It’s been a while! My last post was more on the informative side of things. Therefore, I think it’s time for a more personal update. On that note, Augustus is absolutely THRIVING right now. It’s more than amazing. He is doing things we didn’t know if he’d ever do. One of his therapists even commented “I never thought I’d see the day…” I attribute most of his success to his applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. He has absolutely flourished since starting.

It is very common with autism to have extreme interest in certain things or objects. They say that an autistic child’s interests are often lifelong. Gus has taken a real interest in animals, especially jungle animals. In ABA therapy, he has a place mat with jungle animals on it and a bin of toy animals. Since those were introduced, the words have been coming. It’s also not unusual for interests or preferred objects to come and go, but animals, music, and vehicles of all kinds seem to be a stronghold for Gus.

At first, he was just saying the name of animals. I hate to say ‘JUST’ because that in itself was huge. He said “tiger”, “kangaroo”, “froggy” (see video at end of post), “ducky”, “elephant” (his version), “giraffe” (his version), “bear”, fish (or shhhhh), and probably more I’m not remembering off the top of my head. What’s adorable about Gus is that he tends to whisper when he’s trying out a new word or sound, so it can be easy to miss. Once he is more confident, he will say the word or sound out loud. For instance, he was playing alone at home with his animals and I heard him whisper “turkey” clear as day. He has never said “turkey” when playing with me or in therapy, but I caught him in the act.

He then jumped from just saying the names of animals to actually labeling them! As in on his jungle animal place mat, they could ask him “Where’s the tiger?” and he would point to it.

It’s also important for me and everyone else to understand and remember that just because he develops new skills, words, sounds, etc. it doesn’t mean he will use them on any kind of regular basis. For instance, he may say a word and we won’t hear it again for months…or even longer. What is amazing though, is that you can see him thinking and recalling just by the look on his face. The other thing to keep in mind is processing time. It takes Gus longer to process things. We need to be sure to give him time and help to instill the confidence that he can come up with and say things on his own, even if it takes a little longer. I was told that there have been cases where processing time has been up to 7 minutes. I just love to see him thinking and studying and trying. It absolutely breaks my heart sometimes when I see him working so hard and I see his little lips moving, but he just can’t quite come up with what he’s trying to label/say etc. His brain and his body just aren’t communicating correctly.

Along with processing time, we also have to keep in mind that Gus is VERY stubborn. Seriously, who would have thought Dane and I would have a stubborn child? (HAHA!) We have figured out over time that there a lot of things he can do, especially physically, that we just have to wait him out on and make him do himself. Because he struggles with some things, it’s just easier for him to let others help him, but in order for him to get stronger and learn to do things on his own, we have to wait him out. It’s a tricky prospect. For instance, in the Sensory Gym at LifeScape where he receives therapy, there is a ladder leading up to a platform then to a slide. He had been working on the ladder for a while in Physical Therapy (PT) and always required help. Well, one day he was super motivated in ABA and we watched him go up the ladder almost completely by himself. Then we knew he was physically capable. So, from then on, in ABA therapy, we would put him on the ladder and just wait him out and encourage him because we now knew he could do it himself. We’ve waited several minutes before, but he will eventually do it. The other tricky thing is his sensory needs and lack of safety awareness. If someone stands behind him while he is on the ladder he will lean backwards and pretty much completely just trust fall backwards seeking pressure. So, we figured out that we have to stand at an angle and not too closely behind him so he knows the only direction is up. This is just one example. We’ve figured out a lot in the last month or so.

Speaking of sensory needs, one thing that has revolutionized his learning and attention span is a specific kind of chair, a Rifton chair I believe is what they call it (see photo below). It is a chair that has a part that comes up in the middle between his legs and almost like foot pedal looking things on the floor at an angle that Gus can put his feet on. The chair also has a straight back and high straight sides that keep him a little more tucked in giving him that sense of pressure he craves and needs to better concentrate. He loves to put pressure on things with his feet, so the foot pedal type attachment on the chair allows him to push down when he feels the need. We went from not being able to keep Gus’ attention for more than 30 seconds TOPS (usually less) to up to several minutes now. IT’S HUGE!! Who would have thought a chair could make such a difference. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Rifton Toddler Chair with Adaptive Positioning. (This is the exact chair Gus uses, except his has a bar thing on the seat that goes between his legs.)

I am starting to feel more confident in my parenting all the time. I am starting to figure out what Gus wants and needs. In fact, I was even able to bring him back down from a sensory meltdown at church a few weeks ago. I was so proud of that! I took him to the cry room for a while and got him calmed down. We were then able to go back out and sit in our pew for the rest of the sermon. I wasn’t even completely horrified that he had ripped a page out of a hymnal causing an older lady to audibly gasp as if someone had passed out or something. (Haha!) Nobody knows him like his mama. I’m doing the best I can to understand what he needs from me and his surroundings in general.

