Friday, August 14, 2009

The Wonder of it All

It's Friday and time again -in my corner of the blogosphere -for a post in line with Shelley Tucker's "Only The Good Friday." If you don't know what that's all about, it a time to spread optimism -so a cup that is half-full rather than half-empty.

And this week has been full -really full -of things that are really, really good. So good in fact that I would term them "wonderful!"

Wednesday and Thursday were both big days here for all of us but mostly for Maya.

On Wednesday, she "graduated."

But, I know you're thinking Maya isn't even six years old yet so how or what could she be graduating as or from?

She graduated from the pre-school program she has been attending for the past two years now. A very, very special program it is too and one that has brought about many changes -all for the good -in her and more than a few in those of us who are around her all the time too!

For Maya this journey actually began when she was about 20 months old and the pediatrician finally agreed that somethings just weren't quite "right" with her development. She referred her to a hearing specialist and also, set up an appointment with an agency in our area to have her tested and evaluated for "developmental delays."

Although I am far from an expert on developmental delays and such, at that time I had read enough about one particular disorder and I really believed then -and had for many months prior to these tests -that autism might be the culprit in Maya. My older daughter also had seen some of the same signs or symptoms as I had and we both felt the same. Mandy -Maya's mother -although willing to have the evaluations and testings done, didn't want to hear her sister or me mention that possibility. Not. At. All!

The day the evaluation team came to the house, I flat out asked them if they felt there was a possibility that Maya was autistic and the look Mandy shot at me -well, it was one of those that if looks could kill, I'd probably be dead!

The results of that testing was such that they did determine she definitely had many developmental delays and as such, they set up a program immediately then to being therapy for her.

That was in June of 2005 -four years ago.

The first two therapists assigned to work with Maya were only here for a couple of visits and one resigned; the other was assigned to another case I believe. But the two therapists who followed have become very much like a part of our family.

The funny thing about those two -for us -is that the Behavior/Play Therapist is named Kerri and the speech therapist, Mandy and my older daughter's name is Carrie and Maya's mother's name is Mandy. Just a neat little coincidence there, ya know.

When they began working with Maya, the only way they could work with her was by putting her in her high chair so she was restrained -otherwise, all Maya would have done would have been to run around the house -in circles -usually carrying some little scrap of paper in her hand and totally ignoring any of the many toys she had. She also would completely ignore anything anyone said to her too which had made us -and the doctor too -think there might possibly be a hearing problem. (There wasn't -as we learned from two hearing tests in DuBois and one in Pittsburgh!)

Even seated in the high chair, getting Maya to look at the therapists was a big part of the problem. Eye contact -or lack of it -is often a hallmark sign of autism -and boy, she had that issue, big time! But the speech therapist taught us a little trick she used on children like Maya to try to get -and to hold -their attention -which was while you spoke to her, to take your index finger and tap it gently on her chin and then, gradually move her head up to force her to look at you. That, and also any time we had an opportunity -like when changing her especially, we were told to try to grasp her face and holding it so that she virtually had to look at us, to do that as much as possible, Even holding her in front of a mirror to get her to look there was considered another way of enabling better eye contact.

The sessions with Maya and the therapists between July of 2005 and February of 2006, were often filled with a lot of crying and frustration on Maya's part. Temper tantrums were frequently occurred and if Maya didn't want some toy or whatever, anything within her reach often became airborne.

One night at the supper table was when we also discovered certain sounds were offensive to Maya and would cause her to erupt. This night in particular, I had cooked ravioli and Mandy was trying to get Maya to eat some more and Maya did something (I don't recall exactly what now but it was something that warranted a bit of a reprimand) and I made that kind of clucking sound -sort of like a "Tsk tsk" type thing which really upset Maya and she took both hands, swishing them across the high chair tray and that movement sent the plate of ravioli flying all over Mandy!

It was during those first eight months that we saw the obsessive-compulsive aspect surfacing with Maya too as she would take the blocks that Kerri often used to work with her and she would line them up on the highchair tray. If the first block Kerri gave her had a letter on it, then any subsequent blocks had to be placed on the tray with the letter side up and they had to be lined up in as straight a row too as a child of her age and skills could master. She did the same thing with the little matchbox cars that Mandy, the speech therapist, often used to work with her. And we learned too that she was also very adept at working with wooden puzzles and could identify the spaces where the pieces were to go and put them in there in short order.

