Category Archives: Sensory processing disorder

Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.

Therapy

That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)

The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.

We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym.  And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.

Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.

I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.

Evaluation

Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.

So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.

As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.

Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”

So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.

I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.

Allergies

We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.

So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.

Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.

Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)

So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.

This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.

Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.

Choosing a school

Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.

Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.

But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.

It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.

All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.

The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)

I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.

Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.

And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.

To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

Oh yeah.. and last week…

Blogging has been on my to do list for a couple of days. But when I sat down to write last night, I was so full of the thoughts and worries of that 48 hour period that I forgot there were other events last week that I’d meant to write about.

We had a couple of appointment last week. We finally got back in to see Patrick’s psychologist yesterday. Can I tell you how amazing she is? When Patrick’s insurance case manager called me to tell me about a new Autism clinic that she’d seen open at the University of Utah THE SAME DAY THAT SHE CALLED I was pretty speculative. Especially since we have never been big fans of the diagnosis of autism for Patrick. Spectrum diagnoses are tricky and, while time and learning have convinced me that Patrick does have struggles that fit into the definition of autism, his presentation is so atypical that I don’t feel like the diagnosis serves him well. Well, unless you are dealing with someone who really does understand autism spectrum disorders. Which the people at this clinic really do. And for all that I don’t willingly introduce Patrick as autistic, we have found the autism clinic to be a tremendous help for us. I’ve been anxious to get him back.

When Patrick met “Dr. Joo-la” and her “piggies” (guinea pigs) there was an instant connection. I could see that he clicked with her and listened to what she said to him.As icing on the cake, she also saw that with the responsibilities of being his caregiver, I wasn’t going to have a chance to go seek other help for myself. She told me in the first meeting that if we sometimes needed to spend sessions talking about and taking care of me, too, that she considered that an important part of taking care of Patrick.

This last visit, I took her up on that. First of all, she spent a lot of the session reassuring me that Patrick really HAS made great progress. I’ve said before that it doesn’t seem like he is as plagued by constant sensory seeking as he was before. She pointed that out, too. Saying he seemed more focused, more grown up. Of course, his exploding language skills are an amazing step.

She reminded me not to be overwhelmed by after-school meltdowns. Pointed out that we had the same problems last fall, too. And she helped me brainstorm ways to make coming home from school perhaps a little better.

She also reminded me not to feel guilty about not being able to do all my heart says I should be providing for Patrick. She’s been following this blog, so I know that she was aware when she told me that she knew that a lot of days, we are just still surviving the day. She encouraged me to embrace summer school as respite time for me and NOT to try to spend it doing things for him or feeling like I need to save them from problem behaviors. I really need to call and see if it’s an option for me to swim in the mornings while he’s at school. If not, at the least there is a track at the high school on the same campus and I can walk.

And then she reminded me that I need help and tried to help me work up the courage to go and tell some of the people in my support system that I’m feeling lonely and overwhelmed and could use some company, if not some help. I don’t seem to be very good at that. (Does this count?)

Anyway – we talked about some other strategies for summer, for respite, for behavior, etc. We talked about bringing him back to their social skills group. (Which I’m very pleased to have found works well this summer.) We played with the piggies and Patrick tried to trade our bird Max for one. And then we made some return appointments.

That was the happy appointment of the week. The next day, I took Patrick to his allergist and I’m afraid it didn’t go as smoothly.

I learned two important lessons. 1) Don’t schedule appointments immediately following school. Patrick needs time to unwind first. 2) Don’t go to the allergist alone.

Because of his ADHD and sensory processing disorder, Patrick doesn’t do well in new environments and Patrick’s allergist just moved to a big, beautiful new facility. I’m very excited about this because he’s no longer sharing space with a regular healthcare clinic and there’s less risk of catching a virus there. But for Patrick, new spaces have to be explored thoroughly with doors banged, containers emptied, equipment disassembled. It’s a disaster. Also, because of a lifetime of doctor’s visits, Patrick doesn’t like it when I talk to a doctor about him and will do just about anything to get me to stop.

This day was particularly bad. I’d managed to get a tired Patrick to nap the day before, but insomnia kicked in that night and he was up till 12, getting just 6 hours of sleep.

The end result is that Patrick threw all of the flashcards, snacks, magazines, and tissues on the floor. Then ended up having to sit in a chair with all other furniture moved away from him. And then he screamed for most of the rest of the appointment.

I have to give props to Patrick’s allergist, Dr. Gleich. He still smiles, talks to Patrick like Donald Duck, tells me that I have my hands full but am doing a good job being patient, and just gets us through the appointment as productively as possible. He is a very good man.

