Milestones: the infancy through toddler years

So, we reached a milestone yesterday, but I really think that I should put it in some perspective, give it some context.

Frances has had many milestones to reach over the years. You wouldn’t know it unless you had been around us at the time, but there was a point at which we didn’t know if Frances would walk.

She was the “floppy baby” that parenting books sometimes describe; some of her reflexes that she should have outgrown by seven months remained while other reflexes were absent.

She was delayed in sitting, rolling over, standing, and crawling. Plus, she had pronated feet (which later required orthotic inserts).

Weekly visits with occupational and physical therapists improved her gross motor skills and her coordination, and she was diagnosed with hypotonia (low muscle tone). She did, of course, walk steadily by 16 months, and she ran with breath-taking confidence by the age of two.

Also, from the age of four months, it had been clear that she needed to have her eyes evaluated. At five months, she was diagnosed with severe bilateral strabismus (both eyes crossed) and, though she was seeing out of both eyes in alternation, there was the very real risk that she could lose her vision. It was the worst case her paediatrician had ever seen.

She also got her first pair of glasses upon her first visit with the paediatric ophthalmologist at five months.

Finally, once she was walking and had had eye surgery at 18 months to correct the alignment of her eyes, the rehabilitation centre asked me if there might be any more concerns of mine to address.

I didn’t realize that I was being gently nudged, but, besides her eyes, walking, and those other infant milestones, I really couldn’t think of anything.

It was true that Frances would require the daily use of eye patches for several years due to an “over correction” during the surgery (which meant that one eye turned outwards), but that was being addressed and it wasn’t their area of concern anyway. So, I was bewildered.

Then, a clinician asked if language was a difficulty. By this time, I hadn’t noticed until that very moment that, in fact, Frances was not developing new words or even really using the words that she had acquired so early.

So, if you’re still following…In summary, at first we didn’t know if she would sit, crawl, rollover, or walk. Then, we didn’t know if she would lose her vision or be able to see well enough to not be legally blind.

Now, at 18 months, we didn’t know if Frances was going to be able to speak. A speech-language pathologist evaluated her: she scored very high with receptive language and lower than average with expressive language.

From that point on, Frances and I attended early-communication groups on a weekly basis for about a year which, for a while, were concurrent with the gross motor groups that had got her walking.

She didn’t speak in these groups, and it made me nervous. But, one day, about seven months into the groups, during the “pick a song and sing together” portion of the session, I realized that I could hear the faintest little voice singing “Old Macdonald Had A Farm” for the first time! So, we knew that she would be able to speak which was an incredibly emotional moment. (I can see that moment so clearly: she was sitting on my lap while I sat cross-legged on the carpet.)

Did I mention in all of this that nobody suspected autism? If anyone did, nobody mentioned it even once?

But that’s another story for another time. I will say that Pink Cup Sister noticed, and would continue to notice, at this time that Frances wasn’t “emotional” and didn’t “play right”.

At any rate, Frances remains very myopic but, with glasses, her vision is now corrected to 20/20 and 20/30 which is pretty damn good.

Over the years, she has been seeing the orthoptist and the ophthalmologist every two months or every six months. We have virtually been fixtures at the children’s hospitals.

Yesterday, after more than eleven years, we were told that Frances no longer needs to be followed by the specialist for her vision and that she can see an optometrist like the rest of the Pink Cup Family!

This is an exciting milestone and, while trying to describe its significance, I have skipped over the parts where my doubts tugged at me throughout her toddlerhood and preschool years: Was there something not typical in her development? Like, for instance, she didn’t respond at all when put in a swing at the park; she never spoke a word at preschool to anyone at the facility; she didn’t like to be spoken to or to be asked questions; she didn’t like to be touched; she wouldn’t look at anybody…I really could just go on and on.

I should note that, before Frances was even three years old, I would ask several doctors and other professionals if we should be concerned about these things. Nobody was concerned, but my suspicions lingered.

Sigh… Deep down, I had always had suspicions that my daughter’s development wasn’t typical; but, if everyone who is supposed to help tells you that everything is fine…Well, then, what do you do?

I ended up doing A GREAT DEAL about it: there was a huge struggle to climb, by hook or by crook, through the different tiers of healthcare in order to have Frances examined by the right professional (a developmental paediatrician).

