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Life with Athena, Part II

If you didn’t read the first part of this series, I definitely recommend going back and reading Life with Athena. There’s a good chance this post won’t make much sense without it.

Figuring out *most* of the pieces of Athena’s sensory puzzle allowed her brain to relax and start learning language. She was going to bed without much pomp and circumstance, but we were still dealing with some behaviors.

Athena met all of her occupational therapy goals in about 4 months. From there, we continued special instruction and took on speech therapy.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that she was more than capable of speech. She had no additional speech issues like shaping sounds, oral function, etc. She understood everything we were saying. Chosing to comply, respond, and react, was a completely different ball game. Therapy was mostly trying to get her to respond and engage. Not because she couldn’t, but because she just didn’t feel like it. She has obviously been raised with cats.

For a while, we hit a wall where she wasn’t saying more than 1 word at a time. 2 if we were lucky. See, she realized that we were so excited that she was saying anything, that she could say 1 word, and as adults, figure out what she wanted or needed. Water. We knew she wanted water and would get it. It took most of 2020 to get short phrases.

By mid-summer she had her 1 year evaluation, and had technically “met her goals” on paper. She was saying words. Yes. But she wasn’t necessarily communicating. She could identify animals, foods, colors, etc. But she wasn’t applying those words to conversation.

We were able to have both therapists write additional letters expressing their support of her continuation of therapy. We were getting ready to have the baby and were worried about regression and transition. Services were going to end for her in December when she turned 3 regardless, so it wasn’t a stretch to get approved for a few more sessions.

On December 18th, 2020, we had our final session with our Special Instruction therapist, M. So far in these 2 posts I haven’t talked much about her. She was our first therapist, and with us from start to finish. She quickly became one of our family, and when I think of our life when we started to where we are now, there is no way we’d have made it without her. I don’t have the time or emotional capacity to truly give her the credit due. We both have had very dramatic lives the last year, even outside of the ‘vid. M was a friend when somebody needed to tell me to get out of the house. She was comic relief, that also knew how to kick me in the butt in just the right way.

Every step of the way, she was our constant. From moving, to pregnancy, to Covid, to having a baby, and all of the things in between. While our other therapists were specialized, she was helping us play the game, “sensory or toddler?” Few people understand my child to the degree that she does, and that is something precious to me. It’s the kind of relationship as a parent, you can only desperately pray to have and find in a support person that becomes ingrained so intimately.

We knew when Athena finally started talking it wouldn’t stop. There are days where I laugh because milliseconds after thinking, “Oh my gosh stop talking,” I remember just a few months ago wishing she would.

This time last year putting her down for bed I told her “I love you.” And I wondered if I’d ever hear her say it back.

And I wept.

I wondered if she’d say the name of her sibling, or if the baby would talk before her. I worried about how growing up with an older sibling with “extra needs” would affect them.

I wouldn’t say I had “fears.” But I definitely have had concerns and wonderings. The reality is, in some way shape or form, even though she’s now more or less talking, she will always deal with her SPD to some degree the rest of her life. Because we were able to identify it quickly and early, most of her coping mechanisms are second nature.

There are times I have to remind her to get her *chewy brush* instead of gnawing her fingers or some other object she shouldn’t be chewing on. There are times where we stop using a coping strategy for a while, and have to come back around to it because we can see she is struggling.

At this point and time, Athena has not been identified as Autistic or “on the spectrum.” Quite honestly, we don’t expect her to test that way in the future either. If you were to see us out in public, and she were having a meltdown, there is a really good chance you would assume that she is. Her reactions and behaviors can sometimes seem to lean that way, but she isn’t. I liken it to a cat. At 8 pets they want more. At 10 pets they are happy. At 11 pets they scratch your eyeballs out. Athena is similar. Though she is sensory seeking, if she gets too much, it’s a problem. If she doesn’t get enough, it’s a problem. Every day is a game of filling the sensory tank without going over or under.

Similarly I struggle to write these posts. Not because I don’t want to share or it’s emotionally painful. It’s a precarious balance between being vulnerable and honestly expressing how difficult it is, and being Que Sera Sera, making juggling this all seem very easy.

As with any and all parenting, there are good days and bad for both of us. There are days my own sensory avoiding tendencies clash with her sensory seeking. There are days where I just don’t have the energy to be loud. There are days I am trying to get the baby down for a nap and she just. won’t. be. quiet. Pretty much every day I am asking the good Lord to give me the strength, patience, and grace to handle her, and hope my coffee is stronger than my toddler.

Jesus. Coffee. Oils. Amen.

In my last post of the series I will talk about how we handle the meltdowns, our next steps, products that made a huge difference (I’m looking at you mini trampoline), and attempt to wrap this up in a decent bow.

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