So while I tried to keep as much calm as possible, Patrick’s allergist and I tried to talk through how transplant might change the strategy for his allergies. Obviously, the ability and need to eat are a significant step. And I wanted to talk about how to safely explore what he can have.. and just how safe it is to be dabbling in some of Patrick’s milder allergies while he is on immune suppressants that are making it so he doesn’t have many reactions.

I wish Patrick had been feeling better so we could have covered more ground. We reviewed Patrick’s last test results. The gist of them is that Patrick’s test results show him allergic to a lot of foods that he tolerates, at least to some degree. We still need to stay far away from cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and unbaked eggs with caution for other foods we’ve seen cause a reaction. He said to keep encouraging Patrick to eat eggs as an ingredient in baked foods as that mild exposure is believed to help kids outgrow allergies. He gave blessing to my efforts in allowing Patrick traces of milk, in extreme moderation. (Goldfish crackers, for example.) He actually was surprised that I was still being cautious about butter and regular cheese, but I pointed out that we see reactions to those foods.

He also took care to warn me of just how serious it is that Patrick’s spleen was removed, leaving him without a major defense against illness. He wanted me to be sure that, for any fever, I know I need to go straight to Primary Children’s. Some things don’t change.

And then, because we weren’t getting much further with Patrick screaming in the corner, we decided to not try additional testing that day. Instead, he asked me to bring Patrick back in July or August for repeat blood and scratch testing. In the meantime, we are supposed to explore and even push a little bit, with epi pen and benadryl nearby, and keep a log of what we discover about Patrick’s tolerances for certain foods.

I find that the further we get down this road the more obscure my question are. Neither Patrick’s allergist nor his transplant team really know how food allergies and immune suppression will affect each other. I don’t want to compromise Patrick’s new gut with a lot of foods he’s allergic to. (Food allergies can cause a sort of rashlike reaction and ulcers in the intestine). But I also don’t want to limit his nutrition and ability to wean off of tube feeds if that’s not necessary. I find myself wishing that I knew of an allergist somewhere who has an interest in transplant and immune suppression. I’m not sure such a person even exists.

Anyway – Patrick was asleep in the car 5 minutes after we left the appointment. Next time, I’ll try to allow time for a rest after school. Next time I’ll try not to go alone.

And maybe over the next couple of months we can figure out a schedule that lets Patrick outgrow naps, like he’s trying to do, without spending afternoons and evenings too tired and grumpy to function.

One other appointment this week, feeding therapy. Inspired by Patrick’s interest at a memorial day barbecue, I decided to work on hot dogs this week. I’m pleased to report success. So long as you cut the hot dog in half so he can fit it in his mouth. And watch him and remind him to take small bites. And maybe let him decide he’s done with the bun. Still, a victory in time for summer for a kid who doesn’t like his burgers grilled.

And speaking of burgers, I’m trying to figure out how to translate Patrick’s love of certain fast foods into a working menu at home. I’ve got him eating ham on english muffins a-la Burger King breakfast sandwich. And we’re working on thin sliced roast beef on hamburger buns as a tribute to Arby’s.

I do have one lingering worry. I’ve realized that if they do decide that Patrick can continue on to first grade next year, that means eating lunch at school. And right now, I mostly have taught him to eat warm foods. He does great with fast food, mac and vegan-cheese, pasta in red sauce, hot dogs, cooked veggies, soups, chicken nuggets and french fries. And this is exactly the sort of food that will be being served in the cafeteria. Except, well, that an elementary school cafeteria is not an allergy-safe place. I can’t expect them to watch for cross-contamination.

So I’ll be packing lunches. But I think one of the conversations we need to have in this week’s school planning meeting is whether or it’s an option to heat up food for Patrick in a staff microwave. (It’s already non-negotiable for me that he’ll need an adult to sit with him in the cafeteria.)

And Patrick’s feeding therapist and I did some brainstorming on cold foods that he might be able to eat if we work with him over the summer.

I’ve decided that we will for sure be frequenting the lunch park at the school next door again this summer. But this time, with the hope and goal of being able to figure out lunches that will work to send with Patrick to school next year. Last year, I was able to follow their menu and pack matching foods 80% of the time. But if those things can’t be warmed up at the school, then we may just have to work on being ok with eating the food you had packed for you, even when it isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

One other item of note from this last week. A family moved in across the street from us while we were in Nebraska. They have a little boy Patrick’s same age. We’ve talked about but not found a way to get them together to play. Until this week.. when this boy came and asked if Patrick could play.

This was a growing experience for this mom. I am trying VERY hard to stop being a helicopter parent now that Patrick doesn’t have IV’s to monitor. But it meant that both of us were a bit thrown by a same-age playmate. I’m not sure Patrick knew quite what to do with him. In many ways, he is like his peers. But in many ways, he still has a lot of growing to do. They drew on the sidewalk with chalk a bit, tried out all of Patrick’s ride-on toys. Then they went across the street and played in his yard, too.