I promise — I will come back to that struggle and to those very important years spanning the ages of three to six-and-a-half. I know that I can think about it and write about it, but it’s so difficult for me that it has be at a slow pace.

Suffice it to say for now that the eventual diagnosis of high functioning autism spectrum disorder was very much anticipated and welcomed. We actually celebrated, but I’ll leave off here.

If you read through this very lengthy post, thank you.

🙂

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J. Alfred Proof-rock

I’ve mentioned this fact before: when she was two, almost three, Frances would ask me to read to her at bedtime whatever I happened to be reading for myself at that time.

Thinking she might fall asleep faster if I read the Aeneid by Virgil — because I, myself, would — I started the epic poem. To my utter surprise, she enjoyed it. My plan really wasn’t working.

So, then, I thought about T.S. Eliot and started reading The Waste Land. I moved on from there to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In doing so, I began a nightly routine that lasted for several years.

It has been a long time since I last read Prufrock to her, but she clearly still remembers it as, the other day, she quipped, “Where’s the proof-rock? Get it, Mum?” She giggled and giggled.

She has a wonderful sense of humour that, I think, won’t be appreciated by everyone. I doubt that the children in her class have heard of T.S. Eliot yet.

Periodic update

One fascinating aspect of 10-year-old Frances’s personality is that she remembers facts so well and that she shares them kind of…randomly.

For example, the following recent conversation was brief but interesting:

Frances: The atomic number of copper is 29.

Me: Okay, thanks.

There was no preceding conversation. We just happened to be passing each other in the hallway, and we both went our own way afterwards.

Part of me knows that I’ll have to help her understand that she can’t start conversations like that with, for example, someone walking past her at school; another part of me does find it adorable.

🙂

Literary critic

I just found this gem of a conversation. Frances had just turned four.

Frances: The ugly duckling is really a swan? The swan egg got accidentally into the duck nest? How could that have happened? That doesn’t make any sense…!

Me: Uh…

When it’s quiet…

One day, when Frances was about 18 months old, she took hundreds of children’s books off a set of shelves in the living room and stood on top of the haphazard pile to get more.

She sometimes lined the entire house with a path of books that encompassed the dining room table and led back to the front room.

From the time that she was seven months old, she perused books with an unusual intensity and focus.

As a toddler, she would push a book into my abdomen or my neck or my hands and say, “Read!”

By the time she was 2.5 years old, I was reading stacks and stacks of books to her daily (usually 20 but as many as 30 or 40 at times).

At the library, where most parents might be encouraging their children to choose books, I was popping throat lozenges and encouraging her to go play just so that I could give my voice a rest.

She cried if books got damaged in the tiniest way. She protested loudly if anyone had written their name inside a book. If she became angry with me, she would threaten that we would no longer be able to visit my favourite bookstore.

She always had a book in her hand (for comfort, I assume).

The local bookstore knew us so well that Frances was allowed to take a book and read under a table where she wouldn’t be disturbed.

When Frances is reading is pretty much the only time (besides sleeping) that it is quiet in our house — the ONLY TIME.

She’s a nonstop talker with a more-than-average amount of energy and bounce in her running steps.

The other day, after school, there was a prolonged period of quiet (say, five minutes). It was very noticeable which could only mean that she was reading. Then, I heard her say to herself:

“This book is not very instructive on drawing horses.”

I knew that, within a minute or so, the house would be virtually alive again with the sound of her chatter and laughter and objects banging around again as she searched for something that she absolutely needed.

It’s epic…

One of the best things we’ve done in the past year or so has been to sign up for an ebook subscription service for the kids.

For a monthly charge (pretty minimal), parents can monitor what is being read and even set aside books that they want the kids to read. They also receive a monthly report enumerating the books read (which includes a printable certificate).

Each kid has her own account, collects badges for reaching reading milestones and can favourite books that she really likes.

Some reading material…

While waiting for an appointment on Friday, I glanced down at a magazine to see what Frances happened to be reading: 

The article is actually a synopsis of sorts of a book of the selfsame title, but, at first glance, I was a little shocked.  🙂

(A teachable moment: I spoke with her about the extreme language of the book’s title, about publishers trying to grab the attention of potential readers etc., and she understood.)