Good Job Taking That Bite!

Good Job Taking That Bite!

I imagine there are two groups of people who use the word “bite” on a regular basis: 1) Vampires. 2) My family. 

We’re not vampires, if you’re wondering. (Or are we?) But bites are as essential to our daily lives as breathing these days. You might remember that Josh recently finished a feeding program at the Marcus Autism Center – the main purpose was to make him fatter, taller, and more inclined to eat food. We learned a ton about Josh and the way he chews, swallows, and smiles after misbehaving during this eight-week program at Marcus. 

But, as the youths say, the party didn’t stop there. After graduating the program, Josh could only continue to succeed and gain weight if we kept up the program at home. I think most people know that we do this. And since sharing is caring, I thought you might be interested to know what exactly that means for our daily lives. If you’re not interested, here’s a picture of a cat with a mustache: 

Cat

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Marcus

Marcus

Hello, adoring fans <–Josh wrote that part. I would never be so vain.

I hope you find yourself well this fine, frickin’ freezing day. Are you well? Text me about it.

As you probably know, Joshua started the Marcus Autism Center’s feeding program this week. A few of you have asked questions about why he goes and what he does there. As always, I live to serve each and every one of you, so here is the Official Marcus Autism Center FAQ By Kristen And Not The Actual Center – OMACFAQBKANTAC for short.

Why do we go? 

Josh struggles with eating in a major way. He’s very underweight and has a hard time gaining any weight. May we all be so lucky, amirite? I kid, I kid; it’s fairly terrible. So this feeding program basically teaches kids how to eat better. Every kid’s experience is different, but the goal for every child who attends is to improve their eating skills in the way they need it most.

What do they do there? 

Josh’s main goal is weight gain, so they are working to increase both the variety and volume of table foods he will eat. Every patient has a schedule – it starts with 40 minutes for breakfast, then a 40 minute break; 40 minutes for snack/oral motor therapy, then another 40 minute break; 40 minutes for lunch, then a long two-hour break; 40 minutes for “dinner,” which is what they call it but it happens at 2:30 for us.

During the 40 minute sessions, Josh tries small bites of each of the four foods they have. They try to incorporate foods he likes alongside foods he resists, i.e., all fruits and vegetables ever. They give him a spoon with a tiny bite of whatever he is eating (it’s diced up into super tiny portions), and they let him feed himself. After he does that, he gets several seconds to chew and swallow, and then several more seconds before the next food is presented. They use a fairly rigid routine and verbal cues to prompt him to eat; in between bites, the therapists get silly with him and will sing songs or play little games at the table. He rotates through each of the types of food several times in one session, and they record how long it takes him, if he chews and swallows it all, if it makes him gag, and a whole bunch of other little squares that they fill in. They must have a huge spreadsheet budget at this place.

When he gets a break, we head to the main playroom. He likes the toys in there and he made a friend today! They also have a playground (we tried that yesterday and instantly froze to death; I’m actually writing this from heaven) and a family lounge where we can eat. He gets his own nap room, and today we spent some time in there so he could have a little rest.

What do you do the whole time, Beautiful and Amazing Kristen? 

Oh, stop. (But go on.) I can observe Josh during his sessions, so I have been watching those. I sit behind a two-way mirror so he can’t see me, but I can see and hear him. During the breaks, I just follow Joshua around until he stops to play. Much like every other day of my life.

Don’t you have a second kid? 

I do! Jenna is being a trooper and will either be with me, my mom, my very sweet neighbor, or a fire station of my choosing. She is allowed to come, but I don’t want her to have to spend all day down there too often, plus she has school twice a week, so we’ve worked out a little schedule for my little girl. The schedule has significantly fewer sparkles than the girl.

How long will this last? 

This is an eight-week program, and we are there Monday – Friday, 8:45 – 3:15. In Atlanta time, this means 7:00-4:00, but the day goes by a little faster since it’s broken up into blocks. I don’t think we run into any holidays during our time there but I’m pretty sure they have therapy basically every day but Christmas.

 

Why does it matter if he eats and/or gains weight? Plenty of kids are small for their age. 

Josh has cerebral palsy, and his muscle tone is all wacky. He needs to gain weight and strength and muscle tone to keep up with the demands his body makes for physical activities. A walk around the block is a much bigger effort for Joshua than the average bear. So he needs to get stronger, and this is the way to help him do that.