I was doing my best to stay looking busy but also keep an eye on them. And to let Patrick build this relationship on his own without my coaching. Mostly they drove Patrick’s ride-on car up and down the street.

When I picked Patrick up for dinner, he was enjoying a snack of animal cracker. I was grateful they were safe, and I decided that next time I send him to play I need to make sure they know he has allergies.

It’s been a full week. I sometimes think my head might explode trying to hold all of this and have a normal life, too.

This week’s normal

I think for the next little while, we’ll be building our normal week by week. Some things are routine. A lot is just made up. Most of the time, it feels like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but every once in a while, we strike gold and I know that I got being a mom right that day. I wish more days were like that.

Patrick’s doing well back at school. Waiting to go in the morning is really hard. He gets up excited to go to school and then we try to fill the mornings. When we have our act together, we will do something before we leave. Work on homework. Visit the library. I’ve learned it helps to go early enough to let him get some wiggles out before school so we usually try to get 15 minutes to half an hour at the park that’s next to the school.

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

Where I spend the mornings when Patrick is in school

I’m enjoying a brief little bit of respite while Patrick is at school. One of this teachers pointed out a quiet little walking track near the school. So I drop Patrick off and then go walking. You know that mom who stays in her exercise clothes all day long? Shops in yoga pants? Picks up her kid with a messy ponytail and no makeup? Unshowered. Long into the afternoon? Yeah.. I’m that mom right now. But it is SO NICE to be able to exercise and this is the way I am doing it.

After walking, I’ll sit down in the far corner of this beautiful little grassy, shady park where i walk and read my scriptures. I love that the ladybugs are my study buddies.

An hour goes pretty quickly. But it is very nice to have this little bit of time for quiet reflection. Especially because, as happy as it makes him, going back to school has been hard for Patrick.

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I was thinking that somehow transplant had magically relieved him of his sensory processing disorder. No. It turns out that it was just being able to be home and unstructured. Keeping it together enough to follow the rules and sit still and be attentive at school takes enough of Patrick’s energy that, even though it’s only one hour, when I pick him up he is wound up like you wouldn’t believe. It takes a good hour for him to settle down again.

His temper is hot again – fueled by steroids that I’d hoped might not be necessary in this high of doses by now. And we spend a lot more time trying to cool down when angry.

The days that are golden we manage to fit in something magical like an hour of practicing reading early reader books at the library or sitting down together to practice writing or have lunch at the park. Patrick’s quickly taking to the idea of kids meals and is trying just about any sandwich I deliver packaged in that form. He devoured an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, though at home he has sworn up and down to me that sliced roast beef is “too brown.”

At least once a week, we try to stay late after school at the park. One or more of the kids from class will stay after school to play. His classmates really do love him and try to include him. I heard one boy tell a friend, “I can’t leave Patrick to play with you. He has been away and is lonely. You can play with us. But I want to play with Patrick.” Big words and big heart from a kindergartener.

My mother's day flowers

My mother’s day flowers

We have enjoyed a brief break from the rain and that’s had us spending afternoons outside. I asked Brian for flowers for the garden for mother’s day. He spoiled me by taking me to the greenhouse and letting me pick out flowers to my heart’s desire. So I’ve been planting all week. Patrick still struggles with this because he’s not supposed to garden in this first year and feels left out of an activity he loved. So we try to do it in small portions.

However, it did get him outside and, though he protested a lot the first day, after that he started asking me if I’d go plant flowers so he could play in the yard.

Speaking of Mother’s day.. I had such a peaceful day. Weekend, actually. Brian spoiled me all weekend, taking me out for breakfast and dinner at favorite restaurants on Saturday, and then cooking for me on Sunday. We opted to stay home, which made for a quiet and peaceful day.

I was invited to speak in church that day. That’s a nervewracking assignment for a woman who has a history of infertility and adoption and raising a child with chronic, terminal illness. Womanhood and motherhood have NOT gone the way I expected and I used to cry through and try to avoid church on mother’s day.

However, spending my walking time in the week before mother’s day studying messages about womanhood and motherhood and God’s love really can help to build up your sense of self-worth. After all that we have been through this past year, I’ve wiped away most of my expectations. Without expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Instead, I spent most of the day just feeling grateful. Grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Grateful for another year with Patrick. Grateful for relative peace.

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I needed that little recharge. Because not every day is full of peace and gratitude. Not every day do I get motherhood golden. I’m still learning to juggle time and responsibility, fostering independence and giving loving attention.

The end of this week ended up tricky. Wednesday night, late, I got a message from Patrick’s teacher saying a stomach bug was working its way through the classroom. Brian and I talked about it and decided to give Patrick a choice of whether he wanted to wear a mask and gloves and go to class or check out early with me.

