Why today’s dance class brought tears to my eyes:
One year ago this June…
M is at a children’s occupational therapy clinic that came recommended by a number of people including the county Early On program for children with disabilities. She is being evaluated for sensory processing problems- we know she is overresponsive- and fine motor skills, etc. We were told the evaluation would last around an hour or more. We walk into the evaluation room which is like a big play room. The therapist has M try to draw some shapes, all she can draw is a circle and she has a very immature grasp. No surprises. She asks what M likes to play with. M wants to ride the bike but can’t do it on her own- also not a surprise. M won’t even look at the toys. She doesn’t play with toys at home, either. Never has. All of the doctors and team at Early On said that wasn’t anything to be concerned about but it seemed wrong to me. I told the therapist M likes cars, and she gives M some toy cars. M won’t play. She tells M to drive the cars around. M gets mad, starts crying and throws the cars. We weren’t in the evaluation for 15 minutes. I will never forget phrases like “severe dyspraxia” “inability to interact with toys or pretend play” “unable to even participate in testing” and “intensive occupational therapy for at least 6 months”.
And it was true. M had a hard time climbing stairs, couldn’t dress herself or ride a bike after she turned 4. She had never played with toys or used any imagination at all. I was worried, but this confirmation that something was seriously wrong shocked me. People talk about mourning when their child receives their diagnosis…I was actually relieved when I got her Aspergers diagnosis this spring, but the severe dyspraxia did have me depressed a little. Thankfully she responded really well to a year of occupational therapy, and after just 6 months she could dress herself almost fully, ride her bike (not well, but much improved), and actually started occasionally using some imagination & pretend play. I will never forget the first time she used her imagination. She came into the livingroom from the kitchen crawling and meowing like a cat with a cat tail from the dress up box attached to her pants. It was so amazing, even though it only lasted a few seconds. Can you imagine never having seen your 4 year old PLAY??? So sure she can’t hold a pencil correctly or use her hands for very long (her fine motor skills tested in the 2nd percentile at her neuropsych eval), but she can (sometimes) play! And ride a bike, and not fall off chairs & run into walls like she used to! And then today…
M was at dance class. She would not participate. She sat on the floor stimming, fluttering her hands by her face and chewing on them, a vacant stare on her face. The wonderful teachers kept gently coaxing her but she didn’t want to join. Finally, maybe because they were doing some acro, which she loves, she decided to join the group about half way through the class. It was her turn to do somersaults, which they were just learning to do with teachers’ help. Not M! I wish I could have taped what happened next.
M ran up to the mats and flipped into a somersault with no hands and proceeded to jump up & right into another no handed somersault 3 or 4 times until she came to the end of the mat! It was amazing! This little girl who a year ago didn’t have the motor planning skills to even dress herself or “drive” around a toy car can do handless somersaults, way beyond what other 5 year olds can do. She also handled the backward somersaults & cartwheels beautifully. Other parents were saying things like “wow, look at that little blond girl!” Instead of “aw, look at that poor little shy girl by herself”. At the end of class one girl said goodbye to her and she even said “bye” back! She didn’t look at her, but she said bye. That’s an improvement for her.
I am so proud of my girl. Of how hard she has worked to move an inch where other kids naturally mastered some of these tasks long ago. Sometimes it seems like we haven’t made any progress, like when she is threatening to kill me for the 12th time in a day. Lately her behavior has been worse and I have been fighting to get her to take her Omega 3 supplements, which help. So today I really needed to see that. To remember how far she has come. How far we have come, because I have been researching and pushing for answers, therapies and help since I first became concerned when, by 6 months old, she had never once laughed. It is a long journey but she is doing it. In a pretty large dance class filled with her neuro-typical peers, this little aspie is rockin’ the acro. That takes a lot of motor planning. I am tearing up just thinking about it.
My girl is moving mountains. She will be ok.