Sunday, February 28, 2010

Therapy update

Changes are headed this way in terms of Emily's therapy. I am so happy to see that she's progressing, but like any good teacher (or therapist), the time has come to push Emily to the next level. So far she's not too keen on what she sees.

For the past two weeks, Emily's music therapy has been ok. She wasn't talking as much as she had been, although she is still playing her instruments and singing with a lot of gusto. She is getting better on the guitar, which is just plain cool. However, it's hard for me to sit, unseen, in the other room and listen to the other kids speak up. She does ask for crackers and juice, but she hasn't learned many new words to share in a social context since. She certainly doesn't speak up for herself when asked who wants to go first, but since the last shall be first and the first shall be last, I'm hoping she's practicing a spirtiual path. Maybe?

Speech last week was just a diaster. Oh my tantrum time. In order to get Em to communicate a little more one on one, Miss Shelly introuduced a picture card system. Instead of having Emily resort to pointing and grunting at things she wants, like the cabinet with the snacks inside, she is going to learn to hand me a picture of what it is she wants to eat. This is going to help her learn to express what she wants and pay attention to the person she is communicating with, rather than focusing soley on the object of her desire. We tried this in the office with some Fritos. To say she hated it is an understatement. She pulled out all of her tricks, the hair pulling, the hitting and scratching my face, throwing herself on the ground in a fit. Luckily the floor was softer than I had anticapted.

She didn't like it, but that doesn't mean we are going to stop trying. She was frustrated by the extra step, the step involoving the other person. Miss Shelly decided we are going to make a book with the picture cards inside of it, and we are going to have pictures for food, toys, people, and places. Once this system catches on, she will be able to both "talk" to everyone through the pictures, and I will be able to "tell" her about her daily schedule and activites so there isn't such an element of surprise. That should help with some of the transition issues we've been having as well. (Transistion issue is code for throwing tantrums whenever we have to leave one place to go to another place).

I'm in the process now of taking photos of family and friends and homes to create the pictures in the book. I am hopeful, but I have a feeling this might be a bit of a challenge.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Occupational Therapy Evaluation

Miss Em had her last evaluation today for services through the state. Oddly enough, she qualified for occupational therapy even though she's only two and certainly has never had a job! Of course I'm only kidding, from what I gather occupational therapy doesn't pertain to what you do for a living. Rather, it deals with the way that the body takes in information from the world, how the brain processes that information, and how the body responds to the external stimulus.

As Miss Jeanie explained to me, when someone is eating a meal, there are as many as 32 separate types of information entering the senses all at once. There are smells, different textures to the food, shapes of the plates and utensils, lighting, cooking sounds or the sounds of people talking, etc. etc. It's a lot of stuff to take in, yes, yet the brain can handle it well enough. However, when this process isn't smooth, when the brain can't handle everything coming in, it affects the way that info comes back out. I think of it like the computer's CPU. When its using 99% of its power on one program, the other programs don't respond. And that is what is happening to Emily.

More specifically, she has a problem with her auditory processing. At times, she can hear verbal language and she can understand it. If you tell her she can watch a movie she runs to the computer. But she can't always respond verbally to a similar situation. For example, if I asked her to what movie she wanted to watch, she would go to the computer and point, but odds are she wouldn't be able to come up with the words, "Wiggle Bay" or "Dora". If I pushed the issue, she would throw a tantrum. I never understood why she wouldn't respond to what seems like a simple question. I thought she was being stubborn. It turns out she simply can't respond to these types of questions. She is focusing on the idea that a movie is coming, and she's too excited to get any words out, even words she knows like "Dora". When she is really foucsed on something, like a puzzle or a book, she can't even hear me. In Emily's head, I actually sound like Charlie Brown's teacher! Whon wonh whonnw...

I am not exactly sure how the occupational therapy is going to progress. Miss Jeanie and Melanie, our state coordinator, both feel Emily would do best participating in the occupational therapy in conjunction with her speech therapy. Sessions will be held back to back at the same facility. Hopefully this will help her progress quickly. She is a bright girl, and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to make some significant strides before her third birthday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Super Trooper Nora

In an unexpected turn of events, I have found myself promoted from mom of a Girl Scout Daisy to new Brownie Troop Leader for our local Montessori School. Wow! What a change. I really hoped that I could start working less so I could be more involved with the girls, and this is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

I think the best part about everything is the fact that it's the result of the runaway success of the troop. It seems like there are new members added every few weeks. The tipping point for Candice, the Daisy leader, must have happened somewhere around 18 or 19 girls. I got to talking to her about what would be best for everyone, and the idea to split up the girls into two groups was formed. After all, the needs of the 3 year old unofficial members are very different from the 8 year old Brownies. We both wanted to see them doing activities that really promote what the Girl Scouts stand for, namely service to others and a self-reliant attitude. Plus, splitting up the girls will allow for a little more individual attention. Currently, there are so many girls and so few adults; once they have their snack they're too hyped up and organization is out the window. Hopefully having two groups of nine will help bring a little order back to the meetings as well.

Of course I talk about bringing organization and instilling a sense of service to others...the real test will come on Thursday. That will be my first meeting as leader. It will be me, hopefully Ryan, nine girls, and Emily. It sounds a little daunting, but I think I can do it. The other teachers, the professionals, are on the other side of the door if things get out of hand. And even if I totally flop, I know I have at least one fan in my troop. Nora is totally thrilled that I'm the new leader. She has said, "Mom, I'm your trooper!!" more than once. I told her, "Yes sweetie, you're my super trooper." She thought that was funny; I don't think she realized I was being completely serious. I'll be counting on her sunny attitude and excitement more than she can know!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Emily's Group Therapy

In addition to speech therapy (ST), Emily is in a weekly group therapy setting held in the home of Ms. Angie. The whole angel in disguise comment from the last post applies to this woman as well, who happens to work with uncommunicative and socially unsure toddlers when she's not taking care of her triplets. (Makes you rethink what you're doing with your life, doesn't it?) She is friendly, funny, super nice; and Emily adores her.