The first day, he opted to check out early. We had a golden mommy day that day where I made up for missed school time by working with him on reading.

The next day, he chose to wear his mask. That day didn’t go as smoothly. He came home riled up and didn’t want to nap and decided to avoid it by being extra naughty so I’d need to stop him and/or put him in time out. A rainstorm came in that night and I can’t help but wonder if the change in barometer hurts him and he just doesn’t know how to express it. I mean, I ache from tiny little injuries. He had his whole digestive system removed and replaced.

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And so we go. Day by day. Week by week. Making this up as we go along.

I told a friend on Sunday that it feels somewhat as if my life was erased when Patrick got his transplant. We’re trying to piece it back together a little at a time. I’m trying to get the most important things back in first. There is a sort of peace in that simplicity. Some days I get the parts in wrong and the gears get jammed. Other days, they fit and we work like a well-oiled machine. Most days, a little of both happens.

Hope you’ve enjoyed pictures from one of our well-oiled days. We surprised Patrick with a trip to member’s night at the zoo. He’s been asking since Brian and I went on our last date if we’d take him on a playdate, too. When we pulled into the zoo parking lot, his face lit up. Bonus that the summer dinosaur display was already up.

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Transplant Day 46 and Physical Therapy

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Today was a busy day. I knew we’d need to be up early to start out with labs, but last night was another night where Patrick didn’t make it to sleep till midnight. So when he snuggled up next to me and fell back asleep this morning, I didn’t really have the heart to wake him.

At 8, as my alarm was going off after the 3rd snooze, I decided we were going to have to bite the bullet and get up. I could tell that sometime during the night Patrick’s ostomy bag had come loose. Thank goodness I’ve got a good drain system set up so it didn’t make a mess that woke us earlier. But it did mean that we had to start off with a bag change right away.

Patrick wasn’t so sure of me when I put him in the tub without waterproofing his bag.. But it actually worked very well to make it come off quite easily and changing the bag went very smoothly. But we were really pressed for time so when the phone rang to tell me they were showing his nurse up, he was still quite naked and wrapped in bath towels.

We hurried to get a diaper on and wrapped him up in a blanket and the nurse was able to draw his labs. Meanwhile, my phone rang and it was the pharmacy. It’s been one week since discharge. Time for a new shipment of supplies.

When we got through all of that, it was already 9 a.m. I begged Patrick to stay on the bed and watch Blues Clues and let me run downstairs for his medicines alone so it could be faster. He agreed and we were able to get all of his medicines given on time. But in the meantime, he was a lot happier in the room watching TV than he usually is trying to entertain himself while I do up meds in the morning. In fact, he happily stayed and played and watched TV for another hour and a half.

That gave me time to clean up the room a bit and to set up the printer that my mom and dad bought me for my birthday. (I knew I’d want to do Mommy School here so that was one of my first wishes.)

Finally, I was hungry and he needed formula made so it would have time to chill before starting the new batch running and we had to give in and leave the room. Besides, Patrick needed me to buy him new socks. So we went downstairs and got ready and went to Target.

Let me tell you about why Patrick needed new socks as it brings you to the next part of our day. If you are new to our story, you may not know that Patrick has an anoxic brain injury and cerebral palsy. When he was 8 months old, his heart stopped because of an infection and some medication they were using to treat it. It took over 15 minutes of CPR to revive him. The result is that the ends of all of the blood vessels in his brain were deprived of some oxygen. That accounts for a lot of his behaviors and most of his developmental delays and learning disabilities.

When you hear the phrase “cerebral palsy” you probably imagine someone with a very severe case whose body is contorted with muscle spasms: someone who can’t eat, can’t talk, can’t walk, etc. That is what you imagine because that is the presentation that you can’t ignore so you ask about it. But what cerebral palsy really means is that at birth or shortly thereafter, the brain was starved for oxygen, leaving the patient with a “palsy” or lack of control of the muscles of the arms or legs or more. The signal from the brain to these limbs gets confused or altered somewhere along the way causing unexpected movements, often causing the muscles to spasm.

Well, over the past week, I have seen Patrick’s hip and foot of his right foot turning inward. He is becoming more clumsy and having  a harder time controlling those muscles. I started making him wear his walking brace for half to all of the day. (Enter the need for new, longer socks that would prevent rubbing from the brace against his leg.) We’ve been doing stretching, too, and those muscles are much tighter than they have been in years.

Today after shopping and a short nap, I took Patrick for a physical therapy evaluation in the hospital’s outpatient clinic. I wanted to evaluate his recovery and I was especially worried about this problem with his gait.

The news was good. First of all, Patrick is a “rockstar” from the physical therapy standpoint. His incision is better healed, his movement is better, his pain level is less, and his energy is more than most patients at this point. He is really doing remarkably well.

