How Old is Hallie?

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Things Hallie Can Do

On the eve of Hallie's second IEP, I find myself a bit too antsy to settle down to sleep (though I know that I should). I hate these things: I hate what they represent (that Hallie needs some extra help to do stuff that comes naturally and easily to most other kids her age); I hate that I have to fight to get her the things that she needs, though honestly there is no better advocate than a parent; and I hate meetings. I really do. When I was chair of my academic department, I was very, very good at keeping meetings to a minimum and making sure that they were short.

Anyway, what better time but now to blog? (It helps that I am already as prepared as I can be for this meeting and that I know what she needs and what I want to get for her; it also helps immensely that the semester is over, the grading is done, and that the dinner dishes and toys are all put away).

So, in the spirit of the half-full glass, this is all about what Hallie CAN do and some of the strides she's made recently. It's not an exhaustive account by any means (I'd have to liveblog her life at this point, since she has changed so much and has done so many new things over the past couple of months), but it should give those of you who (used to) follow this blog a nice Hallie fix.

1. Hallie can ride a two wheeler. No one taught her how to do this. She just took off in the aisles of Toys-R-Us when Sharon was out shopping for a new, bigger bike for Hannah for her seventh birthday. Who knew? Hallie had never been on a two wheeler before. She just instinctively knew how to ride it (hippotherapy and watching her cousins and other big kids probably helped some, too). And here's a bit of proof. The video sucks but it should give you a clear enough idea of how well she can handle a big girl bike. Just click on the picture and you'll be redirected to the video website:

From My Videos

2. Hallie also is teaching herself how to swing properly on a 'big girl' swing. This is still very much a work in progress but she's getting there. She will repeat 'in and and and out..." and then tell me that she is "swinging just like Hannah." While she can't quite get herself started swinging, she can keep herself going on her own for a little bit now, which is a great relief to a mom who has spent the better part of three years pushing her swing and who now has to split her attention between two kids, one of whom most decidedly must remain in a "little girl swing" for some time still.

3. Eat new foods and like them...sometimes quite a lot.

We fairly recently discovered that Hallie loves chocolate. She can consume quite a bit of it at one sitting, too. She has been known to scarf down five or six Hershey's nuggets within a few minutes and she regularly demands chocolate bars. This, of course, made Easter her kind of holiday.

We bought a bag of Hershey's Easter Eggs for her a few weeks before the big day just to get her used to the new, seasonal shape of her chocolate. Transition from a fairly flat bar or chunky nugget to an ovaline shape may not seem like a big deal to most of you who are reading this, but put yourself into the shoes of a kid who is high functioning on the autism spectrum who has a bad case of food neophobia. Apropos of this, just today she pitched a major fit when I tried to give her a square graham cracker instead of the rectangle that she requested. I tried to explain that two squares were equal to a rectangle and that all of the crackers in the packet that was open had broken in half, but no go. I ended up opening a new packet just to avoid an escalation of her tantrum. Yeah, I know, it didn't solve anything, but honestly some battles aren't worth fighting and these include pretty much all battles over food. But I digress.

Anyway, the egg shape wasn't a problem at all for Hallie and she ate her way through two or three bags of chocolate eggs before Easter. But that did not at all dampen her delight on Easter morning when she discovered her basket full of goodies:

Of equal importance, of course, is that Hallie got the idea of Easter. If you recall, back at Christmas, she was not so clear on who Santa was, why he was coming, who, exactly was leaving all of those presents under that fake tree, etc etc.

This time, however, there was no doubt that she was mesmerized by the concept of the Easter bunny. She left carrots for him (bunnies, of course, love carrots) and had a blast hunting for the chocolate-filled plastic eggs that he left. She and Lea both had a grand time on Easter morning. Never mind that, were you to ask her what the Easter bunny's name was, she'd say "His name is Ollie!" (If you are a devotee of The Wonder Pets, as Hallie very much is and as I am by virtue of being a denizen of a home that is brought to you by Nick Jr., you know that the show regularly features a bunny named Ollie. Hence all bunnies are named Ollie in Hallie-wood.)

Hallie thus was quite enamored of the giant Easter bunny on the premises of the church where her preschool rents space and was thrilled to take a picture with him:

Anyway, Hallie's new foods are not limited to chocolate, egg-shaped or otherwise. She has also become a regular consumer of peanut butter sandwiches and, more recently, peanut butter and nutella sandwiches. She was a bit skeptical about the concept of chocolate spread but once she tasted it, she was hooked. (And who wouldn't be, really?)

