If there is one thing Eli is really good at, it’s imaginative play. He sees fun and adventure in anything. You see stuffed animals, Eli sees a villainous bear who fights a helpless monkey, give him a play kitchen and he becomes a five star chef. He loves building forts, playing hot lava, and pretending he’s stuck or hurt just so he can be rescued. As I type this he’s in the occupational therapy waiting room playing with a road map rug. He puts his stuffed Ryder toy on a caution sign on the rug and makes him catapult into the sky yelling “AHHHHHHH!” Then he walks him to a parking lot and pretends it’s a restaurant and says “YUMMY! Nom nom nom”When Eli is in imagination mode I can see how much he knows and is learning; things that I haven’t even taught him. I heard once that kids are like sponges, they absorb everything they see and hear. Eli learns things from his family, daycare, teachers, therapists, movies, everything!
Yesterday we were playing this dumb game on his iPad called plants vs zombies (I mean really?) but he likes it. These zombies try to walk to your house and the plants stop them. After playing for a while, Eli started walking around the house hunched over with loose arms, pretending to be a zombie. Other things are more productive like watching old McDonald songs on YouTube and learning all of his animal sounds. Watching his therapist perform a task and he copies.
Kids are amazing learners, even those with delays or disabilities. Eli has come SO FAR in the few months he has been in ABA, speech, and occupational therapies. It is so amazing to see how quickly he is picking up on everything. It gives me very high hopes for him.
The other day during ABA we took a trip to the park. There was only us and another mother with two kids there. As soon as we stepped on the grass this boy (maybe around 5-6yrs) comes running up and talking to our therapist about random things: Spider-Man, rocks, school). He turns to Eli and says “hi, do you want to play with me?” Eli, being nonverbal, walked away without saying anything. The boy stood still for a second looking at him then took off running. He sat down on a nearby rock and started crying. As he cried he screamed (very loudly) “nobody ever wants to play with me! I don’t have any friends! Why doesn’t anyone like me?” It was so uncomfortable. I knew that Eli was just nonverbal and didn’t mean any harm, he just didn’t know what the boy was saying. I went over to the boy’s mother and explained to her that my son was nonverbal and autistic and he wasn’t intentionally ignoring her son. She went over and explained to him. This is when Eli, completely on his own, saw the boy being sad, walked up to him, waved, and motioned for him to play. All on his own! Sure, it would have been perfect if he had done it right away.
Eli has a lot of difficulty in social situations with people aside from my husband, myself, and his therapists. He can’t tell when children are sad, Annoyed, or angry. A lot of times he doesn’t even hear what other children are saying or asking him. Hearing that boy cry like that broke my heart. The sad thing is, his mother seems completely unphased but the boys outburst, leading me to believe that it happens all the time. My first thought was, will this be Eli when he is older and starts to realize he is a little different? It’s a possibility. But after seeing how far Eli has come in the short few months we’ve been doing intensive therapy I see so much progress from him. There’s not a doubt in my mind that he won’t become a great little boy that all the kids wants to play with.
I was looking into getting Eli a therapy dog for quite some time. One to keep him from wandering when we’re out in public and to help him calm down from tantrums. All of the nonprofit organizations for therapy dogs around here won’t help us until Eli turns 4, so until then I try and find opportunities for him to get used to animals. One of our ABA therapists took in a lost dog and I had her bring him to a couple visits. Most recently we offered to cat sit for my husband’s coworker.
The cat came over when Eli was napping and when he emerged from his room and saw a black cat outside his door he shut the door and hid in his room. When I came in to see if he’s ok he pointed past me and said “yeow. Yeow. Yeow.” The cat was scared the first few days and hid from all of us. But after a week has gone by the cat has really grown to like us, or at least just tolerate us; especially Eli. He calls the cat Yeowy. When he comes down from a nap and is looking for him he will walk around the house saying “Yeowy?? Yeowwy!!!” When the cat does something bad Eli will tell him “Yeowy no!”, when the cat is in his way he will say “Yeowy go!” when the cat is on the kitchen counter he will run up and say “Yeowy down!”. Of course because a cat is a cat, I try to be around to enforce Eli’s demands. I want him to know that he is heard but a young cat may not be the best audience.
The cat is going home soon and Eli will be sad; I on the other hand, am ready for it to go back to his home. However, I will say that I am glad we got to have this little experience because I got to see how Eli would react to an animal in the house. Now I want to get him a therapy dog even more! It gives him more opportunity to use direct language to another person besides mommy and daddy (he doesn’t address any of his therapists directly, he will do so more generally. Ex. Instead of saying “Richie go!” he will just tell him “go!”. When speaking to my husband and I he says “Mommy/Daddy go!”) With the cat he picked a name and addressed it directly, which I loved! I think he also got a real kick out of being in charge of something in the house! Overall I would say it was a very good experience for Eli!
When you have your first child you never picture yourself contacting the special ed department to enroll him in school. Eli is only three so I am currently in the process of enrolling him in a developmental preschool at one of our local elementary schools. I really went back and forth with the idea of doing a developmental preschool versus a private preschool/headstart. I always think, does he really need it? Will this be too much for him? Will he learn enough in this class?
One of the pros of doing a developmental preschool, first and foremost, is its free. I’ve written before about us being a struggling one income family, so every penny saved helps a lot. Also, this developmental class has a school Speech therapist and an occupational that will come in and do rotations with all the kids. So, since he will be in school half the day, he will be missing out on some of his other therapies, this way he can still get some services while attending school and get other therapies after school. Also this class will have a mix of delayed children and average developed children so they call all play off and learned from each other. The averagely developed children will act as a model for the delayed children so they can see how something should be done.
There are no real cons of putting Eli in this class; he will be with other children like himself, he won’t be as behind as he would in an average class, he will be getting extra therapy, and they also help with potty training. I just never thought I would be enrolled my son with the special education department, and to be completely honest it’s sad. My dream is that in the next two years Eli will be brought up to speed and will be able to be in a regularly functioning kindergarten and will be able to move through school like the rest of his fellow students. I will be trying everything I can to get this kid up to speed so he won’t have to struggle through childhood.