Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Best Therapy Starts at Home...And Sometimes, With a Cat

Long before we finally started "real" therapy with Kit we created our own home therapy remedies of sorts. These activities and games have had a big impact on all our kiddos. And most of the time it never even feels like "therapy".

While Kit has technically only been observed twice by a speech therapist, she has had her own mini-ST for months in the form of Grace. Grace is a master at making Kit use her words for EVERYTHING! Grace won't give an inch either, if Kit wants it, then she's just going to have to ask for it. With real words. And Grace will even correct her pronunciation should she slip up.

In fact for a period of time, Kit probably said more words with Grace than any other time or situation. She gladly accepted Grace's challenge, even while choosing to stay silent for Victor and I, not that we weren't attempting the same prompts.

Physical and Occupational Therapy primarily fell under Zak's jurisdiction. He, not at all surprisingly, seems to intuitively know what her body needs. Everything from hanging upside down, to giggle fests, to crawling like doggies to hugs and snuggling, he's amazingly in tune with her.

Not that he doesn't sometimes make her crazy. But he knows how to draw her into play and she is most times a willing follower. He "gets" her love of stacking, and lining things up. He loves to play spinning games with her. And he loves to make her laugh. And NO ONE can make these girls laugh like their big brother can.

And then there's Victor. Daddy is the deep pressure king! He doesn't even have to try. His are the cuddles and touch she can best tolerate. None of the wispy girly twirling of her curls. No way! Instead it's super squeezes, baby sandwiches, and whisker rubs! I love hearing her squeal "AGAIN" even as she's still trying to catch her breath.

I serve as her jungle gym. I'm the one that can hold her upside down the longest, bounce her on the ball to her satisfaction, and in general my mommy arms just seem to have more stamina for extended periods of holding a wiggly mini-contortionist. But I'm also the one that can brush her hair just right, and pick out the least irritating outfit, and hold my arm in just the right position for her to push her feet against when she is tired.

I believe all of this has made a big difference in her progress over the last year. But in the last two months we have seen Kit in many ways simply transform!

After many unsuccessful attempts in the past, we again tried to move Kit's bedtime to an earlier hour upon the suggestion of her OT during her first visit. Quite honestly we were scared that it would undo all the months of tiny steps that had added up to the huge progress of her being able to fall asleep after her routine without having to be held, or even touched! That in itself felt like such a mountain had been traversed to get there. And messing that up in any way was extremely undesirable. But this time, it worked!

Kit has been going to bed around 8-8:30 for nearly two months now. She got so good at it we were finally able to move her back into her bed, in our room! And to add miraculous to the phenomenal, Victor can now, on the really good nights, actually leave the room with Kit awake, and she will fall asleep entirely on her own! I honestly had my doubts about that becoming a reality for another year at least.

And that's not the only major change. Her speech has literally exploded! In the same two months, she went from being delayed still (18-19 month level at 24 months) to screaming ahead with some skills well into in the 31-35 month range. And the speech therapist hasn't ever actually worked with her.

She has suddenly started to express (I mean verbalize about) feelings and some abstract concepts that she never could seem to understand like "and" and "later", or self regulate, such as calming herself after initially getting upset (read: screaming rage or miserable tears) in an attempt to "behave" her way into getting a privilege like playing the phone. These are huge milestones for her. While she still is far from mastering these, her awareness was the crucial hinge that was missing in many places and now we are seeing that emerge.

Another huge Woo-hoo came when she pulled out the play tea set and she started to pretend to bring me food and drink! There are at least four huge breakthroughs in just that tiny typical toddler behavior.

1)The fact that it was typical toddler play is one of them!

2)That she was attending to toys is another. 

3)That she independently engaged in multi-faceted pretend play both by her self and with me is amazing because she struggles with pretending.

4) And that she choose the activity spontaneously, without it having been in easy visual range, is also a big deal for her since this has never been a preferred activity. 

She can keep all the dishes upside down everytime if she wants (the tea pots and several others absolutely had to be upside down), as long as she keeps progressing like this!

The light bulb finally went off in my discussion with the speech therapist, and as I said it it really dawned on me. "It all started happening around the time we found the cat..."

She just looked at me with a knowing smile and nodded. "I don't have to tell you how very often these 'miraculous' things happen when anyone with special needs befriends an animal. They can have an amazing affect on people, which is what makes service animals so special. I think she found her therapy cat. "

I think I agree. I won't say that the cat made everything happen. We've worked exhaustively with Kit over the last year to help her communicate, and calm her body, and feed her mind. But I've never seen her progress so fast, especially with so many changes happening and new people entering her comfort zone and asking her to engage with them. I think the cat has given her a great focus, and motivation. She wants to talk about him, to him, and near him. She introduces him to anyone that comes over, where before she would have run away, much less talk to them! And that is truly awesome.

We are so happy to hear her literally tripping over her own words because she has so many she wants to say!

It is a blessing that is beyond words.

It's more like a purr...
 

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