When JD was diagnosed almost two years ago, a good friend of mine (my autism mommy mentor if you will) gave me the best piece of advice. She said, “Lindsay – it’s going to be hard. I won’t lie. But you will see JD make amazing progress. It won’t be overnight though, it won’t even be over a month. You’ll only see it over large chunks of time. Wait till you look back at the end of a year, that’s when you’ll see it.” That advice has been the most important insight anyone has given me. I remember when JD started therapy I wanted immediate results. It was so frustrating to go to therapy with him every day and watch him struggle with the same exercises. “Say train” – JD, “say train.” Weeks, months passed, and I’ll be honest, you really start losing hope. But then, just when you least expect it, it clicks. It’s those moments when you remember that it’s not a race, it’s a journey.
As we begin 2012 it’s important to celebrate the successes we made in 2011. When I started this blog in May of 2010 it gave me a place to journal my thoughts. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would become a timeline of JD’s accomplishments. I’m so thankful for the friends, family (and complete strangers!) who have been there along the way, without you this journey would be a lot more difficult.
So without further ado, here are JD’s Top 10 Accomplishments of 2011:
JD’s talking up a storm. He’s even speaking in sentences. One of my favorites being, “Mommy – Kyle needs to go to time out.” Lol. It might not always make sense – it might include a good amount of JD-jibberish, but he’s communicating. He’s telling us what he wants, what he needs, and sometimes what’s he’s feeling. It was almost two years ago that I VIVIDLY remember JD saying “bubble” – his first real word. We were in behavior therapy, blowing bubbles over and over again. I remember the tears coming down my face from happiness when the word came out of his mouth. I remember spending each day at home with him in his high chair practicing, blowing bubbles all morning. He’s come SO far and I never take any word out of his mouth for granted. Even when he’s asking me the same question 15 times in a row like, “Cow orange chocolate milk Mommy? (which translates into I want more chocolate milk)” But my all-time favorite thing he’s ever said is, “Mommy’s a pretty princess!” Talk about heart-melting.
“Fork Please Mommy”
This may seem like a small one, but it was big in our family. JD started using a fork independently! He’s also able to drink from a cup now without it spilling down the front of his shirt. These are examples of fine motor improvement and they took a long time for him to master. We’re still working on other fine motor activities like holding a crayon the right way and cutting with scissors, but I think he’s going to make big strides in this area in 2012.
Finally, a Blanket
Since JD was born, he never would let me put a blanket on him other than his “lovey” – a little brown blanket with a monkey that he grew out of by the time he was six months old. Every night I would have to dress him from head to toe in warm clothes because I was always afraid he’d be cold while sleeping. And every night I would try to put a blanket in his bed and he would yell, “no blanket!” One day, after he started going to school, his teacher made me bring a big blanket for him to use during nap time. I explained to her that I doubted he would use it, but she could try. Maybe it was luck, or the influence of peers, or just the fact that his teachers are amazing – but in the end JD started using a blanket – finally! He loves his “cars lightening mcqueen” blanket and now at night I don’t have to worry… our next step? Moving from the crib to a big boy bed. We’ll see how that goes.
Going to School
When JD was first diagnosed, he spent countless hours in 1:1 therapy for speech, behavior, fine and gross motor and play. His interactions with other kids was very limited, mainly his siblings and his cousins and few neighborhood kids whose parents understood his developmental problems. That was due to the fact that JD could blow up in a tantrum at any minute and potentially hurt someone by biting, pulling hair or hitting. I can’t say other moms were beating down our door for playdates! When we moved and I went back to work I had to put JD in a regular daycare. He went from a 1:1 therapy situation to 2:15 classroom – there were 15 kids in his class and two teachers. It was really difficult for him, but it was also great for developing his social skills. He had to learn to share, learn to follow directions and learn to participate in groups, all while dealing with the sensory overload of a loud room with lots of kids. After five months of trying to acclimate it became clear it was a too big of a jump for him, so we moved him to the autism prek program in our local public school. Now he’s in a class of 9 kids and 3 teachers and he LOVES it. This morning he even said, “Go see Miss Ehrli – she’s my favorite teacher.” We’ve got a year and a half till he starts kindergarten and I can’t wait to see how far he’s come by then!
