Night and Day - We Found Hope!
Blood curdling screams. Am I dreaming? I jerk awake with a groan, rolling off the edge of the bed. How many times tonight? Six, eight? Don't count! Stumbling and weaving in a fog of fatigue, I reach two-year old Michael's bedside.
"What's wrong, honey?" I croak.
"Bad dream! Bad dream!" he wails.
Little arms lock around my neck, straining to be held. Kissing his warm cheek, I settle into the rocker and softly sing a lullaby. Arms flailing, legs kicking, a sturdy fist smacks my mouth bringing the sharp metallic taste of blood. I pull him closer and continue slowly rocking, quietly singing. Sobs descend to ragged breathing and I begin to feel a loosening of limbs. Gazing down at his curly golden hair, and long sweep of lashes, I wonder what in the world is going on with this child?
Michael is afraid of the dark, yet bright lights hurt his eyes. He cannot bear loud or abrupt sounds. Frequently over stuffing his mouth, Heimlich has saved him more than once. He collides into walls and corners, seeming surprised after the impact. The boy can climb anything, leaping into space with no regard for the crash at the bottom. He repeatedly zeros in on dangerous obsessions, like outlets, and darting into the street. No amount of redirection, coaxing, or sternness, has any effect. He can take apart everything, including child locks, and baby gates. Our home is bare of all objects and furniture that is not child proof, being long ago consigned to locked closets. He bangs his head in frustration, and vomits when upset. My husband and I know something is wrong, we just don't know what.
Yesterday, I was forced by need to brave a trip to the department store. I stalled through the morning trying to think of a way to avoid it. There was no getting out of it. The boy must have shoes. With a sigh of grim determination, I faced an outing that felt like a walk to the gallows.
After we struggled through an uncomfortable bath, and wrestled into clothes he hates, we left our shadowy house, and entered a frightening world of sounds, lights, and unfamiliar places. Two minutes after entering the store he began to whimper, covering his ears, and closing his eyes. We went straight for the shoes. I tried to engage him in the process.
"Look honey, dinosaur shoes! Do you like these?" I plead.
"NO!" he screamed.
A friendly woman came past, and smiled at him, saying, "What a sad face! I like your new shoes."
Unfortunately she reached out and kindly patted his shoulder. Oh, no. That sent him into spasms of jerking, and shrieking. I grabbed the first pair that fit him and head straight for the registers. Heads peered around corners to see who is abusing the child. I stared directly ahead, pretending to hear nothing, because I knew all I could do is get him out of there as quickly as possible. He cried continuously through the checkout line, vomiting on me in the process.
Back home, nestled in my arms, Michael hiccupped and sighed, "Mama. Mama."
I whispered, "I know, baby. Everything is all right. Shhhh".
With a sinking heart, I knew everything was not all right. I wondered if it ever would be. My husband touches my shoulder, and I realize I am still in the rocker in the middle of the night. The boy sleeps. Surges of tenderness, love, and fear wash through me. Poor thing, what a terrifying life. Poor me, too. Tears slide down my cheeks and drip on his soft curls.
"How did it go today?" he softly asks, thumb smoothing my pale face, and shadowed eyes.
"The same. Today, yesterday, and tomorrow." I answer in despair. I believe there is no hope.
"Good Morning, Mama!"
The whisper of a soft kiss on my cheek. It is 6:30 a.m. and four and a half-year-old Michael is awake for the day. Looking up with one eye slit in the half-light of morning, I see an impudent grin. I smile.
"Good morning, love."He jumps onto my bed with a bounce asking, "What are we doin' today?"
Wow. He woke up only once, to go potty. I feel like I actually slept. Ahhhh. "Let's see. Today is Tuesday. We'll go to the beach."
"To fish and swim?" Michael asks, jumping up and down.
"Yes. And then we'll..."
"Go for a bike ride?"
"If you'd like. After, we'll have lunch at a restaurant. Honey, I'm about to fall off the bed. Then we come home for quiet time." I answer as I grip the blanket, trying to hang on.
"And then we go to the store? And pick up Papa?" he asks, breathlessly. My vision is a blur as I bounce up and down. I don't think he has stopped for air.
"Tomorrow, can I go to the fun house? Will I see my friends? Can I wear my helicopter shirt? I can dress myself!" Finally sucking in air, he shows no sign of pausing.
"Whoa! Hold on. Yes, yes, probably, we'll see. First things first. Shower or bath? Then breakfast." I answer with a laugh, amazed at his enthusiasm for a new day.
My boy hits the ground running. Usually smiling. Michael believes the world is a friendly place and likes most people he meets. He can clearly express his wants and needs. Meltdowns are seldom. He is finally comfortable away from me, although we like each other's company. His interests are many and widely varied. He rides a bike, collects bugs, helps me cook, tends his garden, catches fish, goes to movies, and plays ball with his Papa.
He doesn't run into walls, choke on food, or cry at lights and sounds. He no longer fears new places, and people. He is able, now, to learn. We buzz and brush, squash and jump. Our days are joyful, and we look forward to the next day.
We live. We laugh. We love.
WE FOUND HOPE . . .
We found Sensory Integrative therapy. We entered our local OT clinic for the initial evaluation, scared, sleep deprived, and hopeless.
My boy immediately hid under the chair I was sitting in. The therapist was trying to coax him out using lighthearted appeals. He was having none of it. Finally, sick of her attempts, he picked up a nearby toy, and threw it right at her face. She deftly ducked the missile and, never looking at him, said:
"Mr. Truck! You are not allowed to fly across the room! You will hurt someone. You must go to toy time-out", in a silly singsong voice.
"What!" I thought, "is she doing?" My boy peeked out from under the chair. No grown ups had ever talked to his toys like this before. Was Mr. Truck really in trouble? My boy edged out a little more, studying the truck, safely out of reach on a shelf, then at her. He looked at me, and I shrug. I don't get it either. We wait.
The therapist continues playing. She did not say a word to him about almost hitting her with the truck. He slinks out from under my chair. He does not speak, but points, and looks questioningly. She breezily answers him,
"Oh, yes, Mr. Truck is in time-out. Too bad. I was hoping we could play with him. Do you know the secret about toys? They will listen to children and do what you tell them to do."
"They will?" he finally speaks, in a whisper.
"Oh, yes! You are they only one they will listen to. If you want to play with Mr. Truck, you have to tell him he must not fly through the air. Only you can make him stop."
"Really?" he asks, not sure if he can believe, but then again . . .
"Yes, really". And with a firm nod of her head, she went back to playing, and singing a children's song.
And he believed. This was the first thing my boy had ever felt was in his control. Not his body, his emotions, his potty accidents, or his fears. There was nothing in his life that went the way he wanted it to. Except Mr. Truck.
He tested it a few times, and when the truck took to flying, it went back to time out. After two days, of various items soaring past, and grounded on the shelf, he totally got it.
He realized, on his own, that nothing else was allowed to fly at our heads. And more importantly, he knew that he was in control of his truck. He was in control of something.
The notion of turning a negative into a positive was what stuck with me. We had a bad situation, and with a little creativity, and humor, allowed Michael the choice to stop the unwanted behavior. This made everyone happy, and he benefited by finally having the first feeling of control. Which of course, grew, and grew. This moment was a defining one for me. When I got it. What positive reinforcement could be. This one little tool, that worked so well, when nothing else had, changed the direction of my thinking.
Sensory Integration therapy is fun! First, the therapist establishes a bond, as a friend, with your child. They giggle, and play, and let the child lead the way, showing the therapist what they like to do. They cavort on swings, and climb imaginary mountains. They huddle in tents, and search for goodies under pillows, pretending it's the sea.
As trust grew and bonding followed, the therapist added new elements, designed to address his particular needs. Games, that would strengthen his weak muscles. Toys that stimulated his senses. Swings, whistles, and deep pressure that he so needed, to calm himself. As if all that were not enough, they began teaching me, his parent, how to help him at home. I massaged his muscles, and brushed his skin. I provided just the right sensory diet that he needed to help him to get better. We worked on sensitivities, balance, and control. And he improved. It wasn't overnight. But steady progress, just the same.
One by one the horrible symptoms reduced and some ceased to exist. He became stronger, more confident, happier. He became . . . himself.
He has always called OT the "fun house". Now, at only six years old, he graduated.
Whole, strong, and composed, ready to face the world. He loves his therapists. I think he always will. They are his family, and ours. How do you say thanks for giving your child his life back? For changing a dark future to a bright one?