The speech though -it took till February just after her second birthday before we finally got her to repeat a word. And that first word which brought cheers -and tears of joy too from Mandy and I -was "Two" -said in response to us asking her, over and over and over again, "How old are you?" It came out sounding more like "t-chew" but when she kept saying that to our question we figured that was her way of saying "Two."

And once that word came through, she started to pick up -slowly at first -but then gaining in speed -several other words. By the time June of 2006 came around, she was able to identify magnets Mandy had on the refrigerator of the alphabet and the numbers one through ten. She not only could say them but yes, upon seeing each letter or number, she could say what it was. Then she began to count and to our surprise but without any coaching from us, she learned to count from eleven to twenty simply from picking it up by watching "The Count" on Sesame Street! Needless to say we were astonished and also ecstatic.

That fall, when she turned three, she could have gone to the preschool program then -as it begins for children at age three but both Mandy and I felt that she really wasn't ready to leave home just yet so we held off on sending her to that program until the following year -in the fall of 2007.

The first day of school for her was something very exciting -and yet one of those days too that the excitement also brings tears too. That first day, my son made sure he was here with Mandy and me as we got her into the carseat in the van, kissed her goodbye and then waved gallantly as the van pulled away. All three of us were crying as we walked back into the house that morning!

By the time Maya started school that fall, we also had another addition to the household -Kurtis, her little brother was born in April of 2006, shortly after Maya's vocabulary had started to appear.

With his arrival, we wondered how she would adapt to having a new baby in the house -if she would exhibit lots of jealousy perhaps, but actually, there wasn't all that much of that then as she basically just ignored his presence!

We had taken Maya to church with us from the time she was about two weeks old too as we felt the best way for her to learn proper behavior in church was to start early-early and for the most part, that had worked fairly well. Not that she wanted to sit still after she started walking but she accepted going there with no problems until May of 2006 -right after Kurtis was born.

When he was three weeks old, we decided to attend an evening service as we thought with that being a smaller service, it might be easier for us and with having both the kids with us to adjust.

Well, we got one heck of a surprise that night though. As we pulled into the church parking lot, Maya began to fuss and fidget. But after calmly talking to her, we got her out of the van and headed into the church and that's when all Hell broke loose -and that is putting it a bit mildly!

As soon as she set foot into the narthex, she let out a scream that was so loud and shrill that it was really what you could call "blood-curdling!" It was so loud and such a shock to some of the parishioners in front of us there that I swear one older lady jumped a good 2-3 inches off the floor! I ended up staying for the service and had Kurtis with me while Mandy brought Maya back home and then came back about an hour later to pick Kurtis and me up! Although we tried a couple other times after that to take Maya to church, we ended up always leaving her at home with her dad because she would have such a fit. Apparently there was something about the building or parking lot -whatever -that threw her into such a panic that she was in terror-mode about going to church. The Sunday that July when Kurtis was to be baptized and we had no choice but to take Maya with us, I ended up seated out in the narthex for the majority of the service, holding her tightly while she sobbed, wailed and screamed the entire time!

Her fears about the church didn't subside for a full year and then, once they did cease, she's been very good about going to church now since the summer of 2007 and usually sits very still during the service. One side note too though about her going to church though is this: In our church, when communion is given, those present with babies and small children, take the little ones to the altar with them and as the pastor gives out the bread and the wine is distributed, the minister places a hand on the baby or child's head and says a brief prayer over the child.

A few months back, when Maya was visiting with Mandy's best friend and her family, Mandy's friend noticed that as Maya was giving little "treats" to Jen-Jen's dogs, she was saying something to them and after listening closely to what Maya was saying, she told Mandy she was giving the dogs' communion. With each little treat she gave the dogs, she would put her hand on the dog's head and say "This is the body of Christ, given for you!" Needles to say, our Minister has had some good chuckles over that as we have too!

