I can’t believe the title of this post. Has it really been a year since we’ve started ABA? Mara has changed so much over the past year. I’ve changed so much and so has our family. There are many things that have contributed to all the change. For starters, of course the financial support from Imagine A Way has made an enormous difference. The hard work of all Mara’s therapists has made a big difference. Honestly, though, the majority of the positive change we’ve seen is due to the very hard work of one adorable, blue-eyed little girl. This kid is amazing. She struggles sometimes, but she works harder than most grown-ups I know. She has to do so much more to learn than other 4 year olds and I couldn’t be more proud of her!
Let’s start with the changes in Mara. A year ago (at age 3 years, 10 months) she barely said a word. If she dropped something on the floor and I asked her to pick it up, she would just have a blank stare. She had at least one, if not two or three major temper tantrums every day, and I’m not talking about typical 2 year old tantrums. I’m talking about screaming, hitting, kicking, I have to put her in her room and hold the door closed, otherwise I might hit her back, tantrums. These were the types of tantrums that lead me to start taking anti-depressants because I could not keep it together. A year ago Mara was not potty trained and she hated to wear clothes.
Fast forward a year to get a glimpse of our girl now at age 4 years, 10 months. She is potty trained. Hallelujah! Her tantrums do still happen, but they are absolutely nothing like they used to be. She can easily be redirected and can even try to talk during a tantrum to try to communicate the problem. Her ability to follow directions is amazing. It is very clear that she understands everything we say. Her language still has a way to go, but she has made so much progress. She will say anything that we ask her to say. She greets people when prompted and answers questions with and without prompting. There is some spontaneous language that we hear and I can see that about to emerge even more. While she does still love to be naked, she will wear clothing without much fuss at all. Best of all, Mara is happy. She is always laughing, giggling and smiling. She loves people and wants to be with them. She is frequently seen trying to grab everyone’s hand and bring them along when it is time to leave the house. She doesn’t want to be without the people she loves, especially her grandparents. She is also starting to show a lot more interest in other kids. She could still take or leave her sisters most of the time, but she is interested in other kids. Last night she played Ring Around the Rosie with her cousins on the trampoline… and I didn’t even have to hold her hand! She knows her name, her parents names (first and last) , her address and her birthday. She knows the names of everyone who is in her life and many other things. After a summer of phenomenal progress, Mara’s teacher told me this week, “It is like she is a completely different student.”
My life has also changed dramatically in the last year. I feel at peace about my decision to take anti-depressants. They helped me focus and calm down. It’s amazing what you can get done in a day when you are not crying and feeling sorry for yourself. Since the situation has improved so much with Mara, I have decided to stop taking them. I have been off of them for a week and the jury is still out about this decision. I have also grown up quite a bit in the last year. I used to be meek around adults I didn’t know, especially those in authority positions. I remember sitting in the speech waiting room about a year and a half ago with another mom. I was talking to her about things going on in Mara’s classroom and wanting to make sure that her teacher liked me. She said, “oh, you’re going to have to get over that.” She was right and those days are gone. My approach now is friendly and respectful, but you’d better believe I am going to make something happen if it needs to happen, whether you like me or not. Thankfully, my mama bear doesn’t need to come out very often because Mara’s team is amazing.
I’ve also grown a lot in my respect for other autism parents. There are many different schools of thought about what causes autism, which treatments are best, whether medicine should be used, etc. I have grown to understand that no matter what approach each family takes, we are all trying our very best to give our children the best life possible. There is no room for judgment. I’ve also learned in the past year how important it is to take time for myself. My life is completely about children and autism. I am trying to take steps to make sure that I don’t lose myself completely in all of this.
Finally, our whole family has changed in the last year. Because Mara is doing so much better, we have more time and energy to focus on the other very important pieces of our family. Karl and I try our best to remember that Mara is not our only child. I pray that Reese and Stella don’t grow up thinking that their needs aren’t just as important. We’re involving Reese in more activities and trying to make sure that Stella gets one-on-one time. We are better able to foster the relationship between all of our girls now, too. Karl and I also try to make time for each other. The divorce rate in couples with a child with special needs is crazy high. It is easy to see why this is the case. This will never be an option for Karl and I, so we have learned to make sure that our marriage is the number one priority to keeping our family together.
This past year has been exhausting, frustrating, exciting, unbelievable and 100% worth every bit of struggle! I can’t wait to see what the next year brings for Mara and our whole family!