Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words...

 This might look like an ordinary baby picture to most, but it is so special to me. Why? Maybe I'm crazy, but I have always felt that it held a symbolic message. The message that no matter how combative, or irritable, or spaced out, my son ever seemed, underneath it all was a sweet, smiling, loving child. A message from a higher power that knows more than me and sees what I cannot. How does this picture say all of that? I'll tell you...

  When Tallen was 11 weeks old, his father was going out of town to a meeting of a hunting club, where he is a board member. At the last minute, he asked me to take a picture of Tallen and print it out, so he would have a current photo to show all of his old friends. I sat Tallen in his swing and went to grab the camera. By the time I returned, he was whining, thrashing, twisting, making it no secret that he hated being in the swing seat. In a nutshell, he was very distraught. My husband was in such a hurry to leave that I had no choice but to take a picture of our crying baby to send with him. I said," Oh well, he is just a baby, after all. And babies cry.  I'm sure your friends know that..." and I snapped the picture.

  After seeing the results in the preview screen, we both stared at each other with very surprised faces. As you can see above, he does not appear to be upset, not even a little bit. Somehow, in what had to be a micro-second, I snapped this beautiful shot, even in the midst of a crying fit. A fit that was still in progress when we were viewing this amazing photo...

  At the time, I thought it was just a lucky fluke. But I have come to understand that it was Tallen, sending me a sign of hope, that I didn't even realize I needed at that time, but one that has gotten me through some of our darkest hours...

  "Mama, I'm in here. I'm a real little boy, with a real smile,  real hugs, real kisses, real laughter. No matter what anyone says, I AM REAL and I AM  IN HERE. And you Mama, it is up to you to see what others are blind too. Up to you to spot that fleeting glimmer of normalcy, in the midst of chaos, and grab me quick and hold on tight, lest I flutter away again. You can't ever give up. Yours is the hand I will hold, as I stumble through this darkness. And yours is the hand that will gently pull me into the sunlight. I love you, Mama."

  Thank you, Tallen. What a beautiful message...






Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Thoughts on Tallen and Television

I frequently hear about the woes of children and the ill effects that television viewing has on them. Maybe this is true for the majority of the population but, in Tallen's case, that just wasn't and still isn't true.

From the very beginning, my son had an obvious problem with making connections with the other people in his life. We were there, he was there, but most attempts at any sort of meaningful interaction were futile. We would attempt to cuddle him, he would become stiff as a board. We would smile at him, he would scream back at us. Direct eye contact really annoyed him. He talked very early, but not to us. His conversations, when we could understand them, were a string of letters, or numbers, or shapes, or colors. No "Mama", or "Daddy" etc... Every day was just a routine of making sure he was clean, fed, and did not injure himself while maneuvering around on the tips of his toes.

His doctor, although a wonderful man, couldn't give us any answers. The best he could do was give us the speech about all kids being different, blah blah blah. Doctors have a tendency, especially when it comes to your children, to try and make you feel better about things. That was the case with ours. But I wasn't satisfied with the mental band aid he was trying to press onto me. I felt like grabbing him by the collar and shaking him and screaming, " What the hell do you know? You have only observed him for 15 minutes! We are with him 24-7 and we know that something is wrong with our child! I don't want to feel better! I want my son to be better!" Of course, I did not do that. But I did decide to let the doctor think what he liked. I also decided that I wasn't wasting any more time. It was left up to me to help my child.

Early on, we noticed that, although he treated us like flesh covered furniture, certain things on TV captured his attention. To begin with, it was a few commercials, like the People PC ad that was mostly black and white. Also, he was entranced by Lawyer ads, those cheesy ones that tell you to call if you have been injured etc... To this day, I don't know exactly why he found those so interesting. At any rate, I was jealous. What did that stupid TV have that his family did not? I could follow the standard "limited TV" way of thinking, or I could go with the flow and see what happened.

I decided to use it as a tool, not as a babysitter.This required watching the shows with him and noting his responses. I tried different shows, if something captured his interest, I did my best to mimic it here at home. If leaves got his attention, after the show, I would carry him outside and let him touch a real leaf and tell him, "leaf". The same with flowers, cooking, painting,writing, etc... I bought acrylic paints and painted tiny paw print "clues" all over the house. In effect, I had to bring things from the TV and make them part of his real world. It worked! Soon he was pointing to things here at home and telling me what they were.