The therapist said that she thinks that the spasticity in his leg is likely a combination of problems: the trauma of transplant, the effect of new medications, the exhaustion of recovery. In other words, she said that it’s probably something that he’s feeling all over, we just are seeing it more in his leg because that is where he is weakest. She said that for every 1 day in the hospital, we should expect 2 days for his body to recover. Considering that he spent 39 days in the hospital, it will be a few months before he is back to full strength.

The prescription is simple. Keep doing all of the exercises we were working on at home for leg strengthening like climbing stairs, squatting and tiptoes, bike riding, jumping. But, for the next little while, have him wear his brace so that while his nerves and muscles are relearning and recovering, we are training his body to move the right way. Patrick is not amused by this prescription. He keeps asking me to let him take his boot off because he feels like it’s in his way.

The therapist said that she is seeing such progress in the area of gross motor skills that, given our insurance policy’s very limited therapy visits, that she feels like physical therapy would not be her focus right now. She recommended instead that we take advantage of the opportunity to work with an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding in kids post-transplant while we are here.

She also said to allow him lots of rest. And I think that I realized today that doing so may require a little more keeping him in our room. When we hit our room, all of the sensory overload caused by the rest of the house melts away. He is happy watching TV and doing crafts. Tonight it finally clicked for him that the tote in the corner is a toybox and that he is allowed to go get those toys out and play with them.

I don’t know for sure. We’ll need to find a balance so he gets social time, too. We both need it. But we both were much happier with some quiet, one-on-one free play time in the room.

We had another special treat tonight. One of the men from our church who helps bring the sacrament has talked for a while about inviting us over for dinner. Well, tonight, we got the chance. That was really such a treat! Patrick had a great time playing with their two little ones (ages 3 and almost 5). I spend some time with some other adults about my age whom I have a lot in common with. And just take a break from all of this medical stuff for a while. But also, without a ton of explanation. He has been visiting for a while now. He was also the anesthesiologist on Patrick’s case the night of transplant. So they know the story and some of the things they should expect. It was good to just be normal for a little while.

We were both sad to see the evening come to a close. But it was bedtime and we needed to unwind to go to sleep here, too. Setting up my printer meant I also set up a place my laptop can sit next to the TV, so we were able to turn on one of the new DVD’s that Brian’s parents sent him. We watched Curious George’s Christmas while I cleaned up the room, prepared feeds, drew up medications, and got Patrick into his pajamas.

He made it to sleep by 10:30 tonight which isn’t the greatest, but is better than midnight. He also is starting to prefer to go to sleep in his bed on his own. He won’t admit that. He would love for me to lay with him. But he has started to do his usual putting himself to sleep routine if I’ll just lay with him for a bit, then tell him it’s time for met o kiss him goodnight. I kiss him and go lay in my bed until he falls asleep. Then I get up and try to get done whatever was waiting for him to rest.

Tonight while I waited, I decided to poke around Pinterest for kindergarten homeschooling ideas as Patrick’s teacher was still sick today and an hour a week of school is certainly not getting him the education he needs or that his little mind is craving. I am thrilled to say that I stumbled across a curriculum that looks like it will pick up exactly where he left off at school and that really fits his learning style. It even has little printable readers. (I’m trying to decide if I print them or see if it’s possible to throw them into an e-reader format to save on printing). I’m excited to grab a little bit of playroom time tomorrow morning so I can get it downloaded and start working on it.

One last bit of news, then I have to post this and get to bed. My eyes are drooping. Patrick’s transplant coordinator called this afternoon. The great news is that his prograf level is finally in range. Just barely, but it’s there. That’s the first time in a week. That means no medication adjustment. It also means that we get to switch to twice weekly labs. And THAT means that we can sleep in in the morning if we’re tired. At least till meds are due at 9.

However.. you probably wont’ get to read this until then because I am just plain too sleepy to go hunt down an internet connection until morning.

Summer vacation

Tomorrow marks 3 weeks since Patrick’s last day of school. For most people, summer vacation is in full swing. For us, we’re finally starting to get our bearings. It’s been an unusual start to summer.

Things seemed smooth enough. I spent that first weekend after school ended gathering myself to start a tradition Patrick and I are calling “Mommy School.” Between therapies, Patrick has a LOT of “homework”. He’s supposed to spend 10 minutes every day doing eye exercises. He’s supposed to be practicing writing and cutting and and gluing and using a keyboard. We’re supposed to be strengthening his core, working on activities that use both sides of his body evenly, and encouraging him to cross midline. He’s supposed to be practicing telling me stories in various verb tenses, using articles, and correcting his use of pronouns. Plus working on vocabulary building, sorting skills, categorization skills, social skills, attention skills and on and on. All of this to help keep him progressing on his current trajectory which, discouraging as I may find it, is approximately two years behind most of his peers.

