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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Re-evaluating Janey

Today was supposed to be Janey's IEP meeting day, the re-evaluation one that takes place every three years, but one of her therapists didn't have a chance to evaluate her, so it's been delayed until the end of the month.  I did get, though, a progress report on her ABA therapy, and it was interesting to read. As I was preparing mentally for the meeting over the past weeks, I was also doing my own mental evaluation of the last three years.  How has Janey grown?  What areas are still tough?  What do we want to work on for the future?

The last three years for Janey has been eventful.  As most of you know, they featured hospital time, both time in a psychiatric hospital (with six horrible days of "boarding" in a children's hospital before that), and time in a regular hospital, for a very complicated burst appendix.  Those stays are the big things that stand out about the last three years, but there's a lot more to think about.

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's the only image I found that worked at all!
How would I define Janey right now, if I looked at her with fresh eyes?  Well, she's mostly a happy 12 year old, and that is wonderful.  That alone is almost enough.  She has many more happy than sad days.  She knows what she enjoys, and she knows how to ask for those things---car rides, music, videos, food, snuggling.  She's gone through puberty earlier than most, and she looks like an adult, physically, which is tough in some ways but not in others.  She continues to be very intellectually disabled.  She talks mostly in single words or phrases, she doesn't reliably recognize letters or numbers, she can't write or draw---she is and, baring a miracle, always will be unable to care for herself, live on her own, work (except in some hugely sheltered way).

The joy of her life, and the area where she in many ways is far beyond most, is music.  She has hugely sophisticated taste in music.  She knows what she likes and doesn't like, and lets us know.  Although she won't perform on demand, she very often surprises us by singing a song we don't think she's heard for years.  I do think she knows every song she's ever heard by heart, tunes and lyrics.  Music is her joy in life.  She learns far more easily when music can be part of the lesson.  She loves to dance.  It would be impossible to describe Janey as a person without mentioning music.

There are parts of life with Janey that are intensely frustrating, for us and we are quite sure for her.  Toilet training---not there.  Closer than three years ago, but inconsistent and far from reliable.  Communication, especially in terms of what is upsetting her, is still very hard for her.  She still often self-injures, by biting her arm or scratching her chest.  She occasionally lashes out at us or others---not as often as in the past, but when she's very upset, it's a concern.

The ABA evaluation, even in their required formal language, captured a lot of what makes Janey Janey.  Even the statistics---there would often be a task she did with 100% accuracy on one date and then with something like 20% accuracy on a later date.  The notes say that much depends on her mood and her level of arousal.  Janey in her best mood is so different than Janey in her worst mood that it's hard sometimes to believe she's the same person.  Nevertheless, she's made progress, and sometimes we even see school progress carried over to home.  She will ask for help when she needs it, she sometimes tells us when something hurts ("does your toe hurt?), she responds with "yes" and "no" more readily than she used to.

I think almost the more important three year re-evaluation is that of Tony's and my attitude.  I don't think any parent could go through the scares we did with Janey without an intensification of how much we treasure her.  We are so glad she's here with us.  We worry less than we used to about progress.  We accept that much of how Janey is is how she will remain, and that is fine.  On the less positive side, in some ways, we are tired.  We still so very much wish there was more respite available.  It's the week of both our birthdays, and that is always a reminder that autism, or Janey's brand of autism, never, ever gives you a break.  She comes first.  We don't have a life outside of caring for her during any non-school hour.  We love her so much, but she consumes us.  We can accept that, but I think we could be better parents to her with more help.  There are parts of life with Janey that would challenge the patience of a saint.  And then, there are parts of life with her that would delight and enchant anyone.

It's been a true privilege to share Janey's life with all of us, and to be able to be a part of your lives.  I will continue to do that for as long as I can, hopefully for the rest of my life.  It's the way that, with the restraints life with Janey has placed on me, I can try to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. I think of all the others living this life often, and I hope all of your re-evaluations contain some elements of joy.


Laurie said...

I just happened to come across your blog today and I'm so glad I did. Janey sounds SO much like my 13 year old daughter! I want to read more and possibly pick your brain about some things. I feel like Nyla is the most fascinating and complex person in the world, yet still like a toddler. She is obsessed with music and has adored classical music since birth. She is also not yet fully potty trained, she also has cp but I have always considered her autism to be the primary deterrent there. I am currently researching the process of getting her an endometrial ablation or better yet, a hysterectomy. I just wanted to say I am excited to have found your blog. There are very few kids like Nyla despite the prevalence of Autism. Her mental and physical challenges complicate each other. But then, she knows several languages, incredible memory capacity, etc. Like I said, these girls are fascinating!

Suzanne said...

I'm so glad you found my blog too, Laurie! I really look forward to getting to know you and Nyla. She sounds amazing! It's always wonderful to connect with others that get how our girls can be both astonishingly talented and at the same time, much like toddlers. Whenever I hear from someone like you, I wish I could just fly out and meet you and Nyla today!