In feeding therapy, which continues to go well, Hallie is learning how to eat slivers of grapes (adding another fruit to her repertoire of avidly-consumed apples and watermelons and more skeptically eaten slices of banana). Her food journey remains slow, but she is branching out and learning to be a bit less afraid of new things.

Snacks, and crunchy ones in particular, are easy for her to integrate into her diet and she now regularly requests crackers; enjoys popcorn; and made a happy discovery in the form of crunchy cheetos. But she is straying further and further into food regions uncharted. For the past few weeks, she's been intrigued by berries. She won't eat them yet, but she likes to hold them and offer them to me, to Lea, and to her Wonder Pets figures (whose faces ended up smeared with blackberries the other day). And she's been willing to lick strawberries even if she doesn't eat them. We take it slowly around here, and that's fine.

But sometimes she surprises us. Tonight I made pasta for dinner (wagon wheels with a fairly mild shrimp fra diavlo sauce). I served up portions for Sharon and myself and put a bunch of wagon wheels, sans shrimp, into a bowl for Lea, who was sitting at the table with us. Hallie came over and asked for pasta and then proceeded to actually eat the whole bowl and request some more. She probably had fifteen or twenty little wagon wheels and pronounced that she "loves pasta." I am not sure if this experience will be replicated any time soon, but it was wonderful to have her eat the same thing that we were eating.

4. Another great thing that is happening is that Hallie is developing real friendships.

Hallie tends to gravitate towards kids younger than she is, like Lea or Taylor, or friends who are slightly older than she is, like Alex (pictured below in a very nice shot of our girl).

But she is also beginning to initiate more real interactions with the kids at school, which is great to see. The other day, when I went to pick her up from school, the kids were all outside in the yard playing. Uncharacteristically for her, Hallie did not sense that I was around and continued to play a very fun looking game of "Red Light, Green Light, 1-2-3" with a couple of the other little girls in her class who are her regular playmates. It was wonderful to watch and, even though Hallie still speaks less than her peers do, she finds a way of engaging with them and the kids really do seem to enjoy her presence.

4. Hallie is also speaking more, and more fluidly.

At home, Hallie is turning into a bit of a chatterbox. She regales me with discussions about animals and lets me know the natural habitat of each of them. Sadly, for Hallie, the lion's natural habitat is not just the jungle but also the zoo. She is going far beyond just labeling these days. For example, she says things like: "bees live in a beehive. They make honey. Bears love honey! Three little bears live in the woods! They eat porridge with Goldilocks. Goldilocks is the big bad wolf!" (I blame Sesame Street for that piece of misinformation; one of their shows is about mixed up fairy tales; Goldilocks goes on vacation and the big bad wolf takes her place. The two shall forever be confused in our little girl's brain, alas).

Anyway, the point is that Hallie can go on and on now and, while conversations tend to revolve around things of interest to her and don't involve a huge amount of back and forth, she's making huge progress and I imagine that, with a little work, she'll move into real, functional, meaningful conversation with us and with her peers.

5. Hallie's pretend play skills really are emerging. She's not quite at the point where she is crafting really extensive scenarios and she is using her favorite shows (especially The Wonder Pets) as a jumping-off point, but these days, the Wonder Pets and Hallie regularly rescue various creatures. Her little Lego people regularly take adventures in various vehicles. And some of her toy figures have embarked on submarine voyages in the bathtub where they go diving to see lots of different kinds of fish and crustaceans who apparently live on the sea floor of our bathtub. I am always thrilled to ride along with Hallie on whatever journey she is crafting and enjoy seeing where it may lead.

So, even though I feel a bit of trepidation and a bit of sadness that tomorrow I need to go through the ordeal and hassle of Hallie's IEP, one of the really great things about being Hallie's mama is that the journey we're on is not about special education or services or fighting the school district. The journey we're on is about Hallie and watching the miraculous progress she is making unfold. And that's kind of the point of parenting, isn't it? Sometimes it takes euphemistic adjectives like "special" to make you aware of how special, used in no sense euphemistically, your kid really is.


Anne said...

Excellent bike riding! We are still trying to master the tricycle here without much luck.

Kirsten Wood said...

Well said, lady. Especially the last couple of lines. If we were all better at recognizing the special -- the everyday special and the exceptional special -- how much better the world would be.