the gift of occupational therapy

Today was my boy’s last day of occupational therapy. We have spent an hour of almost every Thursday for the last year and a half with our beloved occupational therapist, Eileen. Some days Luke skipped out of there, happy as a clam after getting to play so many fun games. Other days the reality of the hard work of OT was more apparent, and I carried him to the car as he thrashed and kicked and tried to bite me. But no matter how it ended, every session was a gift.

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Luke was pretty young when I had my first hunch that something was a little off in his development. But the toddler years are crazy for every kid, in one way or another, so I pushed it to the back of my mind as much as I could. I read and re-read Raising Your Spirited Child, because that book described him so perfectly, and it was so helpful in understanding him and being able to empathize with the way his mind and body work.

Yet, at his 3-year old well check, I brought up my concerns – he had no interest in using any sort of ride-on toys/tricycles/etc, couldn’t dress himself, had no interest in using crayons, would run endlessly, was easily overstimulated, and any sort of transition was clearly the end of the world for him. Our doctor (who we loved) was very much in the camp of “there is a wide spectrum of typical development” – and so he was not concerned. And when I read over this list (of the things I actually remember, I’m sure there was more) – I agree that so much of it is all over the map for typical 3-year olds. Luke has always been extremely verbal and social, so by all appearances in that doctor’s office, he was flourishing. But it was that mama’s hunch that kept me concerned.

We took him to a free developmental screening that fall. He charmed the volunteers and just slipped through each test. We walked away with a referral for 9-month old Gracie’s speech, which I (rightfully) discarded. I was completely discouraged.

If he had been my second child so I had more of a developmental frame of reference, or maybe if I wasn’t sleep-deprived at the time, I would have pursued answers. But I tend to be pretty submissive to those I perceive as experts or authorities, and they all said he was fine. If he had gotten a full occupational evaluation, I’m positive he would have qualified for services. But we went on, and it was probably the lowest time in my parenting experience.

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At his 4-year old well check, I walked in with a complete written list of all my concerns, which had grown. They included things like not being able to ride a tricycle, still scribbling, and not able to completely dress himself. Our doctor didn’t even get through all of them before he quickly agreed that further evaluation was needed. Apparently he had fallen off the typical spectrum enough to warrant a second look. I felt a glimmer of hope, which was enough to sustain me through the next 6 months that it took to get the referral and move through the waiting list for an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist.

I almost cried with relief (maybe I did?) when I got the phone call in the parking lot of Fred Meyer the same day of his eval. He scored very low in visual motor integration and fine motor skills (7th and 9th percentiles, I think) along with concerns about sensory processing and proprioception. It meant that we qualified for a spot in therapy, as soon as one opened up. I was relieved that we would be getting some guidance in helping him. And I was relieved that I wasn’t crazy, and wasn’t an entirely inept parent.

Our weekly visits with Eileen have varied in content, but they’ve always been jam-packed with activities that have helped Luke build his skills, and grow more comfortable with how his body works. As a result, his skills at school have improved, he’s become more comfortable in play, and do things like completely dress himself. I am so happy that we were able to get into therapy when we did – just at the end of last year he told me, “I can zip my coat up, and Gracie [2 years old at the time] can’t do that. But she can put her socks on, and I can’t do that.” I knew he was becoming more aware of some of his challenges, so I’m glad that he’s made so much progress before entering kindergarten. And yes, he can even put on his socks now – with fine motor + sensory issues, that a big accomplishment!

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I am so, so proud of this kid. His confidence is definitely blossoming in areas it hasn’t before, and he is much more willing to practice things that are challenging. Two years ago I just felt so unsure about so many things, and now, I’m just hopeful for what is ahead. And I will be forever grateful for the gift that OT was for our family.

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