Romans 12:11-13 New International Version (NIV)
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Three days ago, Tyson turned 4. It amazes me how time seems to go so fast the older I get. I remember the moment he entered the world and what great joy he brought to our hearts! To hear his first cry and to hold him close and think of all the great things he would accomplish in his life, dreams you have for your grandchild; the same kinds of dreams you have for your children. Dreams they will be healthy and happy and know how much they are loved. That adversity and obstacles will not cross their path and if it does, they will be able to cope with those and continue forward. I remember thinking how perfect he was as I held him that very first time in my arms and thanked God for this beautiful life he was entrusting to our daughter and us to nurture and love and teach. Little did I know that not only would he face many challenges near the early part of his life, but that they would also change the way I viewed the world and allow me to see pure and simple joys in so many things I had taken for granted for so many years.
At birth, he was almost 10 pounds. He didn’t look like a brand new newborn, more like the size of a 2-3 month old and most of his newborn outfits he didn’t even fit into, but that didn’t matter because he was healthy, and appeared happy and slept through the night. Yes, we had to wake him to actually get him to do his feedings. He loved being swaddled in a blanket; the tighter the better, on one condition though, his arms could not be trapped in that wrapping. They had to be free. He still loves to be wrapped tightly in a blanket or sheet. He loves the deep pressure that he needs for his sensory needs.
Four years ago, I had no idea what terms like sensory needs or sensory seeker/avoider meant. but I do now. And stimming, I thought that had to do with floral arrangements, not something that a child with autism does to calm themselves. And what the heck was PECS? Did that have something to do with bodybuilding??? Nope. PECS is a picture exchange communication system for people that do not speak or can’t speak clearly enough for you to know what they want or need.
When you have a special needs child, there are so many terms that seem so foreign and so overwhelming that you wonder if you will ever make sense of them. You wonder how in the world am I supposed to remember all this and how do I help him make sense of it all. But God knows what we need and he places people in our lives to help us make sense of it and get us through our journeys. No matter what our journey looks like, He always makes a way.
At 26 months, Tyson was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 2. I had no idea there was such a thing as Levels for individuals with ASD and was level 2 a good or bad thing? Click here to read the difference in the levels and what type of supports need to be in place to help each person. There are three levels of ASD. Level 2 under the DSM5-Diagnostic Manual means he would require substantial support. He was non verbal. Made very little eye contact; and did not play appropriately with many toys. He was happy doing things on his own without interacting with others, but has always been very empathetic and loving, especially if he noticed a family member was teary eyed or not feeling well. He would hug you and pat you on the back, as if to say, it will be okay.
As the months progressed, after his diagnosis, we had many other evaluations done to determine if the reason he wasn’t verbal was because of a hearing disability or a speech impairment. His hearing was fine, so that meant either he didn’t know how to form words to speak or he didn’t have a voice, but that didn’t deter us. He has been in Speech Therapy for almost two years (in August we will hit the two year mark). And it has been amazing to see him learn how to tell us what he wants through the use of PECS, simple sign language and short to the point words. Most recently he has been putting 4-5 words together to express himself! His utterances may not be grammatically correct, but it is music to our ears!!
For him, his sensory needs are many. Some we are still navigating through and learning. He received a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder in October of 2016 from an Occupational Therapist that observed him and listened to our concerns/more questionnaires to fill out and he is definitely a sensory seeker. Seeking out ways to get the input his body needs in ways that aren’t always safe or acceptable. He will climb on anything he thinks he can, even if it is not something any neurotypical child would consider doing. He plays hard. Danger and unsafe don’t mean a thing to him. He knows that my coffee cup is hot, but doesn’t understand that if he spills it, he could get burnt. No comprehension between what hot is and how it can hurt. He loves to bang his head on the floor, into the wall, on the back of a chair and even though he cries, the tears only last for a few seconds and he will do it again. And he has always done this for as long as I can remember. He LOVES water. But water is always a danger, because he doesn’t understand that you can’t go under the water and stay there. The street to him is a big place to run and be free, and the list goes on.
As a sensory avoider, he covers his ears when there are loud noises such as a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer turned on, but he can watch videos cranked at full blast, at a spring concert for our granddaughter the singing did not bother him, but the band instruments made him bury his head, because they were too loud. Every day is an adventure, because you never know what noises will bother him and which will soothe him. And bright lights or a very sunny day and he will cover his eyes, but he doesn’t like it totally dark either. He has learned the difference between the sun and the moon. When we can’t see the sun anymore that means the sun has gone to bed and the moon lights the night sky. When the clouds are out at night and the moon is hidden, he searches to see where it is and he doesn’t like the explanation that the moon is hiding. Sometimes this alone can cause him to have a meltdown.
Stimming for him is a way for him to release when everything becomes too much in his brain. And just as ASD is different for everyone, stimming is different for everyone too. He loves to spin in circles until he gets dizzy which can seem like that will never happen. And when he finally stops spinning, he will start all over again. He laughs and smiles when he does this. And he loves to jump. On his indoor trampoline or a mat on the floor or when he grasps your hands and wants you to hold them while he jumps up and down over and over again. Occasionally he will walk on his tip toes for a while and I have yet to determine if this is a form of stimming or just a part of who he is.
In July of 2017, he received an official diagnosis of MERLD. Mixed Expressive Receptive Language Disorder.
Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is diagnosed when a child has problems expressing him-or herself using spoken language, and also has problems understanding what people say to him or her. Follow the link above to learn more in depth information. Being in Speech Therapy, once a week for the past two years have helped him to expand his understanding, but there is still so much more for him to learn and understand. He also receives speech services through our local school district once a week as part of his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for the integrated preschool program he is a part of.
He relies on visual supports at school and home to help him understand what tasks he needs to be doing and how to accomplish them. Or when we need to prepare him for appointments or outings, we can show him with pictures and he gets it, but tell him and he may or may not understand. And some of the visual supports need to be broken down into steps until he learns them. It doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal, until you try to teach him something new and he just wants to try and figure it out on his own, but has no clue how to do it. Steps are important. For example let’s say we want him to wash his hands. When he first learned to do this independently, he thought you just got your hands wet and that was it. So Step 1 – turn on the water (with supervision or the bathroom will be flooded in no time-no joke) Step2 – test the water-is it too hot or cold?? Step 3 – put your hands under the faucet and get them wet. Step 4 – put soap on your hands. Step 5 – rub your hands together so the soap gets all over them. Step 6 – Rinse the soap off your hands with the water. Step 7 – turn the water off. Step 8 – dry your hands. Step 9 – put the towel back. Step 10 – all done. (No more playing in the water!) Now for you and I we just simply wash our hands. But until he learned those steps he had no idea what it meant to wash his hands. And the school and us, here at home, still have to remind him that he cannot play in the water or turn it on without help. We will continue to work on that and he may get it one day or he may not, because as I said before he LOVES playing in water. Imagine having to do that for everything you want to teach him, that’s just one part of his MERLD. A very small part, but with huge skill set learning.
In October of 2017, after having two unprovoked seizures, he was officially diagnosed with Epilepsy. Since then he’s had many seizures and we’re hoping the anti-convulsant meds he is on will hold the seizure activity at bay. His meds are in liquid form which he gets three times a day in his juice or milk. Sometime’s he is wise to it and will comment how “yucky” it tastes; and I will suggest that we just need to shake it up and mix the juice. The power of suggestion has been enough so far and he will take it. Out hope is as he becomes older he will be able to transition to tablet form of the medications.
Each time he has had a tonic-clonic seizure (formally known as grand mal seizure) he has no idea what has happened only that he is extremely tired and sleeps a lot. He also has absence seizures, where he appears zoned out or staring at something no one else can see. The staring episodes have happened since infancy,but EEGs never showed any seizure activity so we had no idea to be worried or concerned. And the EEG/MRI done in September did not show any activity during the testing. There is no rhyme or reason to his seizure activity. He is not left alone because it is not safe for many reasons, epilepsy being one of those reasons.
And yes, there are many days I’ve thought how much more, Lord? How many more trials will he face, but I know that Jesus loves Tyson as much as he loves all His children.
Right now, Ty doesn’t understand and comprehend all of his medical and developmental delays, only that he goes to the hospital to see his doctors.
When he first went on the medications for his seizure activity, we noticed a shift in his happy carefree self. His meltdowns increased and his behavior became more aggressive and for lack of a better term, angry. His appetite that had once been healthy and hearty became almost birdlike. It turns out that many of the AED (anti epileptic drugs) medications used can have side effects such as the ones we’ve been experiencing and thru trial and error, it may take several different ones to find the right one.
He’s always been hyper, but never so bad that he would be too busy to eat or sleep and bouncing off the walls or invading others personal space such as his peers at school. And because he just started preschool this year, a baseline of data needed to be established before seeing if ADHD played a role in the hyperactivity. After consulting with his teachers and medical specialists, ADHD was confirmed in March of 2018. The seizure meds had seemed to exacerbate the symptoms.
Even through all 5 diagnoses, he is still full of wonder and adventure, our little blessing. Yes, some days are very challenging and difficult to find joy when looking on the surface, but if you take the time to get to know him and see the joy in his eyes and the love he has to offer, he isn’t any different than any other toddler. He is pretty amazing that he holds it together so well and many days when I get tired and wish he didn’t have to follow a medication schedule or have extra therapy to help him learn and blossom, I am forever grateful he has treatments that help.
Two years ago, he was nonverbal and. we had no idea how much he understood and/or if he ever would. Now he plucks dandelions out of the yard and with beaming pride brings them to me to smell and keep!
I will continue to advocate for him. I will continue to educate myself, our family and friends on every special need he has, but most of all, I will continue to thank God that HE blessed our family with this bright eyed babe four years ago. Our life is so much richer.
Thank you for continuing to follow our journey and being so supportive and encouraging!
May you always know how much Jesus loves you~right where you are in this moment.
Many blessings to all of you~Carlene