When he was 2, we went out for Pizza, he pointed to the sign and said, "Pizza Hut". We assumed this because he had saw that logo on TV and heard it pronounced. I soon learned that he was actually reading. His memory was amazing, which worked to our advantage. On that note, I will add that another important part of this was the fact that I recorded the shows that he responded to and played them for him again and again. The repetition helped so much. I could see his face light up when he knew what was coming next in a show.

I also did this in reverse. I would look for shows on TV about things we did here at home. Cooking, Cleaning, Driving. It was important for him to see people on there doing things we did out here in the real world. Also, when he could see kids his size doing something, it helped teach him how he should be acting. How to get dressed, how to comb his hair, etc... Even playing games, I tried playing games with him a lot with no luck, but once he saw other children doing it, he made the association.

I am absolutely convinced that his TV viewing was a huge part of bringing him out of his shell. That and the fact that we didn't simply "park" him in front of it and leave him there to veg. We asked him questions about what he was seeing. He ignored us for ages but finally started answering. NOW he asks us questions about the shows he is watching. He is like a completely different child and everyday brings more improvement.

I taught him to use a mouse and keyboard at age 3 and he gradually moved from the TV to our computer. Finally, he was able to go to the web addresses he had memorized since age 2 lol These days, he doesn't even care for the TV much at all, except for a few favorite shows, and spends most of his fun time online, studying the Russian alphabet and clay-mation ( his 2 latest obsessions )and using the ASL browser to learn new words in Sign Language.

I also want to say that at one point, Tallen was completely absorbed in learning his letters,numbers,shapes,colors, and sign language. Now that he has mastered those things,the more social he become with us. I have realized now that he wasn't anti-social, he just had no room in his brain for socialization while he was obsessed with learning all that other stuff. Once he got that out of the way, he could relax and get to know his family. His brain finally had room to process emotional connections. I think all the educational shows he watched helped to speed up that process.

I can't comment on the effects of video games and we don't own any. But, at least in Tallen's case, TV was our friend.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the Beginning...

My pregnancy with Tallen was pretty normal. I already had 3 other children and I had also had a miscarriage that same year. The one thing that sticks out in my mind as unusual is the glucose tolerance test that my doctors insisted I take. I had never had to do this with my other pregnancies. As it turned out, I did have gestational diabetes, which I controlled with diet. I really took issue with this test because, from what I could understand, your system is positively overloaded with glucose in order to find out whether or not you body can process it. If it can, then fine, no harm, no foul. But what happens when it can't. What are the effects on the baby inside of you during this test? One of my main reasons for focusing on this test is the fact that, unlike some children on the spectrum who started out normal at birth and then had behavior changes and loss of speech etc... after receiving vaccines, Tallen was different from the very beginning. Different in ways that other people did not notice, but I did.

He slept very soundly. Nothing bothered him. Coughing, laughter, slamming doors, loud music, none of these startled him awake. But all of his hearing tests at birth were normal.

He had bad skin over his nose and and on his cheeks, just beneath his eyes. Not the usual little pimples that babies sometimes get after birth, but more like tiny, almost blackhead like, bumps. His pores there were enlarged as well.

He made this strange, humming, almost growling sound when he nursed or had a bottle. To this day, he makes that sound when he is eating a food that he loves. Almost like he slips away into some sort of trance. However, after years of coaching from all of us, I now hear him tell himself, " Just chew and swallow.", whenever he catches himself making the noise.

When trying to soothe him to sleep, he did not like the motion of the rocking chair, which was back and forth. He preferred to be rocked side- to- side, which is not easy on a tired mommy's arms...

While all my other babies had loved to be sang to, he preferred to be told stories or to have the ABC's or numbers repeated over and over. This lulled him to sleep.

He would go completely off the deep end if he had a BM and it wasn't removed from him within seconds. Even if we were only 5 minutes from home, we had to pull over and change his diaper.

While most babies love to be bundled up and swaddled, he hated it... The fewer clothes the better. His father was always insisting that he wasn't wearing enough clothes or underneath enough blankets. But whenever I tried, he would cry. Even when I was sure he must be cold at night and would put him in a fuzzy sleeper, he would begin to sweat. It always seemed like his temperature gauge was "off".

Needless to say, his first few weeks were a real adventure...