Cool? Cool. See my secretary with questions.

josh-hospital
I mustache you a question…but I’m shaving it for later. 
Special Needs Adjacent

Special Needs Adjacent

Here’s to you, sibling(s) of a child with special needs.

Here’s to you and all the different waiting rooms you’ve sat in for hours, waiting for the doctor to finish checking on your brother.

Here’s to the way you defend your sister when you think someone isn’t treating her well because of her needs.

Here’s to you and the way you learn how to help your brother calm down when he’s struggling.

Here’s to your patience as your mom and dad explain that we can’t go to this place or do this thing because your sister isn’t able to deal with the noise or activity or stairs.

Here’s to every time you tried to comfort your mom and dad when they seemed sad after a visit to the doctor.

Here’s to you giving up time with Mommy and Daddy so they can work on exercises with your brother.

Here’s to the way you learn to do things for yourself, because while you are no less loved, you know your parents need to help your sister.

Here’s to you giving up soccer practice so your mom can drive your brother to therapy on time.

Here’s to you as you encourage your brother while he struggles to learn a new skill.

Here’s to you and the way you have cultivated patience and understanding for all types of people with all types of abilities.

Here’s to you, sibling(s) of a special needs kid. You had to learn early on that sometimes life isn’t fair, and that sometimes you have to pull more than your share of the weight. But, with any luck, you also learned that you are a vital part of your family. Not just because of the way you love your sibling, but because of the way your parents love you. Thank you for all that you do.

j-and-j

On Your Fourth Birthday

On Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Joshua,

Happy birthday, big boy! Four is a legit big boy age. I know you’re about 78 on the inside, but four seems pretty old, too!

This year has been huge for you, dude. You have accomplished so much. You can walk on your tippy toes now, and you are rocking the scissor crafts! Bumpy slides, climbing stairs, and riding the therapy peanut have been no match for you as you master them all!

Of course, I think we can all agree that one of the biggest skills you’ve developed is your speech. Joshua, I love you. And you are the chattiest person I know. You ask me what we’re doing, where we’re going, who we’ll see when we get there, and if I remember how much fun we had the last time we were there. I might not remember, but you do. You remember everything. You call a doorbell a “dingbell” and you have a little lisp, so when you say things like “Thanksgiving,” it sounds more like “Skanksgiving.” You’ll probably grow up thinking Thanksgiving is a holiday to celebrate giggling since I laugh every time you say it.

I love to hear the stories you make up. They usually involve Marshall from Paw Patrol and Batman or Captain America, always fighting bad guys. And they always win. You like to tell me which Bible stories you like the best, and even though you still insist Jesus will return to Earth on a rocket ship, I love to hear what you’ve learned about the Bible.

Josh, I just love to see your personality develop. You like to be silly but you do not stand for shenanigans. You like The Rules and you make sure everyone is aware of them. We all know that you’re pretty much raising Jenna at this point, and I do appreciate it. You remember every detail of every conversation we have, and you love to answer questions!

There is a possibility that you’re a tad stubborn, too. In fact, I think you get more stubborn every year. But you know, Joshua, for every moment I am frustrated with you digging your heels in, there is also a moment of admiration for you and the way you fight. You’ve been a fighter from literally the first seconds of your life. You had to be. And while we can butt heads sometimes, I would never change that about you. It’s made you who you are. It’s what kept you with us four years ago.

I know some things are more of a struggle for you. I’m sorry, because I know it isn’t fair. But you don’t let anything get you down. You don’t worry about what other people think of you. You just go out there and do your thing and if someone wants to follow, they can. And they do. Your smile is ridiculously contagious. Sometimes I know you’re up to no good and then you look over and grin at me, and I have to smile back.

Remember when you broke your arm? We didn’t even know it was broken for two weeks. Because you’re half human, half superhero. And you rocked that neon green cast.

Joshua, I want you to know how much I love you. And how much I admire you. You have accomplished more in your four years than some grown people ever will. You’ve had to work harder for every little victory, and you’ve had to struggle over the small things. Part of me is sad about that. But part of me know that it has shaped you into an incredible person who never stops trying. Your work ethic is better than mine, kid. And you have compassion for so many people in different situations. You’ve learned about different disabilities and struggles, and it’s made your heart even bigger. You love to love people.

Happy, happy, happy, happy birthday to my big little man, who always has a smile and a reminder about using our indoor voices. I hope this next year is just as great.

Love always,

Mommy

The Curious Case of the Invisible Need

The Curious Case of the Invisible Need

“But he doesn’t look special needs!”

