Charlotte's Journey Home

Just a Regular Kid, Sort Of


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Is Charlotte a Regular Kid?

This post will be the first in a series bringing you up-to-date about our nearly-year long odyssey with developmental and occupational testing for Charlotte and its outcome. I will start at the end because I don’t think suspense works for this blog: Charlotte was found to be a typically developing child with some fine motor concerns. Not visible to most people, these concerns might affect her around third grade if not addressed. So we are, of course, addressing them.
The introduction:

My friend Mark asked me a few months ago if I am finally ready to say that Charlotte is a “regular kid.” In many respects, yes, she’s as regular as they get. She talked about her fifth birthday beginning in February (at least) and behaving like a silly (or moody) five year old for at least 5 months. She goes to school gleefully most mornings and comes home hungry and exhausted most afternoons. She loves to play outside, build with Legos, and act out her favorite books and movies. (If you hear me saying “Off with her head,” it’s only because she insists I play the part of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.) She is curious, goofy, cuddly, and kind.

In other ways, she’ll never be a completely regular kid. Or maybe we’ll never be regular parents. She has not been fed by g-tube since November, 2007 and the tube was removed in June, 2008. Like most five-year-olds, she eats like crazy some days and barely eats on other days. She has a limited repertoire, but it includes unlikely kid foods like black beans, chipotle ranch dressing, and (sometimes) cauliflower. She is average weight for her (above-average) height. But, Philippe and I can’t help tallying up her calories on a regular basis and fretting over her weight. We will probably never stop worrying that she’s not getting enough calories. And, as a result, we’re probably helping her develop some unhealthy habits regarding condiments, chocolate, and other calorie-additives. She won’t drink milk without chocolate or strawberry powder in it, for instance.

We’re learning all the time what her extensive hospital stay may have cost her developmentally. None of the weaknesses are visible to the naked eye and with appropriate therapies, none should effect her ability to live to her intellectual potential.

Does that make her a less regular kid? The fact of her need for occupational therapy does not make her less-than-regular; her therapy clinic treats lots of typically developing kids. The fact that we have spent a year having her rigorously tested and chasing every bit of information results (and that she never questioned why), probably, from her being not-so-regular. Or, from us being not-so-regular.

The Beginning:

Last June I met with Charlotte’s pre-k teacher to talk about what I might need to do with her over the summer, how to help her maintain the French, etc. I was surprised to learn that her teacher had concerns about Charlotte’s social skills, her large motor skills (both in relation to her peers), and her fine motor skills. She suggested that I look into an alternate summer program to address these concerns.

I was, not surprisingly, taken aback and disconcerted. We trust Celine, however, so we began our odyssey. I started by reaching out to the Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, and Physical Therapists who had treated Charlotte during Early Intervention. The consensus was to begin with a developmental assessment which we did last August.

Elizabeth Benney at Pediatric Resources met with Philippe and me for an extensive intake session and then had a long “playdate” with Charlotte. Her findings, summarized as briefly as I can: Charlotte is a typically developing kid with regards to cognitive and intellectual concerns. She experiences what Elizabeth termed “vestibular instability,” a sort of inner-ear related instability that results in her being less confident than her peers about her physical abilities. Thus, Celine noticed that Charlotte was afraid to take risks on the playground, especially with things related to balance (particularly balance beam, balancing above ground). The vestibular instability may (have) account(ed) for her (former) hypersensitivity to loud, unexpected noises.

Additionally, Elizabeth found Charlotte to have poor shoulder girdle strength and a lesser ability to isolate upper body movements. For instance, when asked to draw a circle on an easel, a regular kid can do so moving only her arm and shoulder. Charlotte moves her entire upper body. A regular kid can modulate the throwing of balls of different weights in order to toss them into a basket. Charlotte cannot. (Or couldn’t last August.)

All of these things, and the sensitivity to sound, cause kids to turn inward, to prefer to play alone, to have hunched posture. Many of them will self-resolve and are a delay, rather than a deficit. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in Charlotte, even without services.

Elizabeth recommended a therapy called therapeutic listening. Typically this is introduced by an Occupational Therapist and then pursued at home for 60 minutes over the course of a day. Elizabeth felt that a few months of therapeutic listening would have Charlotte in great shape for Junior Kindergarten.

So, after researching the therapy (which we thought sounded not only workable, but fun), we contacted the one OT practice that Elizabeth knew had therapists certified in this therapy, Beth Osten and Associates, to set up an evaluation.

More to come…

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Half a Decade of Charlotte!

Then (May, 2005)

Today we celebrated Mother’s Day by celebrating Charlotte’s birthday. Last year I let Charlotte write her birthday blog. This year, I want to take that job back and wish my beautiful daughter happy birthday and thank her for being my reason to celebrate Mother’s Day.
For Charlotte the birthday is all about the cake. I made cake for school on Tuesday and made another cake today. Today, we made the cake from scratch. All went well until I took the layers from the pans. One layer completely (or nearly) crumbled. The other almost split in half. The icing wasn’t quite spreadable enough. I did my best to “glue” the cake together with the icing, giggling and commenting about the pathetic-looking thing the whole time. Finally, my wiser-than-her-age daughter said, “Mommy, you really need to forgive yourself. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It matters what it tastes like.”

———-

It’s hard to believe that at at this time five years ago I was recovering from a c-section and a tiny little Charlotte was in the special nursery at Prentice Hospital. I had not yet held her. Since we knew about her heart, she was closely monitored and by the time she was fourteen hours old she had been transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital.

On May 16, 2005, the anesthesiologist carried our tiny love to the operating room. My husband collapsed in my arms and I, seven days post-surgery myself, held him up. I realize now that I had no idea what we stood to lose. My own surgery and my dogged focus on the “here and now” prevented me from imagining anything past that moment. As I look back, I think that I had not yet truly bonded with Charlotte despite having sat by her side for as many hours a day as the nurses would let me.

Last week I randomly flashed on that moment. I had to pull the car over and give in to uncontrollable, inconsolable sobbing. Clearly, we had a wonderful outcome in 2005. And now I fully understand what we might have lost. The thought is paralyzing despite the fact that Charlotte is happily asleep in her bed.

On May 16, 2010, we will celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with her classmates, her closest friends, her babysitters, and one of her grandmothers. I can think of no more fitting day to celebrate than the anniversary of the day that Charlotte was really given to us, full of potential and hope.

Now (May, 9, 2010, Cafe 28)

Charlotte, as you enter your sixth year, I wish you the evolution of your unbounded curiosity, the continued growth of your unrelenting optimism, and the full blossoming of your potential. You have taught me how important it is to slow down, reminded me how joyful it is to discover a new book or acquire a new skill, and shared with me more love than I ever knew was possible.

And, in case you were wondering–that pathetic-looking cake was absolutely DELICIOUS!