Except, it seems, when it comes to the alphabet. Patrick has the alphabet down pat and tested in the top 25% of his preschool class.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

Our first day of Mommy School. Learning the shapes of letters by building them from playdough.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

A practical life mommy school lesson on how to sweep.

And so, this summer we introduced “Mommy School.” We’re doing an abbreviated letter of the day curriculum, since letters are what Patrick loves. Every week is assigned two letters and every day a word that starts with that letter. Then I go out and scrounge up books, worksheets, crafts, activities and field trips on that theme.

Teddy Bears

B is for Bears, and a teddy bear picnic.

The first day of Mommy School went GREAT! Until, that is, Patrick developed a fever. The next day of summer break was spent cuddling a sick, feverish kid in a chair. He had a cold and we were grateful to be able to stay home sick like other children. By Thursday, Patrick had mustered the energy to play on his own again. But, by then, I was sick.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It's hard work, but fun too. Patrick's reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

Patrick sees 3 therapists on a regular basis in the summer. It’s hard work, but fun too. Patrick’s reward for a good hour of work in physical therapy is the chance to climb the rock wall.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

In occupational therapy, Patrick gets to take sensory breaks in the gym. Diving in the ball pool is a favorite exercise.

Our second week of summer break, Patrick and I were finally starting to be healthy again. But Brian wasn’t. And it didn’t matter if we were healthy or not because on Saturday of that week, my little sister was getting married in my backyard. So, I declared “C is for Camping” and we pitched a tent in the living room. Amazingly, this both occupied Patrick and kept the room clean while he binged on movies and we scrambled to finish last minute details on the house and yard.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

I meant to pitch a tent outdoors, but it rained all that day, so we brought it inside. It worked so well we kept it a second day, too.

We also sneaked in a couple of outings.. a family night at Red Butte Garden and a field trip with friends to the Natural History Museum. (I picked up a free month-long museum pass at the local library just so we wouldn’t have excuses to just stay home and work.) Besides, in order to get Patrick to let us work, we let him watch his birthday movies on endless loop, which left us all craving some family adventures.

Patrick loved the children's garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

Patrick loved the children’s garden best, especially hopping on stepping stones across the fish pond.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The best part of our trip to the Natural History Museum was not the dinosaur bones. It was the chance to be there with other friends who know exactly what living with Short Gut is like.

The wedding went smoother than expected, though playing hostess and trying to keep Patrick from completely melting down about how his house was filled with children who were not sharing his toys with him kept me busy enough that I didn’t manage to take a single picture.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom's Facebook page.

I was too busy to take pictures, but there were lots of cameras there. I snagged this one off my mom’s Facebook page.

My sister was a beautiful bride and the happy couple truly looked happy and in love. Patrick eventually settled down with Grandma who let him fetch endless cups of water from the refreshment table and pour them all over himself and her and all went well enough.

Except that it turns out that maybe the bug that had Brian sick isn’t the one that had Patrick sick as I ran a fever all night.

So, Sunday we took a sick day and we stayed and home and did absolutely nothing except that Brian cooked us a delicious roast. The day was delightful and refreshing. Perfect after two frantic weeks.

Yesterday, I put together a week’s worth of Mommy School worksheets, made a chore chart, got Patrick’s TPN labs drawn and kind of regrouped. Then, in the late afternoon, I changed Patrick’s central line dressing and discovered that, much to my dismay, what had once been a tiny little hole in the clotted side of the line had grown big enough that I was worried it would pull off. But it was after hours and I wanted the head of the IV team to be involved in choices about the repair.

So today, we spent our kind of restart to summer day exactly as summer days seem to go for us.

Over breakfast, I made a bunch of phone calls to people at the hospital trying to find the best way to get the line repaired. Eventually, I sat down and had a little cry because I wasn’t getting in touch with the people I wanted and I knew we’d have to go to the E.R.

Then, Howie gave me a pep talk and a hug and a kiss. Then he talked to Patrick and helped him to gather the courage to get his line repaired. (He was terrified that it was going to hurt when they cut the broken part off of his line.) We headed up to the E.R. where our timing really was perfect. We didn’t wait at all for them to start working. Patrick’s line is a different brand than our hospital stocks because it was placed in Nebraska, so that complicated things and the repair took about an hour and looks a bit sloppy. But it will do for a clotted line.

And then, when all was done, we headed off to the Children’s Museum for a couple of hours. We managed to get there at a nice slow time on a nice slow day. Patrick actually got to enjoy exploring the museum and would have happily stayed there all day. His favorite spots were the Bob the Builder exhibit, the gas station, and the pretend E.R.

