I can remember that I was living so deeply “in the forest” this year that I did not “see the trees” I was so deep in concentrating on Elizabeth’s sensory needs, her therapies and their follow-ups at home as well as our older daughter’s needs and well...LIFE that I don’t think I looked up to take full notice of that changes in Elizabeth and some of her new growth. “Michele, she needs her own social group. Elizabeth is such a social child” That was the direct quote from our first speech therapist when Elizabeth was four years old. Kathy was her name and I simply trusted her completely. She explained how Elizabeth would follow and attempt to engage the children who had appointments before and after hers and how Elizabeth looked so happy being with other children. I remember taking a moment to let her words sink in and during this moment I wondered if Kathy WAS right...was I so busy doing “life” that I did not notice? WAS I so busy getting from day to day that I simply did not have the time to see that this was the next step for Elizabeth? Sometimes when you are dealing with the special needs of your child, you can forget the “typical” needs they may have.
I found myself quite thankful for our therapist for a new reason. At this time, we had been on our journey for about two years, maybe a bit more and as such, so much was new to us. But the one thing I realized for the first time then and truly countless times since, is that the therapist can become a dear friend to you and your child. And as such they can have opinions and ideas for and about your child that can be very helpful. They can teach your child things you cannot, and expose them to ideas you don’t have the ability or brain space to figure out how to do. This is a good thing...no, this is a GREAT thing. Listening to Kathy made me think of this thing called socialization....So much socialization takes place in the school or preschool setting....Social skills are being learned and mastered and one of the key pieces of socialization is the ability to talk. Which Elizabeth is working hard to do. It is the sharing of feelings and thoughts. This is not such an easy task when words are at a premium, clarity is questionable and sentences still remain a future goal. I heard what Kathy said, filed it away in my “ Look into it soon” category and started to look.
The preschool hunt was on but it troubled our hearts that the words said by our daughter were coming but they were still half words and if she was stressed, there were no words and if she had fluid in her ears, (which we began to battle as long as 2 years ago), there were only unrecognizable sounds. There seemed to be a piece that was needed. We visited Mary and she discussed our need to work on the muscles in Elizabeth’s mouth not so much the oral stimulation as we talked about last post but to add in muscle work...kind of like a gym workout for her mouth. This was to help address the dyspraxia, which was why Mary showed us the bite gradient sticks from TalkTools and told us we were to try to use these to help strengthen Elizabeth’s jaw. She told us how to count to 10 while Elizabeth bit down and then to have her stop and then repeat. This was quite the undertaking as sensory issues always played a part. But we were able to achieve the goal.
Mary also had us working on using a tiny circle, called a lip block, that we were to put on the end of Elizabeth’s straw to keep her from putting the straw so far in her mouth that she was sucking on the straw without using her lips to create the seal. Therefore we would be working the muscles in her lips and how she used a straw each time she drank. Please note at this point, two important facts. Number one, Elizabeth absolutely never drank without a straw and so, number two, Elizabeth grew to hate the little circles. I bought several so that if they were to “mysteriously” disappear another one would magically appear. It was the battle of the straw circles, I smile as I think of her spunk regarding these lip blocks.
But as were doing these things we were strengthening those muscles that helped make CLEAR sounds then CLEAR words.... Mary also had us use some time each day to look at and talk about facial expressions. To help her see and talk about feelings associated with the faces. When you have been afraid of life for so long as Elizabeth was....and when you can’t hear as clearly all the time, it is difficult to discern emotional expressions. It was kind of fun doing this with her. To play act the emotion. And it helped Elizabeth to talk about feelings and emotions and to know that EVERYONE feels all the things that she feels.
These additions to our already rather full follow-up therapy schedule was hard, we were already working on a number of things so adding more was difficult and the very fact that we needed Elizabeth’s cooperation to accomplish these new ones made it difficult Elizabeth was still being brushed to help with her SPD and she appeared happier than ever but.....those sensory issues can rear themselves when she is stress and I can remember quite a few tears as we worked our way through these new sessions. But what kept us motivated was knowing that what we were doing was not just teaching her newwords but helping her mouth and its muscles be stronger for life.
Dyspraxia and these sensory issues just do not let go....but we now had a plan to address this oral component of her dyspraxia...we had new and a bit tougher work to do and we had the idea placed in front of us that preschool may be a good fit for Elizabeth. Quite of few new things are in front of us on our journey...the path twists and turns a bit but we are seeing good things...our journey continues......
Michele Gianetti writes for TalkTools Blog every month about her experience caring for Elizabeth, her daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder. Follow her story since the beginning here.