06 August 2015

The Summer of Abigail's Improvement, Part II

This is part two in the series; you can read part I here!

Abigail as a Runner
I'm not sure which therapy to credit, but for some reason, Abigail's behavior as a runner has decreased s-i-g-n-i-f-i-c-a-n-t-l-y. Basically, Abigail bolts randomly in any direction regardless of danger. She'll run toward streets and cars, she'll run away from me at full speed, she'll run until she can't see me anymore and then she'll run some more.

It never used to matter because she wasn't strong enough to really run or run on soft surfaces like grass or handle curbs. She could run all she wanted, but she never left the sidewalk and I could catch her with a simple speedwalk. But as she got stronger, it got dangerous. Once I got too pregnant, we couldn't play in unfenced parks or the little yard in front of our apartment building. I started worrying about how I'd get three kids from the apartment to the car, let alone in doctor's offices. I do have a toddler harness, but Abigail is relatively weak and she'd constantly fall when she felt resistance. I felt awful, like I was dragging a naughty puppy around.

But whether it's the rewiring of the nervous system or the understanding of her emotions, something is leading this kid to overcome her impulse to run randomly into the street. She's earned my trust enough to walk next to me without holding my hand when we go from the apartment, across the parking lot, to the car. (We wait on the sidewalk until all moving cars have stopped, though.) The few times I've permitted her to walk without holding my hand at the grocery store, she has done quite well. And when we go for walks and I say, "Abigail, wait for mommy!" she actually does stop and wait.

Home Gear
Because Abigail is so tiny and isn't much for climbing, I have been able to keep her in baby equipment far longer than most people can. Some of it was just more convenient for me (she still sleeps in a crib) and some of it was just because she hadn't outgrown it, so I never needed to replace it (like the high chair). But two things are coming into play: I don't want to buy another set of baby things and I want to push her to achieve the same milestones as her peers. So we've slowly been implementing changes around here to get her used to being in "big girl" gear so I can put this baby in the old baby stuff.

One of the things we've done is to take the tray off her high chair and have her eat at the table with us. Once we get a new table or more chairs (ideally buy a bigger table, which I'm holding off doing until Matt gets a permanent job and we buy a house), I'll upgrade/downgrade Abigail to a simpler booster seat without a back and give Baby #3 her current chair with the tray attatchment.

The second big change we're working on is transitioning Abigail into a big girl bed. I'm not sure if we're going to try a toddler bed or put her straight into a twin-size bed - it'll depend on if we have a house or are still in this apartment. In the meantime, we just take the side of her crib off and add a toddler screen.

We've tried this multiple times before, but Abigail always climbs out of bed. Usually around the two dozenth escape, I give up and put the side back on. No matter how fabulous the bedtime routine or how tired she is, she keeps climbing out. The major problem was that the girls' door didn't latch shut. I used to love it because they could never close themselves in, but it meant I had to stand outside her door and hold the door shut until she fell asleep. It. Stunk. I finally called the maintenance guys yesterday (I hate maintenance - nothing like a random guy you've never met showing up at your door sometime today or tomorrow. Plus there was that one time in Florida when the bug guy came in the apartment while I was in the shower. I thought Matt was home early from class and I contemplated coming out and giving him a fun surprise...oh my gosh, I can't even imagine how horrible it would have been). Anyway, they came out today and fixed it quite easily, and this afternoon I ran to the store to buy those doornob cover things (yay having two cars!) as she's on the brink of being able to twist a knob.

So tonight. Tonight we try the big girl bed. Yet again.

I give her blankets, but she always throws them on the floor. She throws the pillow too, but I replaced it for this picture. The books were Abigail's doing. But if they were in her crib when I put her down, she'd definitely toss them out.

Other things we're changing include trying to get Abigail to dress herself. She can take her shirt off and sort of put one on, but that's about it. No pants, no dress, no shoes. I expect to have to help her at this age, but right now I'm doing the same amount of work with Eleanor as I am with Abigail. I'd love to have her independent enough that I can sit on the floor and dress Eleanor and help Abigail in between. Abigail is also practicing getting into the car and into her carseat by herself (obviously I still buckle her).

Home Routines
I have found that giving Abigail a little responsibility and one-on-one mommy time does wonders for her ability to take on more independence with our regular routines. For example, when we run to the store for an awesome yogurt sale (yay two cars!) I hand her the cups and let her put them in the cart, I let her hold her sister's hand when we take walks, and I ask her to grab Eleanor's favorite horse stuffed animal before naptime. When Eleanor naps, we usually do some crafts together (which is great for her fine motor skills), and I make a point to read some books to each of the girls independently during the day.

Abigail is visibly proud of herself when she successfully accomplishes the tasks I give her, and she is much more likely to follow through on directions when she gets special attention throughout the day. All this translates into more independence. Without my asking, she'll generally take her shoes over to the shoe rack when we get home, pick up the food she dropped during mealtime, and pick up her toys when she's done with them. It's wonderful to see her maturing in these little ways - developing and acting as her peers would.