Builder Patrick

I didn't know they'd built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

I didn’t know they’d built on a pretend E.R. with the life flight display. Patrick found a little girl willing to play the patient and had a great time

Eventually, we had to go because I was parked in a 2 hour parking space and, honestly, we both needed a rest. So we stopped in at daddy’s office to pick up the leftovers from a lunch he’d cooked for them today. And then we came home and convinced Patrick to nap by 4.

Which brings us to right now. Brian just walked in the door to a quiet, clean house and me blogging and said, “Now that’s a sight I don’t see very often.”  Here’s to maybe a little bit more of this? Perhaps a few prayers for this line to hold out through the summer and grant us a little bit of peace ..and maybe even health?

Another IEP meeting behind us.

I feel like a huge weight has been taken off of my chest. Although we have always been very blessed with a caring and cooperative IEP time, hammering out an IEP that meets Patrick’s many needs is no small feat. And this year, with everyone on the IEP team, except the classroom teacher, being brand new to us, I was especially worried.

So I got dressed in my best “I’m competent” clothes, a change from my usual “I’m a special needs mom and you’re lucky I am dressed” wardrobe. I even put on makeup and did my hair. I packed a bag of toys for Patrick and brought along a stack of supporting documents for me. I stopped at the store and picked up some new puzzles for Patrick, even. Then went to Dunkin’ Donuts for goodies since the meeting was at lunch time and I wondered how at least the classroom teacher was going to manage to eat.

Then, as I was sitting waiting for Brian to meet me, I noticed that I’d mixed up my brand new jeans with an old pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch that I’d worn gardening last week. And I crossed my legs and shook it off because I couldn’t let that throw me today.

It seemed like this year’s IEP was all the more important than years past. Before, we were just making goals to help move forward his academic and developmental progress. This time we were dealing with new and worsening behavior problems as Patrick has become aware of his limitations. He wants with all his heart to fit in and make friends, and he just doesn’t have the skills and savvy to do it right. And so he’s taken to hitting, kicking, and pulling hair when he feels frustrated instead.

I had a feeling stress was building. But, I’ll be honest, I’ve been surprised and quite devastated that things got this hard this fast.

As the school year ended last year, I knew that impulsivity was getting to be more of a problem the more Patrick could do things for himself, but still couldn’t be independent. I asked his neurologist for help and he referred me to an amazing program designed to help children with developmental delays and behavioral issues.

But when I started down that path, insurance informed me that the program was through a non-contracted provider. They are a non-profit and we could maybe have made things work, but it was going to cost us more out of pocket than I expected. And, to make matters worse, their wait list was months long… all summer long in fact… just to get an evaluation.

My sweet insurance case manager felt so bad delivering this news that within a day, she’d called around and found a neuropsychologist who they contracted with who could squeeze Patrick in for some developmental testing. I had to fill out a mountain of paperwork. The questionnaire was over 50 pages long. Plus provide a medical/developmental history. (Another 50 pages at least). Then, Brian and I went in for an interview where we talked about all of the things that concerned us about Patrick’s development and behavior. Then it was Patrick’s turn. 4 hours of alternating standardized testing and play therapy and observation. In the end, we got a 25 page write up describing our child. His strengths. His weaknesses. His learning style.

In the end, Patrick was diagnosed as having many physical and cognitive delays stemming from his brain injury. (No surprise there.) And with ADHD. (Also no surprise, though really nice to give it a name we can work with.) The evaluation also included testing for autism and the doctor and Patrick’s therapists and I had a long drawn out series of conversations in which we discussed the way that Patrick’s brain injury sometimes makes him act like he is autistic (sensory processing disorder, social difficulty, quirky little obsessions).. but in the end decided that that diagnosis would only cloud and confuse things for him as it doesn’t exactly fit.

Armed with new diagnoses and 25 pages about how to help Patrick learn (with very specific examples of areas to teach him in), we supposedly had all the makings of a rockstar IEP.

Hence my anxiety over the past month in trying to get things just right. I’ve been e-mailing and talking to Patrick’s new special education teacher (this is an extra teacher who works with him in a regular classroom). I have felt like the super duper stubborn bad guy with my list of unreasonable demands. I really wondered if they were starting to hate me.

But today’s meeting was yet another IEP success. I feel like Patrick’s got a group of very astute and caring team of people working with him. And, in the end, they found a way to give Patrick just about everything we were asking for for him. In fact, a little bit more, even. Like a motor aid to help him in PE. And picture schedule cards for each type of activity in the class. And a more supportive chair for work table time. The occupational therapist offered to work with him on a sensory diet (meaning physical activities to meet his sensory needs throughout the day), which is virtually unheard of in IEP’s in Utah. And the speech therapist offered to build Patrick social stories with him as the main character on her iPad. And, as icing on the cake, they have a written behavioral plan in place for Patrick and are calling in a psychologist to consult and help Patrick learn to control his temper in class.