I have a lot more to share. I got busy and behind; more later.

Signing off for now.

-AMom’sFaithUnbroken

OF NOTE: One of Augustus’ speech therapists said he could now probably be considered MINIMALLY VERBAL as opposed to nonverbal. We hope to progress to mostly verbal.

Welcome to the Jungle

When Augustus was born, he was born hungry and ready to eat; and eat he did. He has always been a big eater, and a big kid. In fact, per his measurements a few weeks ago, he could actually pass as a 4-year-old per his weight and height. He seems to always be hungry and always game for a snack or meal. In the beginning, he would eat just about anything and was less picky than his older sister. Throw anything at him, he’d eat it.

Eventually, he became more selective about his foods, as any kid does. This has progressed into him being very selective about what he wants. The part that makes this so hard is that he cannot tell us what he would prefer or what he wants, but can refuse or protest to things he doesn’t want. We do try with pictures and PECS, but we aren’t very advanced in that yet. Like I said, Gus seems to always be hungry. He’s a growing boy. How do I know when he’s hungry? He starts wandering around the kitchen fussing and whining and looking around for something he wants. I try to show him his pictures to get him to indicate what he would like, but he rarely has patience for this. Therefore, we begin the guessing game! I offer and he refuses or accepts. If he refuses he pushes (or throws) what I offer him away and says “Doe!” Or “No!” If he accepts he just takes what is offered and runs. As most 2-year-olds, he has very little patience. When I finally offer a food he will accept, if there is any preparation or cooktime involved, he pushes in front of me whining and reaching while I’m attempting to prepare his snack or meal, and will sometimes even push me. He’s a big kid, so I get a workout in. It is very stressful; kind of like Hell’s Kitchen, but without actual words, having someone yelling and screaming at you while you’re trying to prepare their food.

He goes through cycles where he has “preferred foods”. The longest lasting cycle was bread, buns, and things like that. He was always happy with bread and refused most other things. Unfortunately, this phase of the cycle ended and we had to figure out other “preferred foods”. Next was fruit, especially bananas. This phase in the cycle didn’t last as long as bread. If we’d have let him he would have ate nothing but bananas. He was crazy about bananas! Then today he decided bananas are no longer a “preferred food”.

Here’s the thing…children with autism spectrum disorder and/or sensory processing disorder tend to have eating and feeding difficulties. They tend to get fixated on a food and refuse to eat anything else and then finally get sick of the food they’ve been fixated on and start a new one. You have to understand, new foods in general are hard to introduce, as Gus has issues with texture, taste, smell, color, and so on. There is seriously a super long mapped out process for introducing new foods. You start with them even accepting the new food on the plate to actually touching it and work your way up from there. I had no idea it could be such a process. If there is something not preferred on Gus’ plate he tends to throw that food on the ground or just flip his entire plate or bowl.

Gus also struggles some with the mechanics of chewing, sitting at the table, and with the motor skills involved in feeding himself and using utensils. We have to hold utensils in his hand and use our hand to guide his hand to the food and then to his mouth. It’s not easy because he knows just using his hands is faster and more efficient, and that he gets to feel the texture if he uses his hands. He also lacks the coordination required to use an open cup, and with his sensory issues would prefer to stick his hand right in the liquid before he tries it. He also likes to squeeze and study the texture of his foods, and will even take a bite and get the feel in his mouth and then take that bite out to visually study it. (All very messy.)

To address all of this, Gus is doing some feeding therapy at LifeScape once weekly. His chewing has improved and he has been better about taking bites rather than stuffing his mouth full. I can also get him to sit at the table and finish a meal on rare occasions, which is better than never.

We also have to worry about his nutrient intake. Since he has preferred grains and now fruits, we struggle to get him the protein he needs for growth and to keep him full. We got him to a point where he would accept peanutbutter, so we have been trying to incorporate that into his diet in different ways (on fruit etc.) so he’s getting that protein. Granted, he refused it yesterday.

This is not a situation where we have a picky eater and it’s a battle of wills. We can’t use the “Eat what I make or go hungry!” It is his body literally adversely reacting to certain foods for any number of reasons; texture, consistency, smell, color, etc. I think if Gus had his way he’d love to go back to eating any and everything. He loves to eat.

So, everyday, several times a day, we deal with the frustration on our part and on his part. Eating isn’t just eating around here; it’s a process and an adventure.

Right now, our saving grace is chicken nuggets. We have found a brand and way to cook them that he likes. Therefore, he is getting protein! We try to be careful not to burn him out on his favorite, but the kids gotta eat and if his preferred food is all he will eat, that’s what he gets.