That last paragraph makes it sound like I have the secret to perfect child-rearing or that Abigail is a flawless little angel, but I certainly don't mean it to sound like putting bananas in the grocery cart is the answer to all your problems. If Abigail generally does something when I ask, I would say that means at least 75% of the time. So if she throws a toy 20 times a day (probably not an exaggeration) and she generally goes and picks it up when I ask, that's still 5 times a day that I have to get off my pregnant behind and make her do it. And then there are days when she's tired or sick or just plain having a bad day. The girls long ago beat into me that I better mean what I say - if Abigail is standing on the couch and I tell her to sit down and she doesn't, I had better get up and enforce the sitting command. If I don't, she is not going to do what I say for pretty much the next two weeks and I'm going to have to be uber diligent to ever make her listen to me again. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but it's significantly easier to only say it if I plan to back it up. It's better for me to let her stand on the couch without saying a word than it is to tell her to sit down, but then not make her if she refuses. So on days when she's just not having it, I don't even bother. I hold her hand when we walk to the car, I load her in her carseat myself, I don't give her the chance to throw her cup on the floor instead of setting it on the table. When either kid is having a crappy day, it means mommy is having an "extra work" day.

Longer Term Goals
One behavioral issue I'd love to change is Abigail's difficulty with transitions. It could be a major transition - like going from therapy to the car - or something super minor - like going from reading a book to listening to music - but sometimes (lots of times), transitions trigger meltdowns. There is lots of shouting "no!" lots of hitting whatever is closest, and lots of trying to sabotage the new activity. On days when I'm having a rough go, the meltdowns really drain me. I'm trying to lug my pregnant belly, the diaper bag, a 14-month-old, and a 4-year-old to the car when the 4-year-old is hitting her sister, throwing herself on the ground, and clutching the door to avoid getting in her carseat. I have no idea how to help her. I've done all the online tips: give a five-minute heads up, say "bye-bye!" to the old activity, give them a job to do in the new activity, but they rarely work. It's something I'm trying to just put on the backburner until we get another month of these specialized therapies under our belts. Maybe something in therapy will help her learn to transition.

The second big thing I want to work on is potty training, but I can't see that happening in the foreseeable future either. Abigail is hitting all the readiness signs: going at predictable times, holding it at night, showing interest when others go potty, squatting and grunting during bowel movements. But the thing is, she just has no interest in doing it on the toilet herself. She doesn't tell me before she has to go, and putting her on the toilet at the predictable times triggers a meltdown. If I notice her starting to squat and I take her to the bathroom, she'll just hold it until I give up, put her diaper back on, and let her go free. She does not care if her diaper is dirty either. I don't know what it is or how to help her, but I do know that I'm not interested in fighting that battle. I'd rather deal with three in diapers and wait until she's ready than clean up the messes and try to force it to happen. I'm already putting in tons of work with the eating and sensory issues - I don't feel like I can take anything else on at the moment. I can't think of a better combo of therapies than equine and sensory work to help encourage potty training, so I figure, we'll keep doing what we're doing and let some time pass. When we're back into a regular routine after Baby #3 makes an appearance, I'll talk to her preschool teacher and consult with the therapy clinic we're at right now and see if there are any options. I know some people in the Ds community who have kids about Abigail's age who are potty trained, but then there are some with 10-12 year olds who wear Depends. I suspect Abigail will fall into the "sooner rather than later" category, because she's advanced in everything else, but like I said, I'm not interested in forcing it right now.

She's so independent, she studies the Dr. Sears books and just rears herself. Oh, wait, this is reality, not my dream.
Overall, I'm just floored at the progress she's making. It really is accurate to call her a "preschooler" - I have a preschooler and a toddler now. The two of us - Abigail and I - are definitely putting a lot of work into getting her to the next level, and I think she's responding really, really well. I think she's both physically and cognitively ready for that next level. Abigail is constantly referred to as "developmentally delayed," but I really think that's an inaccurate way to describe her. She's not delayed as in "she'll get there eventually, in her own time." She's not doing what everyone else is doing, just at a slower pace. "Special needs" is significantly more accurate. Down syndrome affects every single cell in the entire body, so it makes a lot of sense that she's going to be different, not just delayed. Each of my two sisters-in-law who have kids have a girl about Abigail's age. In fact, all three girls are exactly 370 days apart (one calendar year + five days) and Abigail is in the middle. And when all three girls are together, it's not like, "Oh, Abigail is where they were last year." Abigail does some things they do, but she doesn't do other things. There are things Eleanor can do that Abigail can't do. I don't think she'll ever do them. Sometimes, she's not delayed, she's different.

There are times when that hurts like you wouldn't believe. Watching Eleanor get something that Abigail doesn't brings out the sailor in me: I start cussing in my head and have the strong urge to punch something. When I'm not pregnant, I wait until sunset, then I turn up the music so loud my head is ringing and I go for a run around the block until my lungs hurt.

But other times? It just is. It's like how Matt is really good at math and plays chess and leaves the windows down in his car at night. No matter how hard I try, I suck at math, I hate chess, and I could never leave my windows down. Instead I design like a boss, crochet baptismal gowns, and workout until something hurts. We're all different. It's just that Abigail's different in a way that can be hard to understand and most people will never experience. But - and remember that it's taken me a very long time to get here - that honestly doesn't make it bad.

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