ABCs and 1,2,3s
Recently we started using our iPad to help JD on preschool learning skills and it’s been wonderful. When you have a child who can’t really communicate it’s hard to know what they know and understand. When we started playing games with JD on the iPad we realized he knew his letters, number, colors, shapes and much more. It was really exciting to see him point at a hexagon without any help from us! I had no idea he knew all that – but what makes the iPad wonderful are all of the great apps created to encourage learning while making it fun and rewarding. I’m so thankful for this technology and I know we’ll be using it for a long time to come.
Pee Pee on the Potty!
Oh my most hated parent-duty… potty training. I have to admit I’m possibly the worst potty trainer in the world because I hate it so much. But one great thing about JD going to school is that I can’t put it off any longer. The teachers know he’s ready and he’s doing an amazing job keeping dry all day long! Again, the iPad has been a huge help in this area – we found it as a great reinforcement (thanks to Miss Katie who thought of the idea!). If he sits on the potty he gets to listen to a Thomas the Tank Engine book and to turn the page he has to push the pee pee out. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m so impressed that we’ve come this far!
When JD started occupational therapy I remember three things he hated the most: climbing, sliding and swinging. He was terrified of them all. We had to work for months to get him to climb up the rungs of a ladder and sit down by himself to go down a slide. Last night our family went to dinner at a one of our favorite places – Joe’s Crab Shack. It’s not that we like the food (I don’t even eat seafood!) but they have this AMAZING outside playground designed to look like a pirate ship. My husband and I can sit and watch all three kids play while we eat in peace. It’s worth every penny. But as I watched JD play last night I sat in amazement how quickly he could run up the stairs, across the jungle gym and down slide down the slide. It’s so easy for him now. In those moments I realize that all of the hard work pays off. We might have to push him each step of the way, but it’s so worth it in the end.
We’re coming up on JD’s 4th birthday and this year I’m really excited because we’ll actually has friends to invite! Usually it’s just my friends and their kids, plus his sister and brother, but now that he’s in school he’s made a few friends of his own. One of my best friends has two little boys – a 6 year old and 4 year old. I love taking the kids over to her house to play because he’s just a typical kids while he’s there. They don’t understand (or even notice) his autism and he follows them around like they’re the coolest guys in the world. I know as he gets older it will be more difficult for him to make real friends because of his social issues, but right now I love that he’s just a kid.
If you look back at old posts, you’ll see pictures where JD’s hair was crazy long. He HATED getting his hair cut. I remember we used to have to put him in a highchair, Jason would hold down his arms and I would clip away as fast as I could while he’d cry so hard his nose would bleed. It was awful, and we only did it when absolutely necessary. His therapists recommended that we start doing it more often so he could get used to it and realize it wasn’t going to hurt him and then we started to do short “mini cuts” where he’d get a trim every week. He still doesn’t like getting a haircut, or his nails trimmed, but he does it without a fight. We’re even using a buzz clipper now, which is a huge accomplishment. I can’t imagine how scary that noise and feeling is. Even though sometimes I miss his long waves, I love his little buzz cuts. He looks like such a big boy now.
One of the best things we did last year with JD was taking him to SeaWorld. It’s 15 minutes from our house, so you’d think we’d be there every weekend, but taking three kids to a huge theme park with large crowds, lines, and loud noises was not our idea of a relaxing weekend. In November Jason’s brother and his wife came into a town and we decided to take the kids to the park. Four adults, five kids and two cars (in case anyone needed to leave early). JD did GREAT! He loved it – he even loved the shows. It was a great day for our family and the kids had a blast. We’re even thinking about getting annual passes just so we can “practice” going so we can build up to taking a trip to Disney!
So what’s in store for 2012?
I am so excited for this year because I know JD is going to continue growing in his development. I can’t wait to see what I’ll be writing about next January. I’m really glad that I started this blog when he was two, because day-by-day it all becomes a blur. But this gives me a way to look back and remember how far we’ve come. I’m just thankful to have so many wonderful people in our lives that encourage him and accept him for the amazing little guy he is!