Emily has been to Ms. Angie's for four sessions. Just like with the ST, she is responding really well. At the beginning of the session, the children play with toys and are encouraged to talk to each other and share. After each toy is finished, everyone has to pick up. This is something emphasized in speech as well, picking up and putting away. I can't begin to explain how much I love this aspect of "therapy"; if nothing else at least our home will be a little more tidy!

The real fun with Ms. Angie comes when the musical instruments come out. Ms. Angie plays the guitar and sings, and each child gets a turn strumming the strings. There are other instruments too, bells and moroccos and such, that the kids get to play. All of the songs are very short but completely catchy. They sing a hello song and a good-bye song together for each child, and some songs in between. I find myself singing "Shake shake, shake the moroccos" for days on end. There is a snack session too, and Emily learned to say cracker and juice during this shared meal.

In the few weeks Emily has been doing this, it has become pretty apparent that she responds extremely well to music. I have been singing the clean-up song at home when we need to put the toys away, and she puts the toys away while smiling. I sing the good-bye song when Ryan has to leave for work, and instead of having a full-out tantrum she just cries and whines for a minute. I've started playing more music in the background when we are making pictures and doing puzzles, and she is starting to learn the words. She loves They Might be Giants and Dan Zanes and Friends. We have a few albums by these artists that are fun for kids and adults. So its not unusual to hear me singing the Alphabet of Nations as we go about our day. I'd like to add that Emily does a great job as my back-up vocalist.

To watch the video for They Might Be Giant's Go Go Go Go for G! Click this link

Emily's Speech Therapy

After a number of evaluations and a ton of paperwork, Emily began her weekly speech therapy in mid-January. I really didn't know what to expect, let alone understand how someone has the ability to make a mute person talk. After the last five weeks, however, I've learned that there are miracle performing angels walking amongst us. They are called therapists. Emily is not only talking but also making eye contact. The changes are nothing short of amazing. Thank you Ms. Shelly!

We have gotten into a nice little routine, Emily and I, on speech therapy days. When its time to leave, I tell her its time to go and see Ms. Shelly. For the past two weeks, she has clapped her hands and said, "Shelly!" in her funny high pitched voice. She even babbles at the various horses and cows that we pass on the way. Once at the office, there are toys she likes to play with, although she does get really mad if, in her opinion, Ms. Shelly is taking to long getting everything started. (And to Emily, 2 seconds is too long).

At their first meeting, Ms. Shelly agreed with the other assessments that Emily is really very focused on visual things. She also noted that she's a very fast learner, so fast, that in the ensuing weeks its been hard to "trick" Emily into talking. Ms. Shelly won her over, however, with her bubble machines. One looks like Nemo, the other is Buzz from Toy Story. They are automated, and when Emily would say more or bubble, the machine "magically" started working. She was jumping up and down, totally beaming, and she learned to say "BUBBLE!!!" with much enthusiasm. I've been out of breath blowing bubbles ever since...not a problem since the bubbles also function to clean up the kitchen floor. :)

In the following weeks, she has learned a number of new words including again, all done, I like, cars, blast-off, barn, open, up, and down. She has also started repeating some of the words I've been saying to her all along, like ice-cream and strawberry, and repeating the animal sounds from her farm books. While this list might not seem totally impressive to some, for us it represents the fact that Emily's spoken language vocabulary has nearly doubled in the span of a month. I really think its a good sign for the future; she has the ability to communicate and she will. All in good time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Back to Work

I have a lot of mixed feeling about the fact I started working again this semester. I've been teaching for the past four weeks now, having picked up an Introduction to the Visual Arts class at my local community college. While I should be pretty happy about the additional income and the opportunity to use my degree, I can't say I'm thrilled. I'm not disappointed either, and I wouldn't go so far as to say I don't want to work. But, after spending so much time with the kids, it's pretty obvious that being a stay at home mom is a noble job. I get a lot of satisfaction from taking care of my family, the type of satisfaction that one can't achieve in a one-semester relationship with a student.

The girls, on the other hand, have been pretty straightforward about their view on having a working mom. Emily screams, "Mom!!!!!" and cries as I leave through the door. Nora, upon finding out I was going back to work, shook her head and said in a determined voice, "No Momma! I don't want you to go to work. I want you here with me". She hasn't voiced this opinion since, but it didn't exactly set the tone for a good first night back.

My first night back was nothing short of a disaster. In retrospect, I had simply forgotten how to deal with people outside of my immediate circle of family and friends. I am used to putting out fires by offering cups of juice and singing silly songs. Umm, that wasn't going to work with this crowd. Having to face a group of 20 unknown personalties, some of which were very vocal, totally and utterly threw me for a loop. It's getting better, but it still doesn't feel second nature. It's been a month, and I'm starting to think I may never be able to teach the way I used to, in part, because the experience of being a stay at home mom has changed me so much. The stuff we deal with in my class just doesn't seem as important as it used to. Is it interesting? Yeah, for sure. Half of the class should be called story time rather than art history, because we learn all kinds of tall tales of the great names of history. Do we have fun? Yes, on occasion the students crack me up and vice versa. I'm not saying I don't like teaching, because I do. But how can anything I teach in a secular environment be nearly as important as the lessons learned from our family and our faith? Or as heartfelt as the moments spent with our children? It simply can't compare.

So I end as I began. I have a lot of mixed emotions about this working thing.