Hallie has been having a great week. Probably a lot of the 'off' stuff that we were seeing a couple of weeks ago was related to her coming down with a cold/fever, and not regression or anything ASD-related at all. This makes a lot of sense; I know that I don't function well and am out of sorts when I feel like crap (which I did this week, when I came down with my own cold/fever/laryngitis/sinus infection malady; let's hope Hallie isn't getting it). Anyway, once Hallie started feeling better, things really began coming together for her again.
Last Friday, Sharon and I had our first ever parent-teacher conference with Hallie's lead teacher, Ms. Kristen. I've gotten to know Kristen, as well as the other teachers, fairly well over the past five months and, of course, I'm in constant dialogue with Hallie's therapists, but this was our first sit down, official conference. Kristen had nothing but glowing things to say about Hallie: she finds her energetic (in an infectious, good way; when she comes in for her two afternoon days at 3:15, she appears to recharge the batteries of those kids who have been at school since early in the morning and whose energy is flagging); helpful (she loves to give out instruments to the other kids, collect trash, and is a masterful cleaner-upper); and polite. She also loves art and music and eagerly participates in story time, circle time, and all group activities. Apparently, her fine motor skills are improving and she's doing a ton of talking. While some of what she is saying is echolalic, this is true of several of the kids (who are not diagnosed with anything) and it's clear that Hallie comprehends and is following what's going on around her. She is also quite enamored of dramatic play (dress up) and is beginning to interact more with the other kids. She knows all of their names and greets them all by name, but she's now beginning to do more than this.
We know that the other kids really like her and that several of them ask after her each day, hoping that Hallie will be in class with them (she has an odd schedule which we adults find hard to follow; I can only imagine it's more difficult for the three year old set to recall which of Hallie's days are full days and which are part days).
Most importantly, Hallie is happy at school. She's adjusted really well, has not cried about going to school since at least some time in August and never wants to leave. Indeed, for the past week or so, whenever I come to pick her up, she happily shows me whatever toys she's been playing with and then sits back down to play some more.
Anyway, it was great to hear all of this. Now that Hallie is back to her normal self, we can see how good of a fit the YCCA is for her. That they emphasize music, art, and sensory activities and use those to teach academic skills seems great to us. Hallie has all of the academic stuff that she needs at this age down pat; we are thrilled that they are not drilling letters, numbers, reading, and such at school but instead focus on things like movement therapy, playing with textures, and teaching the kids a lot about music.
We think that all of this exposure to the social world of typical kids is really helping Hallie to advance her play skills. First, she is doing a lot more interacting with the other kids on the playground after school. When I picked her up last Friday, she asked to go to the playground (she's been doing this often) and of course I was thrilled. As usual, she swung a bit. But unlike in the past, when Hallie's made a beeline for the baby swings, this time she walked up to the 'big girl' swing and asked me to help her up. She then told me, "I swing on big girl swings!" and did just that. She's beginning to kick a bit, which is great, since I think her capacity to pump her legs is beginning to emerge.
Then, her friend Daria came over, and, after swinging a bit, asked Hallie to play with her. This time Hallie didn't ignore the request; she told me she was all done swinging and she happily joined Daria and Logan (a boy at her school) in a game of chase. She also went up to Logan and asked him if she could have one of his pretzels. Here are a couple of shots of the kids at play:
We're not just seeing progress in the area of playground skills, either. Hallie is also beginning to do a lot more real, functional, creative play. For example, last night she was building with her wooden blocks. Instead of just building a tower and knocking it down, over and over, Hallie built a couple of houses that looked like houses. I wish I had gotten a few shots of these. They were cool looking. Sharon, who is an architect, was quite impressed. Likewise, she's been using her Mr. Potato Head much more appropriately. Instead of having arms coming out of all of the holes, octopus-style, she made this lovely creature the other night:
Other than the fact that the guy was wearing lips as a cap, I'd say this was a pretty appropriate potato head.
Hallie's also been drawing with purpose, even if her creations don't really resemble what she says they are. She has been into Blues Clues lately, so I've given her one of my old notebooks. Tonight, she drew a couple of renderings of something that she called Spider Man and narrated her drawing for me as she made it. "Here are the eyes," she said, "and here is his nose and mouth. These are his legs. I draw Spiderman!" She was very proud of her drawing, and so was I.
But perhaps most important is that her pretend play skills are developing rapidly. Tonight, while Sharon was out standing in a really awful line at the UPS pick up center waiting to get a couple of packages, I was home with the two kids. Hallie grabbed one of her Lego vehicles, put two of her little figures in it, and started to drive it around. Sharon's backpack was on the floor in the living room, and Hallie had the vehicle drive up the side of the backpack, and said, "we're driving up the mountain!" Her vehicle then passed under the jumperoo and Hallie exclaimed, "we're driving through now!" It was good to see her creating a scenario for her little Lego people that was entirely unscripted; this was not something she had seen a character do on TV or anything like that. It was her own imagination that was in the drivers' seat.
This, a lot of dress up play (tonight Hallie was a doctor and she asked to listen to my heart; at other points this week she's been a "pretty princess" or a policeman) and some discussion of feelings (she turned to me tonight, while watching a segment of Elmo's World: The Great Outdoors that featured a lion and a bear, and said, "I'm scared; that's scaring me!") make it obvious to us that she is in the middle of a developmental spurt. We love it.
Food-wise, things have been going pretty well. Hallie is still not a big fan of eating because it distracts her from other, more preferred activities, but she's been enjoying some of what she's eating quite a lot. She was turned onto Cocoa Puffs by her cousin Adam, and has been munching them quite happily, asserting that they are "so yummy. Dee-li-cious!" And she is still in a toast phase, which is great. She also rather enjoyed several of the cookies I picked up at Isgro's in the Italian Market this week, though she would have preferred it had they been solid chocolate and not just dipped in chocolate.
Improved eating has led to improved growth: at today's checkup, Hallie was 32 lbs. 6 oz. and back at the 50th percentile for her age. Of course, she looks thin, but that's because she's shot up again and is now 39.25 inches (up from 38.5 inches), which is about the 75th percentile. And vomiting has stopped: we're now on day 245 and counting. What a difference this year is, relative to last year or the year before that.
Lea is doing great, too. She weighs in at 19 lbs and is 28 inches tall, which places her firmly at the 50th percentile for both. Her head is at the 75th percentile and is not much smaller than Hallie's (very small) head.
Lea is doing a lot of 'talking'; she is saying something that sounds an awful lot like "I got it!" (a phrase Hallie often uses) and "thank you". She is also trying to say "duck" and "teddy" and uses these words appropriately. When she is crying we hear something that sounds a lot like "mo-mm-y" but she's not really saying "mommy" or "mama" quite yet.
Lea has also learned to use her Fisher Price 'bubble gum' toy (where she hits a blue paddle to release the ball and turn on the music); loves her toy piano; and loves playing with the shakers and cymbals. And, basically, anything that Hallie does, Lea wants to do. She adores her sister and wants to emulate her every move.
Hallie feels the same way about Lea and the two kids often play together and crack each other up. Tonight, Hallie was on the couch and Lea signaled to me that she wanted to get on the couch, too. She climbed over to where Hallie was sitting, began to put her head in Hallie's lap, started playing with Hallie's hair, and gave her lots of hugs and playful slaps. Hallie thought it was hilarious. I thought it was sweet. Alas, I was unable to get a picture of the girls at play tonight, but did take this shot of them in the tub last night: