Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fin, Fur and Feather

            We don't give animals nearly as much credit as they deserve. Especially the little ones. The intelligence of dogs and cats is common knowledge. Cats are known to recognize emotion and can be very soothing when their owner is feeling angry or sad. Dogs can be taught many things, from something as small as a trick, to something as big as sniffing out drugs and bombs for the police. They, too, respond to a human's emotion.   But you wouldn't think a bird could act in that capacity. They don't respond to anything much beyond mimicking words, right?

              We've had Molly for 10 years. When we first got her, she didn't much care for people at all. She didn't want to be touched, and would panic when anyone came near her. It took me almost a year to get her to step up on to my hand, and another 6 months to allow me to pick her up without her biting me. She learned alot from watching her companion, Gordon, whom we had already had for two years. She would see us scratchig Gordon's head and snuggling with her, and  Molly eventually became a cuddler, snuggling with either John or myself. She would not, however, allow anyone else near her, let alone children.

             When my nephew PJ  began walking and getting in to things, he would constantly try to poke or grab the birds. Gordon ignored him, because she was used to being handled.  Molly did not care for this at all. She woud hiss and scream at him, trying to scare him away from her cage. Because she had bitten me in the past, we couldn't allow him near her, for fear that she would hurt him. We were beginning to wonder if we would have to give her away when we had children of our own. Would she act like this around them?Both birds took very well to my pregnancy. When Jordan started moving and kicking, they would sit on my belly and peck at the various movements. It was really sweet. When she was born, they were casual observers, regarding her carefully but keeping their distance.

             We lost Gordon the first winter after Jordan's birth, and Molly became very lonely. She would cling to us as often as she could, and had terrible separation anxiety whenever any one of us would leave the room. It was then that she really took an interest in Jordan. She now had someone to watch over. When Jordan began to crawl and to walk, Molly didn't respond as she had with PJ. She was interested in what Jordan was doing and where she still hissed when Jordan got near her cage, she never tried to scratch or bite.

                 When Jordan was diagnosed, it was as if Molly knew what was going on. Her whole demeanor changed. She was calm and reserved, and never balked when Jordan wanted to sit with her. She had patience when Jordan would run around her cage, or dump out her food. When her vocabulary started to expand, she would ask to "howd Mowwy." We always though that because our Sweet Pea was so high strung, she would try to run with Molly on her shoulder. But Molly brought out a sense of calm in Jordan. Jordan would sit still on either her bed or the floor, wherever she chose, and talk to Molly while the bird preened her hair or chewed on her shirt. 

        Jordan still has a lot to learn in life, but has gained alot of knowledge from this four ounce ball of gray and white feathers. She has learned patience and a modest amount of self control. The bird has taught her that she has to be careful so that she doesn't hurt herself or others, and that she has to wait her turn if Molly isn't ready to sit with her.  I encourage all Moms and Dads with kids on the spectrum, even those with typical children, to get your child a pet. It doesn't have to be a bird, but your child will gain invaluable skills and learn life changing lessons from caring for and living with this animal.


In memory of our dearly departed Gordon, March 1998- February 2008. We miss you and love you, dear little friend!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Potty Adventure

          Every parent goes through it. It's time to move on from diapers and graduate to big kid underpants. Some parents skip the Pull Ups training pants all together and go right to underwear. That was always my intention with Jordan. When she was ready, we were going to go straight to big girl underpants. Training pants were useless, was what I was always told and firmly believed. Until now.

         As with many children with Autism, Jordan has a hard time deviating from routine. Put on a new diaper before bed. Get up in the morning, change the diaper, repeat through out the day. When she got into the summer program at school, her being in diapers wasn't a big deal, as the staff was well prepared to help her with toileting. I did notice, however, that most of her peers were either in Pull Ups or already trained. So I decided it was time to go head long into this adventure. We were going to start potty training.

         I discussed it with my husband and my mother, and we all came to the conclusion that switching her directly into underwear would not be beneficial to her. Biologically, she's 3 years old, but developmentally, she's only 2.5. The sudden change would be too much for her to handle, and she could regress. So we went to BJ's and bought a big box of Pull Ups. She was reluctant to put them on when we first introduced them, and would cry and throw a temper tantrum. I would end up having to hold her in my lap to calm her down, and show her slowly how to put them on.  After a few days, she was an old pro. She could pull them up and down like a champ. But she was still going in them.

       So I discussed with her teacher about training techniques, and she suggested setting up a schedule. Take Jordan every half hour until you "catch it." So that's what we did. We set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes each time and would go every time it went off. We'd sit for a full three minutes, and each time, she wouldn't go. And then, no more than 5 minutes after getting off the potty and going back out to play, she would announce to me "have go!"  So we'd run back in and sure enough, she had gone in the Pull Ups. And this continued for weeks on end, with only a handful of successes.

        She has since started school, and they are still working with her to use the potty, as we are at home. She still tells us she has to go aftter she has already gone, and doesn't quite understand that she's supposed to tell us before she goes so we can take her to the bathroom (or, as she says, "mafroom"). Where her language skills have developed phenomenally, her ability to comprehend is still behind, and that's where our wires cross.

 And so our adventures continue. We soldier forth on this bumpy road called potty training, with hopes that the little successes will soon become big successes, and we will finally reach our place in the sun. That place where Jordan uses the potty all by herself with no accidents! Carry on, my wayward trainer! There'll be pee when you are done! Don't forget to flush and then, always wash your hands!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

1 in 110

In 2007, the CDC determined that autism affects 1 in 150 children. Just this week, in a new study, it was determined that it now affects 1 in 110. This is a 57% increase from 2002 to 2006, and a 600% increase over the past 20 years. (source:

 We first noticed that something was a little off with Jordan at 18 months. At this age, she should have at least been using two word phrases. She could say little more than  "Mama" and "Dada."  She spent alot of time spinning objects on her Fisher Price learning table, and would isolate herself when playing. My Mom called the Kennedy Donovan Center Early Intervention Program, who in turn called me to set up an evalutaion. In April of 2009, Jordan was found to be in need of services. At 20 months, Jordan's developmental delays put her at a functioning level of about 7- 10 months old. She was assigned a service coordinator (Carrie), who would come every week for an hour to work with Jordan on catching her up. I was excited, hoping that this would help catch my baby up.
            The first couple of months were tough. Carrie would come for a visit, and Jordan spent more time crying in frustration because she just didn't understand. When we got into a playgroup through EI, Jordan began to blossom a little bit. She began babbling, and really interacting with the other children. But she still had horrendous tantrums, and more often then not would have a fruitless session.  In the fall of 2009, she had made some progress, but not enough. We brought in a Speech and Language Pathologist, who determined that Jordan would probably need ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and suggested that we seek out a neurologist to determine if there was "more going on". I had bells and whistles going off in my head. They couldn't outright say they thought she might be autistic, but I knew what they meant. I had knots in my stomach when Carrie handed me a list of local pediatric neurologists, and I remember crying that night. I didn't have an appointment yet, let alone a diagnosis, and already I was devastated.  I called the next week and was able to get an appointment for January 15, 2010 through Children's Hospital Physicians at the South Shore.
        Jordan became more verbal over the next couple of months, and had even picked up on some sign language. The tiny steps she was taking gave me a glimmer of hope, but the red flags of autism still flashed in the back of my mind. In the social aspect, she followed the other kids around and would play next to them, but not with them (parallel play).  She still had her odd play (spinning objects, identifying colors on her toys in a specific order) and the few words she spoke were often echolailic. (Echolailia: repeating what is spoken to you verbatim).
               My mother accompanied me to the appointment with the neurologist. After giving her a brief history, the neurologist determined that Jordan had ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). She would need ABA right away and also needed to be in the public preschool's summer program. Having already spotted the warning signs, the diagnosis didn't come as tremendous surprise to me. I had already swallowed the bitter pill, and was prepared to deal with it's effects. But now it was official. It was on paper and it was real. My baby was now 1 in 110. I called Carrie on the way home from the appointment, and the next time I saw her at playgroup, she gave me several resources for ABA in the area. I immediately called Children Making Strides and got an intake appointment, and by mid February, Jordan was seeing a new therapist three days a week.
              Between February and June of this year, Jordan made tremendous leaps forward with the help of  both Children Making Strides and Early Intervention. At her final EI evaluation at 22 months, her delay was discovered to be between 18-20 months. She was actively using her words and signs and I was feeling very confident that she would do well with school. The school evaluation went well, Jordan qualified for the summer program and was given a 5 day, full day program for the school year. We were thrilled. She is currently doing very well in school. She can use full sentences, say her whole alphabet, and count to 30, as well as spell and say her name. Her echolailia is way down as well as her jargoning. There are times where you can hardly tell she's autistic.
            But it's still there. It's in her tantrums and her screaming fits. It's in her destructive behavior when she gets angry. It's in the quizzical look she gives me when she doesn't understand.  It will never go away. As far as she's come, she still has a long way to go.

And, as parents, so do we.

For more information on Autism, Visit these websites: