just six months
19 July 2001
Today marks an anniversary of sorts: exactly six months ago, we took Damian to Dr. Jay and began this strange journey through the looking glass.

I wrote a post to my MayMoms list a couple of weeks ago delineating Damian’s progress. Now seems an apropos time to post it here. He’s progressed a little farther in language since then, but otherwise it’s pretty on target. It certainly shows how far he’s come in such a short time. If you’ve been reading the journal all along, you’ll know some of it. Still, there’s something about having it all in one chunk that makes it more tangible. We live with him every day and sometimes lose sight of the larger picture, I think. This is as much a reminder to me as it is a list for you.

    As of January, Damian was whispering exclusively -- never talking aloud at all -- and quoting a lot from books, and sometimes narrating his own play but not speaking communicatively -- not saying "I'm hungry" or "I'm hot" or "I want to go outside" or "I miss Daddy" or "I hate school" or even the preschooler's favorite word, "no!" None of it. And he couldn't answer a question, not even one as simple as "What's in that picture?" even if he'd just been telling himself what everything was called. He had the vocabulary but couldn't use it on demand. Now he can. At least he can start to.

    He says "I want juice" when he's thirsty, he says "Mommy come" and "Mommy sit" and "Mommy go away" and "I'm hungry" and "move hand" (when you're blocking his play with your hand) and "wake up!" when you're lying down. He occasionally says full sentences: "I want to get out of the swing," for one, or "Daddy went to get Damian's pudding, he'll be right back." He easily and readily says "no" and "yes" (but no much more often, of course). There are plenty of times where you'd expect a kid to say something, ask for something, and he doesn't, though -- he can't think of the words yet.

    He's talking aloud much of the time, though he still often uses a soft voice and sometimes needs to be reminded not to whisper. ("Use your big voice, I can't hear you." is a phrase we use a lot.) He still often has trouble with word retrieval -- at those times he needs to be given a choice ("Is it a cat or a dog or a fish?") and then the words are in his brain. He sings now -- everything from "She'll be coming 'round the mountain" to "Somewhere over the rainbow." And he readily tells you what noise a given animal makes (cows go moo, snakes say "ssss"). This is new as of the last few weeks, and shows an encouraging ability to think abstractly.

    If I ask his name, he'll tell me, but if a stranger does, he remains mute. He also knows he's a boy and will tell me, and that he's three years old. The school district speech therapist who assessed him told us his expressive speech is at a two year old level and his receptive is more like 2 1/2. I think she's wrong about the receptive language (her test asked him to identify activities he didn’t recognize because we never do them). I'd guess his understanding of language is at age level. The school psychologist seemed to think so. In fact, he said all of Damian's cognitive skills measured between three and three and a half.

    Damian's doing well in other arenas too. A major component (if not THE major component) of his condition is sensory integration dysfunction. He's overreactive to some sensory input and underresponsive to others, and it plays havoc with his sense of his body in space, among other things. So it's been a big deal for him go down the slide in the park. He'd never do it on his own. Now he does, and he loves it! He also had a shoe fetish: he'd scream bloody murder if you took them off before bath time. But since he started occupational therapy, he's been fine with having them off the moment we come inside the house. He's never been comfortable with his clothes off, either, unless he was in the tub. I'd always watch other kids run around naked in the yard and wonder why Damian was such a prude. He isn't anymore, at least not as much: today he spent a large part of the day clad only in his diaper.

    He's more comfortable and charming around strangers; he warms up much quicker than he did. His eye contact is variable still, but getting better. He didn't ever transition to his previous preschool in the three months we went there (I stayed with him every single day). He let me transition out of his current school in just four days.

    A lot of his fluttery little tics are diminishing. He used to lie on the floor when he felt overwhelmed around other kids or in a store or whatever. I can't remember the last time I've seen him do that. He used to bang his head against the (padded) back of the armchair. Hasn't done that in months. He used to shake his head just to feel the motion. Not anymore. He still does certain things: he runs in little circles sometimes, for instance, but overall his stimmy behaviors are massively reduced.

    He's learned to hug properly: he used to sit in your lap and passively let you hug him; now he puts his arms around your neck. He's also learned to kiss. Loves to kiss. Often showers us with kisses. It started after I told him a kiss means "I love you."

    He's much more attentive, too. Used to be if we were out in the park, he'd run ahead and not look back for several minutes. Now it only happens if he's completely confident of where he is. Otherwise he checks in often. This feels more natural/healthy. Used to be, too, he’d never ever turned around if I called his name. Now he turns around immediately. (Unless he's purposefully tuning me out, like any typical three year old.)

    Also, and this is important from a developmental point of view, he's playing more imaginative games. Used to be, he'd push his Brio trains back and forth, or push his Matchbox trucks back and forth, or... well, you get the idea. He'd even toss out the driver of some of his Playmobil vehicles in favor of pure truckness. Now he plays with the figures as much or more than the vehicles. He's gotten very into tree cutting since he saw them cut down the tree outside our (old) house. He makes the machine noise and has one of his little people climb up with a toy knife or scissors and hack away. He also loves play food and feeding it to various toys and dolls. He creates simple scenarios. I recently spotted him using a wind-up toy vacuum and having Daddy Bendo do some housecleaning with it. Today at speech therapy, he rocked a doll after giving it some milk.

    He's still got a ways to go, though. He's not comfortable instigating scenarios when he's playing with an adult and is very nervous about playing with another kid. His scenarios lack a certain connectivity -- he can't bridge the imaginative gap from one step to the next easily, though I can see the beginning signs of that happening. And he's still clearly got sensory issues and speech delays.

    But he's only been in speech therapy since February, occupational therapy and his special needs preschool since April, and getting floor time therapy (other than with us) for the past two weeks. So really he's doing pretty damned great. We're not the only ones who think so: Heidi his OT says she's never seen a kid progress as fast as he is (she also says she could just eat him up), Laura his ST says he's one of her best kids, Gamma his floor time therapist says she has so much fun playing with him, she really looks forward to their sessions, and his teachers at preschool just glow about him. He's one bright kid and we're starting to see the tangible proof of that. He's also very motivated by praise and warmth, and that's wonderful to experience.

The first speech pathologist we went to, back in January, said that some kids are eager to learn and others aren’t, and you can’t tell which are which until you sit down to try. The ones who are eager progress fast and do great. Damian’s made it clear which category he fits in and it gives me tremendous pride and hope for the future.

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copyright 2001 Tamar