My youngest son has been quite a trooper. Near the top of this year, we realized what I had already suspected. . . that he was on the Autism spectrum. At the time, he was only two years old but was significantly behind in some developmental areas. Looking at him, you’d never know. He’s usually smiling; always bouncing, jumping or running; curious and adorable beyond reason. After being frustrated with our pediatrician for missing cues and dropping the follow-up ball, we enrolled him in a therapy program designed to help with his developmental delays. In Texas, there is a health and Human Services program called ECI – Early Childhood Intervention. One of their main tenets is to make sure that all families have the necessary supports and resources to enhance their children’s learning and development. Based on our zip code, we were assigned to Easter Seals as our provider. If you are not familiar with the organization, here is an interesting snippet from their website “Nationally, Easter Seals is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with autism, developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, other special needs, and disabled veterans.” I was not familiar with them either, but now I feel they are a part of our family’s story.
Being evaluated for treatment services (some in-home testing that was really more like games) and beginning with a therapy schedule was sort of a tough transition for our little man. Having several therapists visit our home weekly to challenge him and educate us, plus scheduling and keeping track of all of those visits was tough for me. Gladly, little Mr. Peanut really handled it well. He started using more words, being able to focus on one particular activity and being able to follow directions better. After a while, I could tell he was looking forward to the visits from his Early Childhood specialist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist and Nutritionist. Since the ECI program is only for children 36 months and younger, we packed in as many visits as we could before he turned 3 in September. Here he is pictured graduating from the program (in our den), with his awesome Occupational Therapist – Lindsay, who he grew a real sweet spot for. All of the ECI staff, including our case manager Lillie, were understanding, caring, very knowledgeable, patient and great with our family’s youngest member.
Once he turned three, we enrolled him in a local elementary, in a special education class. The ECI program helped with the transition. It was a hard decision, I was worried about my baby since he’s so young and does not yet communicate at his age level. Since he’d made progress with the therapy, I wanted him to be in an environment were he could continue to progress. He has done well in school. The staff at our local elementary (shout out to all educators) has been very attentive and understanding. My little guy comes home singing his ABCs, he’s saying a few more words, and is even associating letters with the sounds they make. Recently, after some car trouble, he even started riding the bus to school! I’m super proud of his resilience and his progress. Changes are not easy on little kids, especially those with sensory differences. Truth be told, sometimes changes can be too much for even adults, sensory issues or not. It would have been understandable for all of the changes of this year to prove to be too much. I’m so glad my son is meeting each new challenge so well.
Recently, the little man even went on his first field trip! I tagged along out of curiosity. The special day for kids with special needs at the Health Museum in Houston was just that, special. The kids were greeted by three wise men bearing gifts . . . little jingle bell bracelets for every kid who entered. In addition to the museums exhibits, there was a huge Christmas tree, carolers, a magic show, cookies and punch, a Teddy bear for every kid that attended, and an area set up for pictures with Santa. By the end of the trip, my tiny dude was tired. He would not go into the room where Santa was. I and some teachers tried several times to get him to take a photo with his class but, he just wasn’t feeling it. Santa, understanding the needs of the kids in the museum that day, graciously boarded the bus to wish us well before we all left. I commend all of the volunteers involved in the festivities, many of whom were seniors, for making that day delightful.
The other day, I had to drop the little guy off at school. Running late, one of those mornings. Okay, truth is little guy did not feel like riding the bus that morning, perhaps he was still too tired. I’m not sure. Anyway, the front office admin called for his teacher to come pick him up. I was rushing, hair half brushed and completely blown away to see him run up to his teacher and give her a big, sweet hug when she arrived. My kid does not just give hugs away. In fact he’s known to avoid paying people any attention at all. Those on the Autism Spectrum can have an array of social differences. Seeing him hug her like that showed me two things. One, he’s come quite a way in short span of time. And two, the people who have helped us understand and navigate this journey so far – the caring therapists and teachers and staff – are really lifesavers. I’m glad the kid likes his teacher as much as we do. And I’m glad that my little inspirational peanut is continuing to grow in so many ways. Take a cue from him, and challenge yourself to grow through changes in this upcoming year. I know I will.