Life keeps throwing us curveballs, doesn’t it sweet boy? You’re a full 18 months now. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this… on one hand I can’t believe you’re that old already and on the other I can’t believe you’re only 18 months with everything we’ve gone through.
Five weeks ago, you started your intensive ABA therapy program for autistic children. 40 hours a week of this applied behavior therapy for my tiny little boy; essentially a full time job. You have no idea how much I waivered on this decision. I did so much research; talked to autistic adults, talked to professionals, read medical journals, and read random google articles/blog posts. It was a split decision; Autistic adults and a good amount of the autistic community consider ABA abuse and that its only objective is to oppress the individual to blindly follow direction. While Professionals preach that this is the only scientifically proven therapy to help autistic individuals and that since it is play based it is no way abuse. I was absolutely between a rock and a hard place. All I want is to make sure you have all the tools you need to be the best you you can be. You couldn’t give me your opinion so I was left with this internal tug-a-war of yes or no to ABA.
When we got in with a treatment facility that specialized in kids diagnosed under 2 I was hopeful. I thought; they’d have to know how to properly deal with a toddler in addition to the therapy, right? Plus, it was run by an actual clinical psychologist which you don’t see often. They had a spot for you and with still a million reservations about it all, decided to try. Your dad made a good point that we’ve never gone through this before so we should air on the side of the professionals and if it’s not right then we stop. So that’s what we did.
November 11, 2019 you began your ABA journey. That first week I stayed for about an hour each morning with you to get a little idea of what you were doing but honestly you were so uncomfortable you stayed in my lap and mostly just stared at the various therapists. When I would leave you would scream and cry, grasping at my neck like they were taking you to hell itself. This was so very hard for me as you almost never cried at drop off at daycare. That first week at home was also hell. Your self injury increased significantly and you were doing very strange things. One afternoon you came home and sat in front of a wall, laughed hysterically for about 5 seconds and then slammed your head into the ground hysterically crying. You would run from room to room just yelling. Your car seat was torture and you would slap your head, thrash it side to side with force, bite your arms and kick your legs. You also became incredibly attached with your dad and I. Ever since we did sleep training with you, you’ve loved your bed and would even push me away as you’d rather be there then rocking with me. All of a sudden, the simple idea of us putting you in your crib would cause you to cling to us and absolutely lose your mind. I cried a lot that week.
The doctor and therapists couldn’t give me a reason why there was such a sudden drastic change at home and just said that it’s an adjustment period. The second week I figured out that you got almost no physical activity compared to when you were at daycare. Once we implemented a variety of heavy work for you the behaviors calmed down significantly but you still clung to me and screamed every morning for 4 weeks when I dropped you off at therapy. It bothered me that I really had no idea what you were doing there. I never got any daily activity sheets, crafts, any information at all really. I also didn’t like your lead therapist. She never seemed happy to see you in the morning. When working with small children, especially those that are uncomfortable, you would expect them to have be super bubbly and friendly as that’s what children respond to but she wasn’t.
I voiced concerns to your case manager who said she would look into it all but said that everything was as it should. In addition to all of that, while we did see some improvements, we saw some things which made us a little concerned. You weren’t with other children throughout the day and we saw that you sort of lost the spark of interest when other young toddlers were around. You would also have these times of ‘zoning out’ where you would just stare into space. You became a little more independent but not in the typical sense; instead of just wanting to do things by yourself you wanted to be by yourself. You were engaging less and less and I really started to panic. I eventually requested a meeting with the doctor a week ago and came fully prepared. I spent 40 minutes talking and after I was done, she replied with “I am not sure this is the right fit for him.” Hallelujah! Finally, something we agree on even if it was for different reasons. Regardless, we decided at that time that you would be leaving. I felt SO good about this decision.
We decided that you would do 2 weeks of therapy in the morning and daycare in the afternoon and then you’d be gone. At this point there was no harm in me observing several sessions and they agreed. There was so much that I wasn’t comfortable with as I sat in your therapy room and observed your “therapy” for 4 hours. After leaving that day, your dad and I made the decision that you would not be going back to finish out the remainder of the 2 week transition.
December 23, 2019 was your first full day back at daycare. It had been 6 weeks since you were dropped off in the morning hustle and bustle of daycare. You walked in by yourself, didn’t cry when I left, and I sat in the hall and watched for the next 10 minutes as you went from standing and staring at the other children to smiling and engaging with them. It was the first time in 6 weeks that I didn’t leave you with a giant pit in my stomach. I feel so good about this decision and even called your dad on the way home, happy tears streaming down my face. We are meeting with a new therapist this week who would work with you at daycare and at home to see if that may be a better fit. I am hesitant but trying to keep an open mind.
In other news; your vocabulary has exploded. You say ‘mommy’, ‘daddy’, and ‘puppy’ in the cutest little voice. You say at least 25 words without us asking you to repeat us and are very willing to try to say new words. You are still so obsessed with all dogs and anything soft. Your favorite toys are the vacuum (both yours and mine) and any sort of broom or mop. You are the most affectionate little boy who will give hugs and kisses whenever asked.
You are by far my greatest challenge and one of my biggest joys. I love you with my whole heart sweet boy. With how far you’ve come this last 6 months, I can’t wait to see what the next will bring.