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Measuring (and appreciating) breakthrough moments

Posted by David on November 28, 2009 in Showcase |
Originally posted November 28, 2009 on GreenforGood.com
I’ve written in the past about some of the challenges that come from raising a son who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Tonight I’m going to write about some of the joys that come with the experience.
As I’ve mentioned before, having twin sons really provides us with a unique experience when it comes to tracking development milestones and progress. While there was a time during their first year of life that Stone was ahead of Ty in all key areas, that changed rather dramatically in a short period of time and Ty overtook Stone – especially when it comes to communication since Stone has remained non-verbal to date.
In addition to beginning special pre-school just over a year ago (on his 3rd birthday) we’ve also had Stone attending therapy through a well-regarded center that focuses on developmental issues.
Even though I always describe Stone as very high functioning on the spectrum (because he is), it needs to be put into context. He is extremely capable of such tasks as undressing himself (as we discovered when he went through his infamous “I love being naked” phase 6 months ago), finding food (and helping himself) and operating any type of video playback system (such as a DVD player – we have already gone through 3 portable players because he has worn them out or destroyed them) and things like that .
Stone playing on swing Where he has struggled is with communication and interaction with others (as do all children with Autism, since these are the principle characteristics). So when he was younger (and before he started pre-school and extra therapy), he simply yelled if and when he wanted something (or couldn’t get it). There was no intent associated with the screaming and yelling – we had to try to guess to decipher what was wrong. Fortunately this has greatly improved over time – he now leads us to what he needs and is learning how to sign words such as “more” so we know when he needs extra mac and cheese or cookies.
When dealing with Stone, we have learned that progress comes slower than with Ty, and to recognize and appreciate the small steps when they do happen. And every so often (like tonight) something fairly significant happens that shows that progress is being made – and provides even greater hope for continued significant development.
Stone has always loved puzzles and has been able to demonstrate his intelligence for a long time (at least a year) by being able to correctly assemble puzzles with the alphabet or numbers. But tonight he stunned me by taking letters from a puzzle and spelling words on the couch. First it was “boy” – as he placed the letters down, he looked at me and gestured so I would say the word.  Then he spelled “girl” and then “hat.” He had spent quite a bit of time watching a video today that is supposed to be on the educational side (focusing on letters, numbers and basic words), and I know that he copied the words that were spelled on the video. But he has literally seen the video dozens of times before, and there was little indication that much of the video (especially when it comes to words) had connected. But here he was spelling these words! As I repeated each word each time he spelled them, he looked incredibly proud – it was truly an expression I had never seen before.
As the evening progressed he surprised me in other areas – correctly tapping his head when I asked him where the “hat” goes, high fiving and fist bumping (and interacting even more) with Ty and being more affectionate with me than ever before. As a matter of fact, he was so wired he wasn’t able to go to sleep until nearly 10:45 p.m. I really believe that his mind was racing with so much excitement over these recent develop steps that he couldn’t calm down – we both were enjoying the experience of interacting and exchanging too much. Fortunately though he finally did crash (he outlasted his mom by and hour and half!).
It’s hard to fully communicate the significance of this type of milestone – and probably even more difficult to fully understand or appreciate it unless you have experience working with children on the spectrum. But to be able to go from a point where there was so very little interaction and connection to an experience like tonight is really very special. And it shows we are on the right track and significant progress is possible.
I’m very excited about the future.

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