He is also sometimes particular about how his food is served. He used to love macaroni n’ cheese and would eat a big bowlful of it. Now, he refuses to use a bowl and only wants a bite at a time in front of him or he will flip his bowl or plate and refuse to eat it at all.

Anyway, now you know all about what my kid eats, ha. I bet you were dying to know.

This is just another piece in the autism puzzle I thought I’d share. I don’t know if it is something that will ever go away, but there are parts that can be improved upon.

Gus is doing well. He is getting much better with eye contact and focusing for longer periods of time. He still isn’t using words much, but is understanding more all the time.

We are now also diving headfirst into the lovely sleeping issues that come with his diagnoses, but that can wait for another post.

– AMomsFaithUnbroken

Big Eater to Big but Selective Eater

Today I was hit right square in the “feels”. My phone greeted me this morning with my Facebook Memories, which are a recap of things you’ve shared on Facebook in years passed.

One year ago, I shared a picture and an update about Augustus, who had just turned 18 months old.

The caption to this picture read:

This guy is 18-months-old today! 😲 Can you believe it!? I can’t. 😒 He is a boy of few words, which I think is largely in part to the fact that his older sister never stops talking. πŸ˜„ He is always on the move.πŸƒβ€β™‚οΈ Even when he watches tv, he walks around. He loves to crawl up onto things and climb. πŸ˜“ He has grown 3 INCHES in the last 6 months, and is very close to being off the charts for his height. His height to weight ratio is perfect. So, in other words, he’s a big ol’ healthy boy! πŸ’ͺ He’s still a big eater and isn’t too picky. πŸ— He adores books and asks to be read to often. πŸ“— He also likes to sit by himself and look at books. He’s really into throwing and rolling balls around.⚾️ He loves anything with wheels. 🏍 He has a little camoflauge blankie with a stuffed animal deer head on it that is his absolute goto for comfort. ☺ He has to have it to sleep. 😴 He’s big on sleep. He gets a little fussy and wants to go to bed or take a nap and is all for it. πŸ‘ He still likes to wrestle and often uses his head as a weapon. 😏 His sister likes to boss him around and even push him around. 😣 He’s such a lover, though. He usually doesn’t fight back. He loves to give hugs and kisses, and loves to rest his head against mine for some snuggles. He is the sweetest. πŸ˜πŸ’™

Sweet, huh?

Then, in the comments, I elaborated on some details my friends had inquired about:

At this time we were starting to come to terms that maybe something was going on with Gus, but just weren’t sure, and not yet willing to admit it.

I could take the caption to that adorable picture and pick it apart, piece by piece, and show you that what I was describing, although very vaguely and unaware, were some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder.

Autism taketh away…

Notice in the comments I mentioned the words he was using? Although they were few, he was using words; for a while. They eventually went away.

That’s what really hit me. It hit me that I’m not even sure I remember what that sweet little voice sounded like, because I never thought it would go away. We all take so many things for granted, such as the voices of our loved ones. I was fortunate enough to hear him say “mama”, which is more than some can say, and I am blessed in that.

That’s what autism has taken away. It took away my son’s voice; his ability to communicate verbally. What I wouldn’t give to hear him say “I love you.” I’d even love to hear him argue with his sister.

While he still makes noises and sounds, he does not speak. Maybe he will again one day, but maybe he wont.

Autism took away the future I saw for my son and my family.

Autism took the wind out of my sails (initially).

Autism rules my schedule and routines.

Autism filled me with doubt and changed the way I see almost everything.

Autism requires my son, my baby, to work so much harder than most to be socially accepted and understood and to learn. He learns differently.

He is different not less!

Autism giveth…

Autism has given me absolute proof that love requires no words. None. That in itself is probably worth more than everything it has taken away.

Autism has given me a new outlook on life and a new way to view things.

Autism has broadened my horizons and introduced me to things and people I would have likely never come across otherwise.

I’ve got some hella wind in my sails now! It took it away, but sent it back with a vengeance.

Autism has given me understanding.

Autism has given me an understanding that words are not needed to communicate.

Autism has given me strength; so much strength.

Autism has renewed my faith and renewed my trust in God.

Autism has given me an entirely unique, loving, affectionate, smiley, and happy son to fulfill my life; my family’s lives.

God has entrusted me with what is perfect and planned for me.

I always wanted to be a mother. That’s all I ever knew. When it became obvious that may never happen I turned to fertility treatments and had my beautiful daughter. Then God, in his own timing, blessed our family with this amazing and unique little boy who would bring us all together and build us all up in strength, understanding, and love, and show me a side of motherhood many don’t see.

Both of my children are perfect for me and to me.

