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Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher

After our terrible, horrible no good, very bad morning you might think that Niksdad and I decided to lay low and stay close to home this afternoon.  You’d be mistaken.  After a hearty lunch and some down time for Nik —and a healthy dollop of analysis and brainstorming by Niksdad and me— we decided to try our luck a second time.  After all, the festival is only one day a year and the orchard offers free peach ice cream cones—made from their own peaches— which is heavenly!  Even Nik adores it.

I am happy to report that the outing was a rousing success!  Nik managed to consume an entire cone by himself —along with a goodly portion of mine!  We even managed to get in some play time at a nearby park which we’ve recently discovered.  Nik was so happy all afternoon; he sang and clapped and raced around the park without a care —exactly as we had hoped it would be.  He even picked up a sweet little guardian angel!

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our afternoon was the antithesis to our morning. 

So what was different the second time around?  Nothing, really.  And everything.  I know, I know —that doesn’t make sense.  But, really, the things we did were so incredibly simple that I wasn’t even sure it would work.  We met Nik where he was.  To do that, we had to observe his behavior and listen to his cues.

Let me give you a little background which might help this make sense:

Nik is nonverbal but extremely intelligent.  He understands just about everything that is said to him, about him, around him.  He takes everything in.  He also has a very strict interpretation or understanding of certain constants.  One of those constants is that food is eaten while sitting in his booster chair at the table unless it is otherwise specified. e.g., “We’re going to Nanny and Granddaddy’s for dinner.” or “We’re going to a restaurant for lunch.”  (Snacks are a different category; he’s ok with eating them in the car, at the park, play group, etc.)

Nik is also usually very good about adapting as long as he understands the sequence in which he can expect things to occur.  Nik knows ice cream is food.  He doesn’t know that “going to get ice cream” means going somewhere —let alone somewhere new —in the car.  So, to Nik, “ice cream first, then park” would mean “We’re going to sit at the table and eat ice cream and then go to the park.”

Nik is also amazingly observant of his physical surroundings.  He can tell where we’re going based on the turns I take or the scenery along the route.  If I tell him that we’re going somewhere different —and I may have to repeat it many times to reinforce the message as I drive— Nik is, generally, ok with it.  Today’s destination —the orchard for the ice cream and petting zoo —took us right past the turn for the park.

Can you see where this is going?

Right. So here’s our happy-go-lucky boy —already wound tighter than a top from the shoe incident— thinking he’s going to sit and eat ice cream and then go to the park.  By the time we got to the orchard, not only had we not eaten ice cream but we’d driven past the park!  Poor Nik  was experiencing such tremendous cognitive dissonance that he simply could not function.  I’m not using hyperbole for effect, either.  By the time we returned home this morning, though he was happy and clapping when we pulled in the driveway, Nik was completely motionless and silent when we opened the car door.  It was as if he simply checked out for a moment to re-calibrate.

This afternoon, armed with those realizations, and the knowledge that Nik doesn’t know what the new place —the orchard— is, we realized that we had to give him only one part of the sequence at a time.  Otherwise, we risked the likelihood that Nik would fixate on “going to the park” and block out the rest because he couldn’t visualize it.  We also decided to try something that I’ve been meaning to try for a while —a rudimentary picture schedule to help Nik know where we are going in the car and why we are not going the way he expects us to go.  (Side note: Nik doesn’t seem to have this trouble with changing activities at home or at therapy; it’s only when we are driving places that he gets so rigidly attached to his expectations.)

I printed out two pictures to take with us.  We gave Nik the first one —a full size picture of an ice cream cone— before we got in the car and explained to him that we were going to “a farm” to get ice cream.  Oddly enough, though I don’t think we’ve ever taken him to a farm, Nik seemed to understand that concept.   Maybe it was simply because I named something that he understands as an actual place or, at the very least, a place that is not home?  I really don’t know.

As we drove along the exact same route we took this morning, I sang silly songs about eating ice cream and going to the farm for yummy ice cream.  Nik even got into the spirit when I asked him to show me how he eats an ice cream cone by, well, eating the ice cream cone picture!

eating pic of ice cream

Nik never once whined nor got upset the entire drive.  As soon as we arrived, he let Niksdad put him up on his shoulders and we made a beeline for the ice cream.  Nik’s reaction was all the proof we needed that we had done the right thing:

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After Nik downed an entire cone —and attempted to eat a few twigs, too —we asked if he wanted to go to the park.  He wasn’t quite clear about that so I asked if he was ready to go in the car.  That got a clear affirmative so we went and sat in the car.  Once we were in the car, Niksdad gave him the second picture —a picture of a playground similar to that at the park —and asked if he wanted to go there.  The light bulb went on and our little dude was on board.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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There’s something talkin’ in the wind
Whispering through the trees
That feeling in my bones again
Just puts me right at ease

It takes me back to all the times
I’ ve been here before
But crossroads, old familiar signs
Tell me there’s something more


(A Change In the Air ~ Clint Black)

There does seem to be the scent of change in the air lately. As I wrote in this poem, it feels like spring is finally coming after a long, dark winter. I don’t just mean this particular season; I mean a winter of the spirit, of the soul.

