This morning, my daughter, son-in-law, the two little ones and I took a drive over to Clearfield. Actually, we went over to Hyde, to check out the school where Miss Maya will be attending classes in the very near future.
Maya will start classes on September 4th in a pre-school program that will last for the next two years. She'll be in a class setting with six other children about her age. And, all seven of these children will have one specific thing in common. They're all autistic.
The past three years, since my older daughter and I both noticed some small warning-type signs that are often autism "markers" have seen other little things too that just weren't quite right about Maya. From the beginning, when she first started to walk, we noticed she was very much a toe-walker. However, although that is often a trait of autism, we really didn't pay all that much attention to that as her mother was a toe-walker and her great-grandmother - my ex-husband's mother - is still somewhat of a toe-walker too. And, they're fine.
What really got my daughter's attention and mine initially though was the eye contact. Maya had very little of that. She would almost immediately look away from you if you tried to initiate any eye contact too. Then, she began doing a lot of hand flapping - also a marker. She often showed little response to people trying to get her attention and our concerns then became that perhaps she had hearing problems. The pediatrician listened as we explained these things we were noticing and when she too had some difficulty getting Maya's attention, she immediately had her scheduled for a hearing test. At the same time, she also referred us over to an agency here in our area that works with children and has special programs set up to assist children and families if any type of learning disorder or physical problems exist in the children.
Before the hearing test took place, two things happened. One, was that I gave Maya my own version of a hearing test - very unscientific, of course, but what it showed me was that she DIDN'T have a hearing problem. I did this with our tv set. One day, the tv was turned off, Maya was busying herself in her playpen and I turned the tv on using the remote control It makes a very small -VERY SMALL -click when you turn it on and takes about 5-10 seconds or so before the sound and picture appear. Well, as soon as I clicked the tv on, heard that tiny sound, Maya was scrambling to stand in the playpen and by the time the picture and sound came on, she was already up and waiting for that to happen. She had definitely "heard" that little noise, therefore, her hearing issues we were worrying about most likely were selective in nature. She just didn't want to be bothered by us.
About two weeks prior to the hearing test, a team from the local agency came to the house and did their initial evaluation of Maya. Their determinations were that she was at that time, developmentally delayed but, if there was any issue that showed up on the hearing test, they would have to re-assess her and her scores would be changed. At that time, Maya was about 20 months old but the tests they did on her showed her levels at anywhere from that of a seven-month-old up to a twelve-month-old child. I inquired then if there was a possibility she might be autistic and they said that could be a possibility but they were not certified to do evaluations for autism.
However, based on their assessments then, it was recommended that Maya receive therapy at home and the agency then provided two therapists who began working with Maya within about a two week period. They've been coming here once a week, for roughly an hour at each therapist's visit and the changes we've seen in Maya have been astounding.
The one young woman is a behavior therapist - actually a "play" therapist and the other is a speech therapist. These two have worked really hard with Maya and it shows too how well they've done their jobs too because today, Maya has definitely showed major improvements in her actions.
It took from June of 2005 until probably January or February of 2006 before we started to see really noticeable changes in Maya, but once they started to appear, it was almost like someone had opened a floodgate.
She began to pay attention to toys - which she had and still has a very abundant supply of those items. Prior to the therapists intervention, Maya's version of "play" was usually just to pick up a piece of paper she found and then, carry it around as she ran through the downstairs of the house. Suddenly she was playing with blocks, with cars, dolls, and even putting little wooden puzzles together correctly too. No, it wasn't that she was doing this ALL in a totally normal fashion overnight but the mere fact she was interested in those things and putting forth some effort then to play with them appropriately was astonishing to us.
About the same time as the play therapist began to get results, the speech therapist was effecting changes in her too. She finally said her first word a year ago this past February - answered us when asked how old she was by saying "Chew" -or two, in her pronunciation.
Since then, she has advanced fairly regularly and today, plays appropriately with all her toys -even to the point of having conversations with her dolls, talking to herself too while playing with other toys. Her vocabulary is constantly growing too - sometimes, because she does do a lot of echoing at times (also a big trait of autistic kids) -it almost can make you wish she hadn't begun talking! Not really, but trying to get her to be quiet is now as hard to do at times as it was to draw out those first few words.
The purpose of our visit today to the school was two-fold. First, it was a way for us - her parents and me - to get a glimpse of how the teacher operates, what skills they try to teach the kids and what methods are employed. It also gave Maya a chance to see the school too and get a tiny bit of familiarity with the building, the classroom, the toys - everything.
Her teacher told us the people who run the van pick-up/delivery service (door-to-door) will probably contact us sometime next week and do a test run for timing how long it will take them, on average, to get Maya from home to the school. It will also allow for her to meet the driver and realize she will be riding to school, alone - no Mommy, no Grammy there with her.
Having seen Maya's reactions today to everything about the school, provided the travel part goes ok, I think we're definitely heading down the right road with this program.
She absolutely loved the place - from the playground outside which we had to pull her away from that to get her to go inside the school to the classroom and all the many different toys they use and especially to her reactions to the teacher and the two aides who will be working with her.
And, in this instance, that's really a very good thing.