My precious Ella was nearly five when her anxiety levels unexpectedly shot through the roof with the start at a new preschool. With her 5th birthday fast approaching in late September, Ella asked to have her friends over, but requested that it be only one person at a time. Ell suffered two major melt-downs in her small party of five kids. She was completely overwhelmed despite efforts to structure the party in ways to minimize possible triggers and duress.
Her preschool teacher at the new school recommended taking her to the school district for a developmental screening. In fairness, the first preschool teacher said it might be a good idea six months prior. I finally listened the second time around.
During her developmental evaluation with the school (just prior to turning five), Ella passed all areas with flying colors. Not one red flag. In fact, she was reading the testing material while looking at it upside down from across the table. Did I mention Ella’s strengths such as reading proficiently at four and having a photographic memory? Ell’s gifts in these other areas actually kept me from initially worrying too much or to further investigate. There was that little voice in the back of my head saying, “I know Ella is super bright; so what if she is a little behind in a few areas? She will catch up…” It was impossible to dismiss the waves of anxiety, however. My little girl was paralyzed by a fear I couldn’t see or understand.
Our journey towards a land I call “Better and Brighter” began with a call and evaluation by an OTR, initially for the coordination issues I could measurably see Ella struggling with. That visit was the first time that terms like “proprioception,” “vestibular system,” and “under-responsiveness” were introduced to me. As an educator of fifteen years, I had never heard much about sensory processing disorder, or one of the other pieces that we would begin to learn about through occupational therapy: Dyspraxia.
Now the fear of something so tiny as one of Ella’s tiny curls in the bathtub (among a number of other sensory pieces) and doing things like running into parking meters started to make a little better sense, sort of. Her inability to manage the completion of a simple instruction, carry on a conversation, get dressed independently or open a car door at five was yet another set of pieces to the puzzle. Ella’s brain, while amazing in so many ways, wasn’t firing like a typical kid. There was treatment though. There was education. There was hope.
OT every week. Swimming for proprioception, piano for fine motor skills. Therapeutic listening for three months. Speech therapy for pragmatic communication issues (another area where discrepancies became apparent). The process to getting to “Better and Brighter” has been a journey, but it is an amazing road to be on, thanks to a team of loving professionals that have shared their knowledge and gifts.
Fast forward a year….
September, 2013… Ella started kindergarten and was getting ready to turn six. She made out her list for that birthday party that I was every bit unsure of. Eleven kids this time; Ella’s call on that one. I have to admit… I had no clue how it would go. When you have a sensory kiddo, you kind of put yourself on high alert too.
For the week leading up to the party, Ell was EXCITED about her birthday. We counted down the days, or in our house the “number of sleeps” until the party.
The big day came! Ella was filled with nothing but resounding joy. She was engaged, not overwhelmed. She interacted with absolute joy as a part of the group. She made people laugh at her “Mulan” moves in swinging at the pinata.
When it was time to sing “Happy Birthday,” she asked everyone to sing “not too loud,” and asked politely to be excused from the big table after the song/candles were done to go to a smaller table so it was less crowded. From start to finish, I had a little girl who was on top of the world.
The only sad part for Ell was that her party had to end (transitions are still hard). Even then, she quietly retreated instead of losing it, with only a few tears after everyone had gone.
The transformation in Ella over this last year has been mind-blowing. She is healthier. She is happier. Her sixth birthday was a gift in so many more ways than just a marking of the day she was born. It was a moment that will be unforgettable for our entire family.
Our journey continues, but with a greater understanding and many more smiles!
Thank you all for a healthier, happier little girl one year later! Thank you for all that you have done for her and for our family! Today was a true joyous moment that will be unforgettable for all of us!
Much appreciation for all of your gifts to an almost six-year-old girl!!!
Signed “Ella’s Mom”