Autism: It Giveth and It Taketh Away

– AMomsFaithUnbroken

Autism: It Giveth and It Taketh Away

Welcome to PECS (video)

For now, we will show Augustus the picture related to the activity we will be doing to help him learn which pictures are associated with which activity. We will also give him choices at snacktime, with activities, for TV shows, etc., letting him choose between a few pictures in the given category. We also plan to implement “first and then” showing him what we will be doing and what will come after to help him with transitioning from one activity to another. When Augustus gets a little better with his motor skills and gets this whole PECS thing figured out, we hope he will eventually be able to hand us pictures to let us know his wants and needs. Then, for on the go, maybe we will be able to incorporate the use of PECS on an electronic device such as a tablet. He has done pretty well showing me what he wants for a snack when he gets hungry and frustrated and I show him his snack pictures. Hopefully, his frustration in general will decrease overall once he knows he can get what he wants and communicate with us via pictures. It’s all a work in progress.

-AMomsFaithUnbroken

(He also has some pictures in his bedroom that aren’t in the video. We will add more pictures and options as necessary.)

I figured it was about time I give an update since diagnoses.

We just redid our IFSP (individualized family service plan) with Birth to 3 and changed some of our goals and frequency of therapies.

Gus is seen for OT (occupational therapy) 2x weekly, PT (physical therapy) 1x weekly, and Speech (speech therapy) 3x weekly now. He will also be seen at daycare 1x weekly for a while to see how that’s going, and will be seen at times at home, too. It feels really good to be getting him the help he needs to thrive.

We are traveling to LifeScape in Rapid City, SD, once weekly for 3 of the above mentioned therapy sessions. The others he does at the local school.

This should be our set schedule for a while now, but will all completely change come June when he turns 3 and is done with Birth to 3 Services. We have a plan for that time, but are still working out the details, and have a lot to get figured out before then. All I know is that there will be some very big changes for us for a while starting this summer.

I still spend some time every single day on the phone with the State, doctors, therapists, etc.

Yes, I still have to fill out paperwork all the time.

So, how are things going you ask? Really, pretty well. We are actually seeing some improvement with the therapy he has done so far. He is paying attention for longer periods of time, walking for longer periods of time without “refusing to have posture” (as we call it), and has quit biting mom, dad, auntie, and grandma! Therefore, he has already met one goal on his IFSP – He has quit biting!

We are always constantly working to understand his sensory needs and have purchased a few things for him to use at home, to include a trampoline.

We do our best to apply what we learn in therapy to his everyday life.

Now, onto the PECS thing in this blog’s title. What is PECS? The Picture Exchange Communication System. (Click the highlighted text for more information.) In a nutshell, it is a way for nonverbal people to communicate using pictures. Right now, we are working on showing him that if he points at or gives us a picture of what he wants we can help him get it or get it for him; It being whatever is on the picture. It’s a process that takes a lot of time, but he has shown some progress with it.

We know he knows things, but just struggles to communicate. For instance, he can look at a book of animals with an animal on each page and push the corresponding button with a picture of the animal on it. He has matched things for us before, as well.

He is going to be doing some specialized occupational therapy for eating and feeding at LifeScape. Not just fine motor skills for utensil use, but also finding out what it is about certain things he doesn’t like and why he has certain behaviors when he is eating. Since he has SPD (sensory processing disorder), it could be any combination of things to include textures, temperature, consistency, etc. It would be nice to get some things figured out so I don’t feel like I need a pressure washer to clean up my kitchen after evey meal.

We are also using some sign language as well for words such as “more”, “wait”, “stand”, “swing”, “bath”, “yes”, “no”, “all done”, “milk”, “drink”, “food”, etc. He has never himself signed, but I’m doing my best to always use the signs when communicating with him and practice hand over hand singing with him. I try to get his older sister in on it, too.

He is also saying something like “dooooh” (I perceive this as “no”) and pushing things away that he doesn’t want.

The older he gets, the more frustrated he gets, which is totally understandable. My heart breaks for him that he has to work so hard to do every day things we all take for granted. He will live a life of struggle, but with many accomplishments and things to celebrate, and I’ll be right there with him to struggle with him, help, and celebrate.

We have also found out that Gus’ lazy eye that was turning in pretty significantly has seemingly self-resolved. So, right now, surgical correction is completely off the table. Woo hoo! Also, unlike the rest of his family, his vision is great without any glasses or any kind of correction. I tell you, he dares to be different in every way. Yay, Gus!

I feel like I have finally come to a place of acceptance and am believing more every day that this is all meant to be and that I am exactly where I need to be. Life is feeling less scary, for now, anyway.

Until Next Time,

-AMomsFaithUnbroken

Show Me Your PECS!