Sunday, February 10, 2013

Step by Step

We have waited over three and a half years for this milestone, and even so, it is not yet fully complete. When I learned that I was pregnant with our daughter Joelle at the beginning of July 2012, one of my initial concerns was, “How can we possibly get Benjamin walking before then?” I addressed this concern with his physical therapist (P.T.), and she assured me that this would be our main focus throughout my pregnancy. The issue of walking became a regular prayer request in our home as well because, naturally speaking, it looked so unlikely that Benjamin would reach this milestone any time soon. He was very content to crawl everywhere, and he was still resistant to being held in a standing position, though he was getting into the habit of pulling to stand on furniture when it was his idea. I also had a growing concern about lifting him, especially since I had some complications with a low-lying placenta arise at the end of my first trimester. Thankfully, though, that issue resolved itself within the next few months.

In August Benjamin began attending a school program two mornings a week that is specifically designed for three-year-olds with developmental delays. It is held at one of the local elementary schools, and besides classroom activities, he receives on-site therapy with the school’s physical therapist, speech therapist and occupational therapist. He adjusted well to the program, and Shawn and I were so relieved that he would be having added intervention to help him with his development. The weekly in-home therapy we received through Sooner Start had ended in May when Benjamin turned three. A month into the school year, though, I realized that he needed more than just four hours a week of interaction with other children. In the weariness of pregnancy, I realized that I needed more breaks as well. So, I looked into the local Head Start child care program and began the process to get him enrolled. I attended Head Start as a child and had a positive experience, so I was optimistic about taking this route. Shawn and I thought it would be very good for our son to be around a larger group of typically-developing children. The agency was willing to tailor things for Benjamin’s unique situation and allowed me to sign him up for only two mornings a week. They also assured me that an aid would be provided for him to assist with his specific care needs. He was able to start the program near the end of October, and after a rocky first few days, he got settled in and now loves to go! He shares an aid, who he adores, with another little girl who has cerebral palsy. She also happens to be a member of his class at the elementary school. Our son is now receiving intervention and reinforcement of the things we are working on from multiple sources!

We continued to work hard in physical therapy. Our biggest hurdle was figuring out how to teach Benjamin the concept of placing one foot in front of the other to take steps. He was cruising the furniture stepping side to side by this point, though he had a tendency to drag one leg behind the other. One day in therapy his P.T. and I both sat down feeling perplexed by this issue. After the progress we had been making, it felt like we had hit another wall that Benjamin was unwilling to scale at this point. We had tried so many different things to motivate him to take forward steps, all to no avail. In one final attempt, she had me sit on a stool several feet away and start encouraging Benjamin to come to me. In that moment, we suddenly had a breakthrough! Benjamin is still very much a Mommy’s boy, and even though he is with me most of the time, this became the motivation he needed to move his feet forward with her assistance. We were both ecstatic as he smiled and laughed and moved in my direction! In that brief minute, something flipped in his brain, and Benjamin grasped the concept of stepping forward instead of side-to-side. I call it Divine intervention!

With this large hurdle behind us, we were now ready to introduce Benjamin to a child-size walker. His P.T. pulled one out soon after and had Benjamin practice standing with it while holding the handles. He wasn’t sure what to think of this new contraption, and, as usual, he was resistant to the change. However, it didn’t take long before he started to grasp the concept of how to use the walker to his advantage. Shawn and I were amazed at how quickly he took to this new-found skill. Before long he had learned to pick up speed and to re-adjust himself when he bumped into something. Shawn started taking him on walks around the block, and though it was often slow-going, Benjamin loved every minute! He was experiencing a new level of independence, and his strength and stamina were increasing. Meanwhile, we continued to work on having him walk with our assistance. We practiced at home almost daily. I would sit on one side of the living room with his favorite toy (a See-and-Say) in hand and spin it while Shawn supported him at the other end of the room and helped him move towards me. Bit by bit, he required less and less support. The main thing was helping him to gain his confidence. Sometimes our little guy would hold his own hand as he took shaky steps towards me. Though I’m not sure that it helped him physically, he definitely found a level of psychological support using that method! I was so relieved that I could now hold Benjamin’s hands and walk him places, since he had become too heavy for me to carry around.

Over the Christmas holiday break, Benjamin’s P.T. encouraged us to take the walker to the mall for practice. It wasn’t until we got there that I realized we had never had our son use his walker in this large of a public setting before. Shawn had already considered that fact and was feeling a little apprehensive. Within moments we were very much aware of all of the stares from passers-by. Though we didn’t like to admit it, there was a sting of embarrassment as we realized again that what has been normal for us is so far from normal to the general public. However, we took things in stride and encouraged our son along. Meanwhile, Benjamin was having a great time! We were shocked and thrilled that he was able to go the entire distance around the mall. We had to laugh inside by the end of the outing. A three-year-old with a walker is not a sight you see every day, much less a three-year-old who is as enthusiastic as our little boy behaved. He let out shouts and squeals of delight the whole way around the mall. We really couldn’t blame people for looking, and we were so proud of him!

By the beginning of the New Year, it was becoming obvious that Benjamin’s season with the walker would be a short one. In fact, we just retired it for good on February 3! The month prior, on January 8, there was much rejoicing when my little boy took independent steps towards me during his physical therapy appointment! Shawn was thrilled to hear the news, and we were able to get him to take some more independent steps during our practice times at home over the next week. January 14 was another magical day for us. When I picked up my son from Head Start, his teacher told me that he had taken 6-7 steps on his own initiative! I couldn’t wait to tell Shawn when he got home! Benjamin and I were playing with a toy in end of the living room closest to the front door when my husband walked in. I immediately told him the good news and then stood Benjamin up and encouraged him, “Walk to Daddy!” With a huge grin on his face, our little boy took 7-8 steps all by himself into his Daddy’s waiting arms. It was the first time he had ever walked to Shawn before. A very proud father enthusiastically exclaimed, “Yay! You walked to Daddy!” Then with tears in his eyes he repeated, “You walked to Daddy.” I started to cry too. There are no words to express the joy and gratitude that rose up in both of our hearts at that moment. We had waited and waited and waited for this, and it was overwhelming and a bit surreal that it was finally happening.

That was less than a month ago, and our little champ continues to make progress. He’s still not walking independently on a regular basis, but we know it won’t be long. As we eagerly anticipate the arrival of our beautiful daughter at the end of this month, I am filled with gratitude as I look back and consider how far Benjamin has come over these last several months. What felt so impossible has become a reality. Our prayers have been answered, and all the hard work has paid off as we keep taking things step by step!
Coming out of a therapy session.
Wearing his special Theratogs that help support his low muscle tone and his orthodic braces that give him ankle support.