Sunday, November 21, 2010

Look Into My Eyes

One of the first things we worked on was getting Ryan to make eye contact. I had honestly never noticed that Ryan avoided looking into my eyes. Before it became a goal, Ryan would generally roam around our little apartment and then when he wanted something he would run over to it and point. This was usually followed by some whining. If you could not figure out what he wanted, in about 2 seconds, then the screaming started.

The therapist told me to wait until Ryan would give me eye contact and then give him what he wanted. To not say anything and just look at him until he looked at my face. Once Ryan looked at my face then I was suppose to jump into helpful mode. As a psychology major I quickly recognized the positive reinforcement technique and it was one we would repeat over and over again for several behaviors we were trying to help Ryan with.

So the first time Ryan ran over to the fridge, pointed at the fridge and whined (which was his way of asking for juice), I followed him into the kichen but ignored him. The two seconds went by and Ryan started screaming. Instead of looking at me though, Ryan throw himself on the floor and started banging his head againist our tile. I continued to ignore him (trust me this is very hard to do when your child is hurting himself). Eventually Ryan looked up at me, I think he was wondering why I was not rushing over there like I usually did. The second he looked at me I said, "Oh you want some juice," and I ran over to the fridge and gave it to him.

Luckly for me, Ryan caught on really quick and by the end of the week he was looking at me as he whined and pointed to the fridge. I felt very happy though. It was the first of many hurdles we crossed, and one of the easiest, but I knew we were on our way in the right direction. I felt confident that night that Ryan was going to be all right.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Our New "Friends"

When Ryan began receiving services from early intervention we were thrown into a whole new world that was very confusing and full of new "friends". Ryan was receiving occupational therapy (OT), speech therapy, and group therapy (where they worked on Ryan's social skills). But in Ryan's eyes he just had all these new friends to play with. Just four adults who wanted to do nothing but play with him. For OT and speech they would come over to our house with toys and play with Ryan while teaching him different things. During group we went to the center and there were six or seven kids in his group with two therapists and they would try to get the children to interact with each other. This was harder then it seems when you have several children with social problems.

We got really close to our therapists. I think it is impossible not to get close to them when they get to know all the intimate details of your life. At first it feels a bit like having super nanny in your house week after week because they are constantly telling you what you are doing wrong and how you can help your child's development along. We actually got so close to our OT that I sent her Christmas cards and a baby announcement after I had Kate. The therapists got to know everything about our lives. Its part of their job.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What the hell does "sensory issues" mean?

The therapists told me that Ryan had sensory issues. Early intervention is not allowed to diagnose children, they just point you in the right direction. I had no idea what sensory issues were. So like anyone in our day and age, I turned to the Internet for understanding. I googled it and many different websites came up. I spent hours after Ryan went to bed looking it up on the Internet. In this research I came across sensory processing disorder. I remember reading the description and just staring at the computer. It described Ryan pretty good. Overall the descriptions of sensory processing disorder were very confusing. I had a hard time understanding what it meant for my son. Most of the descriptions state that the child has trouble processing information from their senses so they have trouble learning. These descriptions were too vague for me. I later found out that they are vague because there are six different types of sensory processing disorder. The type Ryan had was sensory modulation disorder- sensory over responsivity (try saying that ten times fast). He mainly was affected in the senses of tactile, motion, and sounds. After looking everything up I still did not understand how Ryan saw the World, how he felt everyday. I knew that it was hard for him to sit and watch fireworks but why was it hard for him? What was going on.

Finally after Ryan had started seeing his new OT friend, I asked her. She was the first one that described it to me so it could make sense. She told me that to imagine I was driving and a car was coming straight at me. She told me how all of our senses go in slow motion and everything is intensified in a life or death situation. She then told me that Ryan feels that way 24 hours a day. That all of his senses are intensified. Because his brain is using so much power to process his senses, he has trouble learning other things. Then his "meltdowns", as she referred to his two hour tantrums, was when he was in overload at all the information coming at him. After she told me that it started to make sense. Ryan's brain was overloaded and that was why it was hard for him to do certain things. His repetitive behavior helped calm his brain down. And that was why he would do things over and over and over again.

