At the end of the month, it will be 6 months since we started early intervention with Moe. This half-year has been a whirlwind of emotion, questions, worry, stress, loneliness and fear. But it has also been a period of learning and growth for all of us.
Moe has come a long way since we started. At Moe's early start assessment in May, he was basically non-verbal. Now Moe has said more words than I can keep track of. He labels items, and is getting especially good at animal sounds and filling in gaps in songs and books. He still doesn't initiate a lot of language, and although Moe can be quite talkative when he's in the mood, talking is still definitely on his own terms.
We've also noticed that some of Moe's other behaviors have changed or gone away. Moe used to spend a lot of time standing on his head. He loved to stand bent over with his head on the ground in a downward-facing-dog-type yoga pose. Or he would loop his feet through the slats of his crib so he could be upside down. Jeff and I have both noticed that Moe almost never does either of these anymore. Maybe the OT is working, or perhaps his nervous system is just maturing. I'm not even sure if this was a symptom of autism, but it is a change nonetheless.
Moe is also eating better, taking bites out of larger pieces instead of requiring us to cut up his food into small pieces, or tearing it up himself. He'll use a spoon independently. He still isn't drinking from an open cup, or taking his shoes off, two of our IFSP goals. But he will help with shoes by opening and closing the velcro, so that's a start. He's starting to use his index finger to point at objects in books. Pointing is something we've been working on in OT. He doesn't point to show us things yet. He isn't doing much pretend play either, but he is doing great imitation in play, which is a start. I've even seen him taking something we've done in one session, like making a fireman go up a ladder, and do it again on his own.
Moe is also much more engaged. He makes eye contact on a regular basis, and just seems more present. I think he'd still rather play on his own given the chance, and will tune out a lot, especially when he's tired. But don't we all to some degree? We put a lot of demands on this little boy. Unfortunately, things are only going to get harder for a while as we push him to use his skills more consistently.
As for me, I'm coming to terms with how things are going to be, at least for the next 6 months while we're still in early intervention (after that, we start to work with the schools). I've found some good online support groups, and plan to attend a local parent group next month. I need to learn from others who have been there. I'm currently reading Overcoming Autism, by Lynn Koegel, one of the founders of Pivotal Response Training. I am feeling optimistic about Moe's speech, but know that there will be a long road ahead trying to teach the social skills he's going to need in the future. That seems much more difficult to learn, and much more important.
Overall, progress is there, but it is slow. Moe has to develop one step at a time and it can be painfully slow. I hoped that once he started talking, language would just explode. I hoped that once he learned that he can ask for things, he would start to get the concept of social communication, and he would just blosson. As a mom, I can't help but harbor hope that somehow, something will click, and this will all be behind us. That is unlikely and the best advice I've received so far is to make sure not to burn out in the first year. We still have a lifetime ahead of us.