I can look back on Emelyn’s first year and remember the heartache of missed milestones and the fear of an unknown future—for her and for us. At our first Christmas, Emelyn was nine months old. While other nine-month-olds were pulling to stand on new toys, babbling away to goofy children’s books, and eating wrapping paper, we had one wish for Emelyn—that she would soon have the ability to hold her head up. It was a simple Christmas wish, yet one that seemed so far away. Emelyn would turn one the following March and still lacked enough head control to adequately hold her head up. To say it was a tough year would be an understatement. We spent that first year grieving the loss of the child we had anticipated would join our family. In our mind, Emelyn was a child who would meet milestones like walking and talking just like her peers. This is what we each anticipate when we initially find out we’re pregnant. We are immensely grateful to have Emelyn in our lives—we were then and we still are today, but the reality is, she was not the child we dreamed of.
Fast forward five Christmas’ later and Emelyn has many more missed milestones and her future remains fuzzy, but something has changed. Our grief has been replaced with hope. We have hope that tomorrow will be better than today—even if it’s such a tiny improvement that it can’t be seen when viewed as day-to-day progress. But when we step back and look at this past year, I’m overcome with the hope for what next year has in store.
I’d like to dedicate this blog post to some of Emelyn’s major accomplishments this past year:
Emelyn is officially a bona fide walking machine. There are several logical and not so logical things we’ve attributed to this major achievement:
- Physical therapy: At this point, Emelyn has likely had more than 250 PT sessions since she started PT at five months old through early intervention.
- ABA therapy: Emelyn’s ABA plan calls for three walking sessions per day at seven minutes per session. By my estimates, that’s nearly 13,000 minutes of practice just at her ABA clinic.
- Equipment, equipment, and more equipment: AFOs, SMOs, gait trainers, walkers, threatogs, etc.—we’ve had it all. Surprisingly, I believe it was a little pink helmet that I’ll attribute to being the best piece of equipment to move Emelyn to independent walking. It gave us all peace of mind and let her practice her walking skills on her terms.
- Medication: After reading about the cognitive improvements some other parents of children with DDX3X had reported after starting ADHD medicines, we spoke to every doctor we could about the possibility of trying similar medicines with Emelyn. Some were firmly a “no” stating that she had great attention for her developmental age, while others, like our pediatrician and developmental pediatrician, both thought it was worth trying. With the support of our developmental pediatrician, we started a very low dose of Focalin in July—Emelyn started walking just a few short weeks later. When she doesn’t have the medicine, she’s less stable and falls more frequently. Walking certainly wasn’t the outcome we were expecting, but we'll take it!
Standing up without any assistance
Another incredible motor skill Emelyn has gained recently is her ability to stand up from the floor completely unassisted. I remember the first time she used a stool to stand herself up about a year ago—I was amazed. And now, she needs no assistance what so ever.
When we started ABA therapy, our number one goal was functional communication. We didn’t care if it was verbal language or some other form, but we wanted to be able to communicate with Emelyn—to know her wants, desires, needs, etc. This year we definitely got that. Last November Emelyn began using some basic signs to help her express herself. We started with a highly motivating sign for Emelyn: read. Then we added other highly motivating signs: eat, graham cracker, cereal, sing, etc. Now, she’s using 30+ signs to communicate her needs. While she still has no spoken words, we now have a much better idea of what she needs and wants. Emelyn uses an iPad to communicate as well, but I’ll be honest and say she seems to prefer the sign language. Now we use sign language as a motivator with her. Her physical therapist will tell her, “I’ll teach you a new sign if you’ll walk around the floor.” Does your five-year-old know two languages--our five-year-old does!
|Emelyn also got a fabulous new haircut this year!|
We were able to donate 12 inches to hair we share.
Playing with her sisters
For many, walking was probably the most remarkable accomplishment of Emelyn's year, but for the four of us who share a household with Emelyn, it was something more subtle. Last month, Aubrey turned a cardboard box into “Aubrey’s Café” and asked me to order some food from her menu. I obliged and the next thing I knew, Emelyn followed suit. She stood at the little window and had a meaningful few moments with Aubrey as they passed plastic food back and forth to each other. Aubrey looked at me with astonishment and said, “Emelyn just played with me.” It was truly remarkable and it only took five and a half years in the making.
|Emelyn placing her order at Aubrey's Cafe.|
Earlier this year we joined our church and each of us found a spot to plug in—except Emelyn. Our church doesn’t have a specific special needs ministry, but that wasn’t a must for us when joining a church. We just wanted a place where we all, including Emelyn, felt at home. If you could see Emelyn on Sunday morning, you would know she feels loved at our church. Everyone knows her and interacts with her and not a sole is irritated when she decides to get vocal during quiet moments or in the middle of the sermon. That being said, we were still wanting to get Emelyn into a Sunday school class, but we were concerned that Emelyn would need an aid or one of us with her—both for her safety and for the church’s liability. Back in the summer, I was asked to serve on a committee at church—I hadn’t originally signed up (Patrick gave me the you-can’t-possibly-volunteer-for-one-more-thing look) but got a call from our pastor requesting my participation. It was on that committee that I got to know the kindergarten Sunday school teacher, Sharon, who just happens to be a special education supervisor for one of the local public schools. After a committee meeting one Sunday she expressed her interest in having Emelyn join her Sunday school class. The next Sunday, Emelyn started in Ms. Sharon’s Sunday school class. Ms. Sharon is knowledgeable about ABA principles and sign language, which makes her a perfect match for Emelyn. We are excited to see what Emelyn’s experience will be like with typically developing children her own age—after all kindergarten is coming. God certainly knows what he’s doing, sometimes before we know what he’s doing.
Overall, 2018 was a remarkable year for Emelyn. Day-after-day, Emelyn made progress toward being more independent. And with each new skill she gains, she glows with pride and excitement. For us, day-after-day, our hope for Emelyn’s future grows. No longer do we grieve the child we once anticipated. We know now, Emelyn, just the way she is, was who we were meant to have.
We are grateful for your support this past year—this journey would not be filled with hope if you weren't here with us. Thank you! May 2019 bless you and your family with hope, love, and giggles.
|Get a picture of all three girls for the Christmas card...|
|...it will be easy they said...|