It feels as though we are on the cusp of some big breakthroughs in many areas with Nik. Since we decided to take him out of school this past autumn (you can read the saga here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), he’s made such remarkable progress in all the ways which inspire hope and joy in my heart. No, Nik is not yet potty trained or eating by mouth; he still has a way to go in those particular areas. But he has made such great strides in connecting with and integrating his environment, connecting on a deeper, more intimate level with so many people —and differentiating between us all.

The bonds between both Nik and his dad and Nik and me, have become so strong that we are no longer peripheral to his daily activities —no longer merely the people shuttling him back and forth to appointments, changing him, feeding him, picking up after him; we’ve become central figures —the ones he wants to play with, to dine with, to hang out with. The ones he misses when we are gone from his side for more than an hour or two. The joy in his little face when he hears my voice when I come home from the gym. The gleeful way in which he drops everything and races to the gate when Daddy comes home from school or work; the squeals of delight when he sees his coat and knows he is going “Zoom-Zoom” —off on an adventure with one or both of us. The deep, crinkly-eyed laughter we share as he looks into my eyes when I tickle him or dance with him, or teach him how to flip backward off my lap to do a standing somersault.

The connection goes so deep, the current runs so strong and true that it makes me weepy nearly every time; we’ve waited so, so long for this connection. It feels fresh and new and exciting every day.

Nik has come light years in a few short months in the way he communicates and cooperates, as well. Nik has progressed from completely ignoring our requests such as “Hand me the red square” when we are playing with his shape sorter, for example, to not only complying roughly seventy-five percent of the time but to also no longer simply throwing his toy over the gate when he is finished with it. Now, he will bring the toy to the gate and, if one of us is in view, he will babble or make some sort of noise to get our attention and then hand us the toy.

I realized just yesterday, as I watched him try and fail a few times to get one of the pillows from the sofa over the gate, that Nik’s tolerance for frustration is increasing; he’s developing more of a determination to persevere. He still gets upset when certain things don’t cooperate with him, but —by and large— it seems that he makes so many more attempts at things before he falls apart if he cannot do it. He is more easily calmed down in the aftermath, as well.

If I see he’s very frustrated with something, I’ll let him have a bit of a tantrum over it and then I’ll come into the room and simply say, “What is it, buddy? Can you show Mommy what you want?” Usually, he then engages with me to help him problem solve; I am trying very hard to not simply do things for him any more. Nik has more than proven he is perfectly capable of figuring things out, but sometimes he just needs a little reassurance that he can, in fact, do it. Not terribly different from any other four-year old, I imagine?

I am very excited about getting Nik’s communication devices; I haven’t written much about that because I didn’t have any idea how long it would take or what to expect. We are completing the paper work to order the devices recommended during his AAC evaluation at the end of January. In the meantime, though, I just found out today that the local branch of our statewide assistive technology initiative (DATI) has both devices available for us to borrow for up to two weeks at a time. If no one else is waiting for them, we may be able to renew them for an additional two weeks which should nearly cover the processing time for Nik’s own devices. I’ll tell you more about the devices and how we can use them in another post a little later.

In the aftermath of the EEG fiasco earlier this week, our fabulous new neurologist has made arrangements for Nik to have an ambulatory EEG done locally —this coming Wednesday! We are hoping that the results will give us some more information about Nik’s odd, recurring pains. I truly don’t think they are seizures but it will be good to have the results to rule it out.

Dr. G recently increased one of Nik’s seizure meds —and we’re seeing some positive changes, thus far. The increased dose does tend to make Nik a bit drowsier —though you’d be hard pressed to tell during the day! If you didn’t know Nik and watched him play during the day, you’d think he was a fairly energetic boy; I can see that he is a bit less frenetic and is able to focus on one thing at a time for longer periods. He also takes slightly more quiet breaks and will lay down to play with a toy for a few minutes before he jumps back into the fray.

Where I really see a change is that he is napping again —up to two hours at a clip, if I let him! And it doesn’t seem to interfere with his ability to fall asleep at bedtime. Nik is averaging about ten to eleven hours a night; I wish I could say he is consistently sleeping through the night —but I am hopeful that he will again! The best part though is that both Niksdad and I think we are seeing much less seizure activity since the increase. It’s only been four days so far, but it’s a good sign.

And, of course —as you saw earlier this week— the eating is progressing very well. Now, mind you, we’re nowhere near even being able to count the calories in what Nik is eating and even farther away from thinking about losing the feeding tube. But, the progress Nik has made in the last couple of months is unbelievable. It’s as if he is constantly challenging himself to try something new.