“Well, my son does that, too.”

“Everyone has trouble with something, you know?”

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the words of our lives.

If you have a child with a special need, you probably know those words, too. You probably hear them every time you explain why little Johnny won’t go in the sandbox. Well-meaning friends, family members, even doctors say these words to you, not out of malice, but usually in an attempt to help.

You hear them because your child’s disability is invisible. Maybe not all of it – maybe only sometimes – but it’s there, invisible to the naked eye.

When I tell people my son has special needs, they look surprised. I think they must be looking for a tell-tale sign, though I don’t know what that would be. Maybe if he had tentacles? That would actually be pretty cool. But I digress.

The thing about a disability that isn’t super obvious is that parents often find themselves having to defend the reality of their situation. You don’t want to overstate things and make your situation sound dire, but you also don’t want to pretend the need doesn’t exist. You feel guilty for using phrases like “special needs” or “disability” when your child is thriving and running around at school. You feel guilty for not using those phrases when you see your child struggling and hiding at school. It’s a lot of tricky waters to navigate.

A common response, at least in my circles, is for people to sort of write off the special need. My son has trouble with noises, but “Aren’t all kids sensitive to loud noises?” My son struggles with balance and strength, but then someone reminds me that “no one ever goes to college without learning [insert skill].” My son gets overstimulated quickly and easily, and misbehaves as a result. But “All three-year-olds misbehave – it’s just a phase,” I hear.

The impression I get is that this kind of response comes from one of two places: 1) The person feels the need to reassure me; they want me to know that my kid will be okay and his needs are just as typical as the average child’s. 2) The person feels the need to make it into a competition – a Pain Olympics, if you will, that consists of comparing children to determine who has it worse. (That type of response baffles me more than the first one, but I’ll add it to the list of things I’ll never understand, like calculus and people who exercise first thing in the morning.) The over-arching theme seems to be that Joshua’s special needs are actually manifestations of the needs of every typical child, using the evidence that he looks, speaks, and acts like a typical child.

But I have a secret for you that will blow your mind. Are you ready? Take a swig of your Coke, splash some cold water on your face, and really prepare yourself.

You can have a special need and also have a lot of typical traits.

That’s right. It’s true. Having special needs doesn’t define your entire personality, anymore than being short has defined my personality (but the struggle is real). You can struggle with loud noises and still enjoy a movie. You can despise the feeling of sand on your fingertips and still brave a beach trip. You can throw a tantrum like every other toddler and still need extra help to calm down. Special needs, like all needs, are fluid. They change. You might even say they don’t make sense, because they are unique…special.

A special need is exactly what it sounds like: A unique trait that needs extra care. It might not look the same every day. It might not even be the same every day. It might come in a limp, or a sensory disorder; a feeding tube, or a special vest; a hearing impairment, or a compulsion to count trains. You might recognize it; you might not. That’s what makes it so special.

Please know that I don’t harbor any ill will towards anyone over their response to Josh’s needs. I really do understand that you don’t understand. And I don’t expect you to. I have zero clue on what it’s like to struggle with many issues that others deal with. And I can’t always relate when you tell me what you’re struggling with.

The good news is that you don’t have to relate. You don’t have to get it. You don’t have to experience it. You don’t have to give me advice. You don’t have to compare our children. You just have to trust me.

Trust me when I tell you that my son is not just being a grumpy toddler; that he is actually struggling with sensory overload and needs some time alone before he melts down. Trust me when I tell you that even though he put that bite in his mouth, his eating issues are far from over. Trust me when I tell you that I am exhausted from having to help him with every little thing that is often taken for granted. Trust me when I tell you that my son really does need help with these steps, and no amount of “tough love” will cure his low tone. Trust me when I tell you that while yesterday he was fine, today he cannot stand the slightest touch on his skin. Trust me when I say that I am not trying to compete with you or your child’s needs, or pretend like things are worse than they are. Trust me when I tell you that my son is like your son in so many wonderful ways, and different in so many others. Trust me when I tell you that while I am far from a perfect parent, I know my child and I know his needs. Trust me when I tell you that the skill he just accomplished really is that big of a deal, worthy of cake and ice cream and a thousand parties in celebration. Trust me, and smile at me when I drag my screaming child from the store, and forgive me when I decline playdates because we’re having a bad day, and pray for me when I tell you I need it, and then let it go.

You don’t have to understand. You don’t have to relate. You just have to believe me. That’s how you see an invisible need.