I haven’t written a post about the Bear in a couple of months, so I figure that now is a good time for an update.
One of the things we’re interested in for the Bear is music therapy. I still don’t know much about it, but another parent at our IBI school told me of a program that her son was in, how much he enjoyed it, and how she thought that it was really beneficial. I have to admit that music therapy was not previously high on my ‘should do’ list, but she gave the program a good review. Momma Bear and I gave it a quick bit of thought and came to the conclusion that this might be a good option to try. So I gave the therapist a call, and while there was no space available, we did secure a spot at the top of the waiting list. We didn’t expect to start the program until the summer.
The Bear LOVES musical interaction. I’ve never noticed her exhibiting any particular attraction to songs on her videos, but whenever my wife or I sing to her she absolutely loves it. She constantly gestures for me to sing to her (I never said she had good taste ;-) ) and Momma Bear can get her to positively beam with delight when she sings. The Bear does not seem overly interested in making music herself, although she does occasionally enjoy playing with the piano at my outlaws’ house, and will sometimes play with a keyboard at home. She also has some toys that play songs, and sometimes will press the button to play a few repetitions of certain songs.
Last week I received a call from the music therapist telling me that one of her clients was out of town for three weeks, so there was an opening if we wanted to take it. I said I’d take the first one and we’d see how it went, with the expectation but not a firm commitment to take the other two. (I offered to pay for the other two if we bowed out, but she said there was no need.) So the Bear went to her first session on Saturday morning. I sat at the back of the room and watched.
What a great experience! The therapist allowed the Bear to get acclimatized, which she did by doing a quick exploration of the room, and then the therapist sat in front of the Bear and started playing guitar and singing. The Bear loved it, and was hooked. When the therapist put down the guitar and started singing and playing a shaker, the Bear crawled up into her lap to participate. Over the course of the 45 minute session the therapist played different instruments, banged on various drums, shook tambourines and bells, sang, played a keyboard, and physically interacted with the Bear to determine how to gain her interest. She also gave the Bear various instruments to play. She encouraged her to explore, to play, to imitate, and was even able to get her to play her bells as part of some of the songs. With the exception of a couple of trips over to Dad to get her ‘milk’ and a couple of quick sessions on a rocking chair (to which the therapist added some music), the Bear maintained her interest and focus on the session and the therapist for pretty much the entire time, and was smiling and grinning throughout.
At the end, the therapist asked if we would be returning for the other two sessions. Very definitely. What was also interesting to me was that the therapist said afterwards that she was surprised by the Bear’s level of exploration and interaction, especially for a first session. I had previously told her that the Bear was assessed as ‘autism at the severe end of the spectrum’. While she said that she was not a doctor and did not ‘do’ diagnoses, from her experience the Bear was much more interactive than she would have expected. That was very heartening to hear.
The Bear is also doing well at school. Among other programs, she’s mastering or mastered shape shorting, shape puzzles, matching 3D objects (and as an added surprise stacked blocks up to 5 high), 2D objects, matching on colour, and among other tasks is working on matching quantities (e.g. moving three objects to match the number 3) and matching object categories (e.g. matching different cars to a cars category, or different dogs to a dog category). Her fine motor skills are improving with various exercises. She also appears to know her primary colours. When as a lark I tested her one day with various colours in assorted combinations – e.g. “which one is the red ring” - she got the first ten correct before she became bored and stopped me. Until then I had no idea she knew her colours by name.
We also expose her a lot to numbers and the alphabet, not in any particularly structured way, but instead to familiarize her with them and see what at this point she can pick up implicitly. We’ve noticed that she prefers complicated over simple visuals (e.g. she prefers the back of her video cases to the front, will spend a lot of time analyzing detailed and complicated pictures, and loves to get hold of my Economists and flip through them), which suggests to me that she is potentially analyzing and interpreting the complexity that she sees.
She has also very recently learned to drink with a straw. I consider this a big deal, as we can now use this as part of OT. I’ve come across a couple of OT exercises that use sucking and blowing through straws to encourage mouth control and coordination, which the Bear may have issues with. The evil Dad that I am, I’m also trying to teach her to stick out her tongue (and greatly look forward to the day when she does so (in)appropriately). She tries to imitate me, but she either twists it or makes a U shape. Again, helping improve her ability to use her mouth effectively may also help her to produce more sounds and ultimately learn how to speak.
The Bear also dances with us. Nothing too fancy, but she will sway from side to side and foot to foot to follow our lead, usually alternating her focus between our faces and our feet while trying to match our sway. Her IBI program can also get her to spin while dancing, and I’ve been able to get her to do this myself at times.
So, overall I’m quite pleased with how things are going. Whether one wants to credit her progress to IBI, our efforts, or just natural development (my money is on a combination of the three), the fact is that she is progressing, and we are seeing learning and growth. I fully believe that she is more capable than we know, but what we can see suggests considerable and even accelerating gains.
I wrote the above not to boast, as obviously there are children who are progressing both faster, slower, and on alternate paths to the Bear. There are also things that are clearly a challenge to her that we feel she ultimately needs to learn and overcome. Instead, the point I’m trying to make is that there is learning, and there is progress. All too often autism is presented entirely negatively, and with a bleak prognosis. At least in our case, we can also see good reasons for optimism and hope.