The key, I think, has been in recognizing and honoring his need for autonomy; Nik wants to feed himself —which is right in line with his extremely strong spirit of self-determination! It seems that, as long as Nik has his own utensil —and, lately, his own bowl —and can have some measure of control over eating, he is a willing participant. I might even venture to call him a joyful participant. He still struggles with large quantities of more than a half-teaspoon at a time, or with chunks larger than a grain of rice; he hasn’t quite figured out the whole chewing mechanism but we think he is on the way. Where, a year ago Niksdad and I were running on the faintest vapors of hope that Nik would ever eat by mouth again, we are now both excited and enthusiastic. Mealtimes are wonderful family times again.

Many would say that our life goes at an insane pace —and I suppose they would be right. Between Niksdad’s nursing school, nursing clinicals, and work and Nik’s multitude of therapies, playgroup, and swimming —with the very frequent doctors’ appointments thrown in for good measure— and my renewed attempts to get in regular work outs at the gym and maybe even a date with Niksdad every once in a while, I guess it is rather frenetic. But it feels like the pace of a family finally hitting its stride after so many stumbles and false starts; like we’re actually gaining some ground right now.

And that’s a pleasant change, indeed.

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Well, in a continuation of Kristen’s reference to a perfect storm, I must say that today’s evaluation was absolutely incredible. I am practically bursting with hope and joy and good feelings. And you know what? It feels good! It must be contagious! I know, I know, it’s the whole karmic cycle, the you-get-back-what-you-put-out-to-the-universe kind of stuff but…REALLY! I am not sure if the car was actually running as we drove home; for all I know we could have been flying I felt that good!

The evaluators really got Nik —and he was gracious enough to let them. In an hour and a half, this team of two people was able to discern more about my child’s personality, his intellect, and his communication abilities than an entire school full of therapists, educators, and psychologists was able to over the course of fifteen months! That said, I must also acknowledge that both Nik’s OT (Miss D) and SLP (Miss M) contributed greatly to the process; Miss M accompanied us this morning and Miss D talked to the staff OT yesterday to provide her input. I also have to take a great deal of credit because I made damned sure that this was not going to be another “wasted opportunity.” I provided tons of information, insights, and feedback. I set up our morning so that Nik had opportunities to settle in a bit. I went in with no specific expectations —willing for once to let the process take us where it would.

And, oh, what a wonderful ride!

In the end, we came away with some concrete recommendations for a couple of basic devices and —even better —how to actually use them. Not just “Push this button to record …” but how to actually implement them as a fundamental part of Nik’s daily routines; we are just beginning the administrative process to actually get them. Perhaps most importantly, I came away with the absolute knowledge —firmly rooted in my gut now, instead of just in my conscious, rational mind —that the decisions Niksdad and I agonized over all those months have paid off. Richly.

What the team saw in Nik this morning would not have been possible even three or four months ago. I cannot fault the school for not wanting to see these things in my son, but I do blame them for their unwillingness to provide the environment he needed to make the gains I always knew were possible; I think they simply didn’t know how and would not admit it.

DL, the assistive technology guru was all that I had heard he was —and more. Or is it less? This very physically imposing man was the gentlest of giants with Nik; after a very momentary meltdown (on Nik’s part, not DL’s) there was an instant connection. DL engaged Nik in a way that simply captivated all of us. Nik gave his attention in brief intervals with an intensity I am seeing more and more lately. It is an awesome thing to witness in my child. I wonder if this is sort of like what Drama Mama was describing in this post today. In any event, DL was masterful in the most understated and reassuring way. Watching him in action with Nik was a gift.

During the course of the evaluation we watched Nik do things he’s never done before. I don’t know if he felt the good vibes and knew it was safe to fully reveal himself but it was remarkable. Sure, he sorted some cups by size and then by color (yay! those sorting and classifying skills are finally kicking in!), but Nik came to me seeking comfort and reassurance —not something he really does even in the throes of his worst episodes —and he accepted it. He complied when the OT asked him to come back to sit down with her. He initiated play with DL and then responded with appropriate frustration when DL wouldn’t let him do something he wanted to do.

DL commented to me, “it’s very obvious Nik fully understands physical cause and effect but he also clearly understands social cause and effect.” I was floored. How could this man be so incredibly insightful about my “challenging child” (what he used to be called by some of the staff at his school)?

And when did my son suddenly catch on to this whole social cause and effect thing? Clearly I wasn’t looking when it happened!

I imagine that — much like life in general —everything is a matter of perspective. DL is trained to see all actions and reactions as communication; in his eyes, Nik was communicating loud and clear. The objective, he says, is to help Nik find ways to organize those communications and to learn that there is a dance of give and take.

This morning’s experience left me with the very good feeling that Nik will not only learn to do this dance but that he will, in time, become the master.

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I really can’t say
How I feel right now
I would if I could
But I don’t know how
Just give me some time
And I’ll come around
I’ll pick myself up
I’ll dust myself down

~ I Really Can’t Say (UB40)

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

If you need words for this entry go here.

(For more Wordless Wednesday posts go here.)

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