Active Rain April 13, 2009

“I Want Ice Cream Food”

My wife can articulate this better than I can, and this is not a real estate-related post unless you consider the fact that autism probably affects someone you know no matter what type of blog you might be reading right now. 

We have 4 beautiful children ages 2 through 6. Three Boys and a Princess. Our 3rd, Gregory, is on what they call the Spectrum for Autism. He’s not a severe case, but there’s never an easy one. When Gregory was almost three the warning signs were there; he wouldn’t talk, he didn’t do much you’d expect of a child his age, and he was not very responsive. No eye contact. It was as if he were ignoring you. 


We had similar issues with his older sister. She scored so low in the age-appropriate areas of those tests that the school district put her in some intensive early intervention starting at age 3. She utterly blossomed and will be mainstreamed for kindergarten. Gregory has been a different matter. Progress with him has been slow. He was put in the same class as his sister (they are 11 months apart- our “Korean twins”), but was quickly changed to a half day with an aid full time. She taught him some rudimentary sign language, but nothing in the ABA (applied behavioral analysis) that we came to discover would be what he needed most. They also had a doctor meet with us weekly to evaluate his progress. This past year, we switched schools and put Gregory into the best ABA program we could find. We had done a ton of looking around.  

If I do say so myself, this is an extremely sweet child. The feedback from his teachers, aside from the obvious (tantrums, stubbornness, small snippets of progress) along the way has been how attached they have become to him. The theme in all my discussions with the teachers, administrators and therapists has been how much they like him but also how stubborn he can be. His speech therapist told me early on told me she thought he knew what she wanted but didn’t want to give in. It was a very telling discussion. 

Gregory and Uncle PaulGregory and his late Uncle Paul

A little over a month ago, our family teacher had a heart to heart with us in our weekly home meeting. Gregory, he told us, was his own worst enemy. His stubbornness will be his downfall. We had to break him out of his obstinance. Not break his spirit, he stressed, but break him out of some of his habits. Now was the time to pull the trigger on coaxing him to communicate verbally. You have to do this when they are young; the younger the better. 

It isn’t like we could work harder. We put in 18 hour days running an independent  real estate brokerage in this economy, we have three other young children, a dog, and life happens pretty fast around here. Moreover, we are talking about making changes with a child whose two moods are contentment and tantrums. It wasn’t a DO more for him, in other words. It was a BE more. He couldn’t take our hand and lead us to the fridge. He had to ask for what he wanted. As it is, his sleep habits were always off, so we have to be always on. 

Where’s Ann Bancroft when you need her? 

So, in the midst of March and April real estate in our cyclical market where you have to make hay when the sun shines, his mother shifted her ambidextrous octopus day to include a trip to the potty every 30-45 minutes, engaging him when he’d do that stubborn whispering every time his speech therapist turned her head, and dozens of other daily and hourly practices to make this boy come out. We had a winter break with 9 consecutive off days to start. It was brutal. I can’t take credit for much of the work. I am out in the field or at the office.There are no grandparents in town who can help. No aunts or uncles can step up.  It is all on Ann’s shoulders. 

The first good sign was the feedback from school when he returned after Winter break. the notes in the folder were ecstatic. At home, whispered words became spoken words. Interestingly, some synapse connected in the last 2 weeks where he would get separation anxiety. If I left the room, he’d follow me, distressed that I was leaving. We were told that if he asked for something to GIVE it to him so he’d be rewarded for asking. Yesterday morning, instead of climbing up to the freezer or any one of the old bad habits, Gregory announced his breakthrough:

“I want ice cream food.”

And he got ice cream. For breakfast. I never heard him say more than 2 words, but now he threw out 5 words. Later, he watched Daddy get dressed and he proved it was no fluke: “Socks? Socks for feet?” Clutch. 

This is by no means the epiphany his sister had at age 4. As I type this, he’s having a tantrum after a full Easter with Different Mommy. If I had to guess, I would say that Gregory is finally having his terrible twos.

I’ll take it.