Also with research I found the close link between autism and sensory processing disorder. I found out that most kids with autism have sensory processing disorder but not all kids who have sensory processing disorder have autism. This was the most worrisome news I found. Autism had been getting a lot of attention lately and I knew a lot about it. I worried that Ryan's problems did not stop with sensory issues. The best piece of news I found out was that most kids learn to live with this disorder by the time they are seven. The disorder does not go away, Ryan will always view the world this way, but he will learn to live with it so he can be a productive member in society.

At the time I hoped that Ryan only did have sensory processing disorder. I figured if I could get through these couple of years then we would be all set.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ummmm, I think there is something wrong with your kid...

Ryan was my first baby. Because he was my first I did not notice that things were running a little behind when he was a baby. We were practically isolated in Germany with little friends and no family around. I was an avid reader of "What to Expect the First Year". They made developmental milestones seem like a minor detail in the book so I never got too worried. When Ryan would change into a different month I would grab the book and pore over the milestone page. Ryan was usually a month or two behind what the book said but he always seemed to get it eventually. In my mind Ryan was the most perfect baby to walk on this planet.

As any new mother all my conversations revolved around Ryan. My house was plastered with pictures of Ryan. If they made a Ryan wallpaper it would have been up in my living room. My son was amazing at everything he did. His laugh was cuter then all the other babies, his smile was bigger than everyone elses. Ryan was my entire universe. Now that I have two children and I come across new parents at the park, I always find their obsession with their children annoying. But I remember that I was just as bad if not worse.
Anyways in my eyes there was nothing wrong with Ryan and God help anyone who said otherwise.

When Ryan was one we got out of the Air Force and moved in with my parents during the transition. My step-dad Jeff was the first one who got the nerve to tell me. He told me one day that he thought I should ask the doctor about Ryan's behaviors because he thought Ryan was showing early signs of autism. At the time I was so angry. How dare Jeff tells me that something is wrong with my perfect baby. I didn't care that Jeff was a teacher for 30 years, that Ryan seemed to be behind his same aged cousins. I was just upset that someone would suggest that Ryan's mind was not working correctly.

Now as I look back I realize how much guts that took Jeff to tell me. And he was right. Ryan had some odd behaviors. He was not pulling up, crawling, or babbling. He was screaming loud and was often upset. I promised them I would get him checked out. So I brought Ryan to the doctors and they told me not to worry. Lets just wait and see. If it wasn't for the promise I made I would have waited but I decided to call early intervention for an evaluation.

They evaluated him when he was a year and a half. Before they came over I was nervous that they would think I was an overly nervous mother. I did not believe anything could be wrong with my son. The speech therapist came first and I told her that I wasn't that worried anymore because Ryan had just said his first word a few days ago, it was "hi". She looked at me and told me it was better to be safe then sorry.
After the evaluation they turned to me and told me that Ryan was behind on several developmental milestones. Some of his delays were pretty bad. He was not giving eye contact, barely talking, had just learned to walk, and had a diet of maybe 5 things. He also throw major tantrums that would last in the hour to two hour range. At this time he was biting me whenever he got mad and I had bruises up and down my whole arm. He was also banging his head against our tile floors and never seemed to notice the pain it would cause him. He played by lining toys up. Instead of making  the toy car drive somewhere he would line all of them in a straight line and get very upset if someone moved them. But at the time I could not even discuss this with them. They got time to say Ryan was behind, he qualified for services and something about sensory issues. Then I quickly got them out of my house and cried. I put on Ryan's favorite show and I just hugged him and told him how much I loved him and everything would be okay. I cried for most of the day and night. It felt like my world had been turned upside down.