About the time that Maya started going to this special school, we had also noticed many of the same signs/symptoms appearing in Kurtis as Maya had had and so Mandy called and requested an evaluation for him then too.

The team arrived and initially told Mandy that quite often a parent with one autistic child often see autism at every corner in another child -and the therapist who said that was also the one who, after doing the evaluation, had tears in her eyes as she told Mandy that she was sure that Mandy was right and that Kurtis too had autism.

So, a month after Maya started school, therapy was put in place then for Kurtis and we lucked out in that he was assigned that same two therapists that Maya had and also, was assigned an additional one -an occupational therapist too! Thus, Roberta -the OT -entered our lives!

Kurtis is making a lot of improvement with all the therapy he has received and in June of this year -at the age of 3 years and 2 months -he started attending a program like the one Maya has been in but just at a different school. And lo and be hold, his teacher there is Kerri -the behavior/play therapist who worked with Mandy, then him for over a year before she took this teaching position with the agency.

And this week, on Wednesday, the school Maya has attended for the past two years had a "graduation" ceremony for the children who are now moving on to a new and bigger school. For Maya, that means she will start kindergarten -a full-day program no less -at the elementary school of our local school district!

What an accomplishment this is for her!

Now, here's a few of the pictures Mandy took on Wednesday at Maya's graduation:

Here's Maya, all excited to be at the picnic in honor of her graduation and on the right, here she is again, seated with Mandy -her very, very proud Mommy!

Grammy didn't get to go to the graduation event though as I had to stay home to get Kurtis on the van for his school program!

Here's Maya's buddy - Jacob -who was also her traveling companion on the van to and from school -as he got his certificate from the teacher -on the left and then, Jacob and Maya together on the right!

On the left is another of Maya's school buddies, Taylin, with his Mommy, Lisa and here's Tay, on the right, handing over his graduation papers.

Since this was also a picnic for the kids and families, of course, they had games too. Here's Maya "Milking the Cow" on the left and playing some kind of a ball game which Mandy reported back that she loved!

So neat to see my little pride and joy having so much fun.

And here she is again, on the left -really giving that old cow (cardboard I believe) a heck of a workout there! Wonder what was in the two containers under the cow anyway?

Here's the three musketeers -Tay, Jacob and Maya -all looking up! Mandy said that try as they did to get a picture of the three kids together looking directly at the camera, this was the closest they could get to getting them all at least looking in the same direction!

Here's Maya as she gets her graduation papers from her teacher, Miss Kacey!

And here she is -our little star -as proud as a peacock to show off her certificate of graduation!

And this is Maya sitting with her TSS -Christine -the wrap-around aide who will be with her when she starts kindergarten in two weeks. For her, the TSS is really needed to be there to quell any fears that may arise and also, to keep her on task -hopefully meltdown and tantrum free -or as much as is possible!

Yesterday -well yesterday was the last day of school for Maya at this very, very special school and one that we are extremely grateful is in place in our region! The teachers have worked very hard with all the children in the classes there and their work has been quite evident as we have seen such positive results in Maya. Thanks Pam (Maya's teacher last year) and Kacey (Her teacher this year) and to all the aides who helped to make this such a great and very positive experience for Maya as well as for us!

We'll be forever in your debt for seeing that this special little girl has received such a wonderful head start with her educational process!

Now, isn't that all just something that is definitely "Only The Good" though for this Friday?


Dianne said...

I love all the photos
Maya is shining!!

She has so many people who love her and support her - what a wonderful accomplishment for all but most of all for Maya

Sandee said...

And there is so much good if we just pay attention.

Have a terrific day and weekend. Big hug. :)

Casdok said...

Congratulations Maya! May you continue to make enourmous strides :)

Maggie May said...

Maya has done so well and I feel sure it was because all the therapies started when she was so young.
Well done all of you.
Great steps you made Maya!

Jocelyn said...

Goodness, Jeni. This is HUGE. Congratulations to every one of you, from Maya to Mandy to YOU to all the teachers and supporters who have helped Maya move forward. What a heartening post!

lattégirl said...

You, Jeni, are to be commended for your constant love and patience. Best and most devoted gramma in the world, I think.