Of course, the trick now is finding practical ways to make it all work together.. But it is such a relief to feel like we’ve got our feet pointed in the right direction again.

And a big relief to be done with a crazy month of trying to see all the doctors and all the therapists and gather recommendations and write firm but kind “parent advocate” style e-mails that say what they need to, but then have to be trimmed down because, face it, I’m verbose. It will be a relief to be done rehearsing arguments about the IEP in my head all the time.

At least till next fall. Or maybe spring. Or maybe earlier, if things aren’t going quite as they should.

The Orange Rhino Challenge and a whole lot of stars

2013-10-03

Patrick loves school! He is so happy to be back. He is making new friends at a record pace, as well as happily meeting and playing with his old friends before and after school.

But, he’s also been really struggling since school started. At first, the reports were a few here and there coming from the classroom. Then one day, the special education came out to meet me and talk about the problem. Patrick has been growing increasingly aggressive. He’s not picking fights per say, but when he gets mad or feels ignored, he has been using his hands and feet to express his anger. And it’s been getting worse, spilling over into therapy and playdates and church and home.

I loved the conversation with the special ed teacher. (Note, this isn’t the regular classroom teacher. This is a teacher who visits the class a few times a week and, like everyone else, is new this year.) She said she’d heard that Patrick hadn’t had these problems last year in school and asked me if he’d been under any stress at home. I explained that during the first week of school, Patrick had had major, life-threatening medical issues and had needed to travel out of state for surgery. She said, “Well, I know about that. But other than that….” Yeah. She didn’t get it.

Then she asked me what helps at home. I tried to explain sensory processing disorder and how he needs a physical outlet for his energy or he can’t sit still, gets in trouble, gets embarrassed, gets mad, and hits. She told me he gets a regular sensory time once a day. Yeah. She didn’t get that either.

I left the conversation with two clear impressions. 1) Patrick was struggling at school and 2) I was going to need to come up with some answers to help him and/or a better way to communicate with the plan-makers at school because we weren’t going to make much progress otherwise.

I put a lot of thinking and reading and talking and praying into the problem over the next couple of weeks. And I watched as things got worse and worse. It was pretty clear to me that Patrick has been responding to the stress of having his life turned completely upside down… and then having to start school. Not only that, but school twice as many days a week as usual, and in a class that is much younger and more chaotic than last year. He’s feeling overwhelmed and he doesn’t have the words to express his feelings or stand up for himself. So, he’s doing the only thing he can figure out to do. He’s fighting back physically.

And then I remembered something I encountered a while back. An amazing woman who made a goal not to yell at her kids for a whole year, 365 days..  She blogged about the experience and is still blogging and running a Facebook support group to help other parent learn to discipline without yelling, too.

She calls the project The Orange Rhino challenge.

And I realized that I can’t expect Patrick to learn to deal with and express his anger and frustration and overall exhaustion with his situation in healthy ways if I haven’t learned to control my own temper.

But I just couldn’t seem to get there.

And then, a few days ago, I took Patrick to a checkup with his neurologist. We discussed the results of his recent neuropsychological evaluation (a topic that I swear one day I’ll tell you more about, but in a nutshell Patrick was diagnosed with several learning challenges, as well as ADHD) and how to help him learn to work through his attention issues at school, and he offered to have me talk to the department social worker about resources.

That conversation was a lot about how to create a behavioral plan in Patrick’s upcoming IEP. But one thing that stood out was that he suggested using a reward system to encourage the behavior we wanted instead of just punishing “naughty” behavior.

And I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Finally, it came to me. And yesterday, Patrick and I had a talk and made a deal. We both need to learn to be gentle when we feel angry. So, any time one of us is going through a hard time and feels mad and chooses to use soft hands and soft words instead, we get a sticker.

I stuck a sheet of foil star stickers in my pocket and away we went.

It was a rough start, with a tantrum first thing in the morning when he failed to earn a sticker by hitting when he didn’t want to take a bath. I thought maybe I was in over my head. But soon, we had our groove.

I took him to school with 3 stars on his head, gave a sheet of stickers to his teachers, and hoped for the best. I picked him up after school to find a dozen more stickers on his head. He was so proud of himself! His teachers reported an improvement, too.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, part of the plan of success with the Orange Rhino challenge is to tell people what you’re doing so that, if you’re feeling weak, you can call out for help. I’m two days in… we’ve had a few almost tantrums from both of us, but we’ve made it so far. It’s easier because we’re doing it together.

My goal isn’t necessarily a year of no yelling. But it is to earn as many sparkly star stickers as I possibly can each and every day.

To know more about the Orange Rhino Challenge, here’s a website: http://theorangerhino.com/