give you the best possible outcome in life. We love you.

Transitions

If Little Bear could stay in one area and do his thing and then move to another area of his choosing at a time of his choosing, he would be the happiest little bear in the world. However, the world – and, more specifically, school – does not work that way. Little Bear struggled and dealt with it at Fancy Child Care Center and was starting to show huge improvements in his socialization and participation. He went from a year behind to about 6 months behind. He’s been at Fancy Religious Child Care Center for two weeks now and he has tanked.

We don’t blame the school or the teachers – not in the least. They’ve been nothing but wonderful to us and to him. They keep in close contact through messenger and send us daily pictures and videos. It’s really a phenomenal school that we’re very excited to send our older son to over the summer. However. HOWEVER. Little Bear… not impressed. At all.

He throws toys, snatches them from other children, refuses to participate, and doesn’t want to play with other kids. He’s basically just mean. He’s even been less cooperative with his therapists since leaving Fancy Child Care Center. He’s begun to bite and scratch more often, too. Even at home, he bites me at least once a day in sensory-seeking or attention-seeking ways.

The cause… well… we’re not sure. It could very well be the ear tubes falling out. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be dizzy and hear everything like you’re underwater. And to combine that feeling with a new school where you don’t know anyone and are not familiar with the routine… That’s difficult. I know he’s struggling. I see him struggling. Before I’d always take him every day we paid for, even if I wasn’t working. I knew he’d get the benefit of circle time and playground interaction. Now, I keep him home and we go to the park together instead. Every day I worry about getting a message about him biting another kid or snatching toys or just generally misbehaving.

Papi Bear and I had a long talk about it last night. It came down to this: We put Little Bear into school for socialization. He is not socializing. He actively avoids other children as much as possible. We don’t know if it’s him who is regressing or if it’s the transition that’s tough on him or if it’s the hearing issues that are making him irritable. Our final decision is that we’re giving him two weeks post-op to improve. After two weeks, we’ll meet with the director, the school’s counselor, and one of his therapists and decide if there’s been improvement and, if so, what can be done to help him along. If there isn’t improvement, we will pull him from the school and I will change my work schedule from 830-5 to 1030-7/1130-8 and begin to homeschool him in the mornings and schedule his OT and SLP in the afternoons while I’m working.

We don’t think Little Bear has regressed into a closed-off state. He’s not making as much eye contact, but when you get up in his face and start sticking your tongue out or playing with him, he’s back to normal. When he’s in the dark, he’s actually really playful. Every night this week we’ve had to go into the boys’ bedroom and yell at them to get to bed because they’re both in Little Bear’s bed, playing, tickling, and laughing. We’ve seen his little personality come out. We know he’s a social kid, albeit a bit awkward, but so were (are) both of his parents. We just need to get him in a situation where he’s getting the attention he needs in order to thrive.

And that’s where we are. We’re at a point where Little Bear will take the lead and show us what he needs. If he needs Mama Bear to make a homeschool for him for a few months, so be it. If he shows us that it was completely the tubes and he’s back on track once they’re in place, then we’ll stay in Fancy Religious Child Care Center. Whatever is happening, we’re very glad that his school has been extremely supportive and not accusatory towards us. That goes a long way when your child has special needs.

Happy Moments

Tia Bear watched the boys last night while I taught my class and Papi Bear was out for a business dinner. She was supposed to put them to bed by 8. When I walked in at 9:15, they were running all over, chasing the cat and laughing about it. Little Bear saw me and came running over. I picked him up, and he started pointing and going, “wa wa wa!” Then I realized… he was SINGING! I sang the verse and he sang the chorus.

Two Magic Words

There are a few moments that every parents holds their breath waiting for, knowing that that moment will forever change the relationship they have with their child. The first step. The first solids. The first time sleeping in their nursery. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited milestone is hearing your child say “mama” and “papa” with intention. When you have a child on the spectrum, this moment may be years off.

Little bear started talking on schedule. His first word was “all done.” He also picked up “high five” “ball” and “leche.” But no words to refer to Papi Bear or myself. We pushed him, urged him, prompted him, with no result. Our best outcome was the nonspecific “beh beh” to refer to either of us in times of separation anxiety.

Today I took Little Bear to the grocery store. He didn’t want to be in the car anymore and was getting whiney. I pulled into a spot and checked my phone for a moment.

Mama

No. I must be imagining it.

Mama!

I wasn’t. Little Bear called for mama for the first time ever.

Papi Bear said he called him Papi clearly today when we left him alone with his OT for five minutes and he wanted him to come back.

One day at a time.

Oh, and his brother got a car bed today. He called it vroom vroom.

Early Intervention

As Little Bear’s progress continues, our fears have slowly gone from high flame to a simmer. We’ve seen the neurologist, the geneticist, three physical therapists, two occupational therapists, a speech pathologist, and we have appointments with two ABA specialists at the end of the month. At first each new evaluation was a terrifying prospect that both Papi Bear and myself feared the night before. We knew our hopes and dreams for Little Bear would die a tiny bit more as his diagnosis was confirmed yet again.

Yet now, a month and a half after his initial visit, our fears have reduced to such a level that we’re almost happy to see new evaluations. Each evaluation he has seems to be less extreme than the previous one, showing us the obvious success that early intervention has had on our son.Screen Shot 2016-09-07 at 12.03.36 AM.png

For example, when we initially filled out his survey, we said he rarely made eye contact. This is no longer true. Little Bear doesn’t make normal eye contact by any stretch of the imagination, but he comes up to us and looks in our eyes spontaneously, always looks at us  when we’re playing with him, and he’s even begun to look for approval after completing a task. These are big milestones to our family and we’re very proud that he’s been able to make significant progress after just a few weeks of therapy and work with his parents.

His vocabulary upon diagnosis was under two dozen words, but is at least twice that now and every day he seems to add something new. He knows his shapes, his letters, and his numbers now. He can name three body parts, a few animals, and he makes his likes and dislikes known through the word “no.” This is absolutely thrilling to us as parents, since just a few short weeks ago all he would say regularly was “leche,” “ball,” and “bubble.” Now he’s actually communicating with us.

Early Intervention is so commonly ignored by parents for whatever reason. I, personally, am a huge fan of taking advantage of it. It changed the outcomes for both of my boys and has put them on a direct path to success. I urge everyone who has even the slightest fear about their children being behind in anything to have their child evaluated. There is absolutely nothing to lose and an entire world of good that can be gained.