Here are the highlights:
AJ has taken to his iPad with a force to be reckoned with. He is able to turn it on, swipe the screen, choose his iCommunicate communication app, or his sensory app board. He knows the home button will return him to the home screen. He exercises this skill a little too much. He chooses from his "Basic Needs" board with great success. He knows his picture schedules very, very well. This has been key this year. For example, his Monday board has one picture at a time, where he swipes to see what's next. What is amazing is that we have decreased the number of pictures quite a bit. At the beginning of the year his school day boards all started the same: picture of his school, followed by his assistant, the hallway, the elevator, another hallway, the entry to a specific room, and the room itself. Now, his school day boards start this way: picture of his school, his assistant, the room that is his destination. A goal for app use was established as well, since AJ likes to flip through apps like he's a fish. At his IEP it was discussed that while it drives us all batty sometimes, we think its AJ enjoying the "power" of being able to control the iPad and flip to whatever he wants. He's such a smart kid.
The most awesome iPad related gain? AJ is spontaneously seeking out his iPad to try and tell us what he wants. HUGE!!! He's understanding that in some situations he's not getting his point across. So instead of throwing a tantrum and getting uber frustrated, he's using his communicate tool-independently. The first time he did it at home Jer and I about jumped out of our seats!
AJ is matching pictures to pictures in a board book. We are beginning to expand this. He is able to trace the letters of his name. He can trace a vertical and a horizontal line. He can cut a piece of paper independently using a tabletop scissors. He loves to cut things out. This is quite a change from earlier in the year and even last year. Our goal is to have him engage his left hand/arm to move the paper himself instead of an adult guiding the paper. AJ is coloring (wahoo!) with great success. He doesn't do well with just a blank sheet of paper, but does well with a target, such as a coloring sheet or a shape drawn on the paper. This is HUGE, as he has never been one for coloring.
AJ is doing puzzles with success! His special education teacher came up with the great idea to color the puzzles piece inserts black to give AJ a color different between the wood puzzle board and the inserts. It's worked really, really well.
Each year his school PT times him walking the same distance in one particular area of his school. This year, he dropped his time by 24 seconds. He's getting faster! He's also participating like a champ in SDPE (Specially Designed Physical Education). He's open to anything they throw at him (pun intended). For example, at the beginning of the year, he was reluctant to try new things. Now, he'll explore it and pays much more attention to the environment and kids around him. He is actively participating. Seriously. I'm bursty.
A few weeks ago a taekwando school came into the gym classes and worked with the kids. Apparently, AJ was all.about.it. He "got it" from the get-go. They were holding their hands a couple feet off the ground and he was kicking all on his own. You better believe we're checking into this for him!!! His school OT is really working on his pre-writing skills and his fine-motor skills. He has come so far and is open and willing to pretty much anything she presents to him. She's also really good at finding things that she knows AJ will like.
AJ has become more and more vocal. His vocal play and imitation has sky-rocketed and we are honoring every sound and encouraging him as much as we can to keep it up! He's also doing this at school, which is super exciting to see him doing it in both environments. He's keeping both his implants on during auditory therapy, which is HUMUNGO! Yes I made that word up. He still prefers the right, but we are making some great progress with returning to bilateral. I would say 5% of the time he'll "fight" and not want the left on. That's only 5%. He's been putting on his own coils for quite a while now (wahoo!), but now he's trying with the left exclusively. It is amazing to see him "playing around" with his implants. He takes the coils off and on, realizing the difference between when they are on and off. He's no longer ripping his implants off or chewing them. Hallelujah. Seriously.
We have a follow-up this week at his CI Clinic-as he's been implanted for 4 yrs on the right. I don't know how that happened. I'm looking forward to him showing his audis his amazing progress. And for the first time ever, I am not stressed about booth testing.
AJ needs a brother or sister. Oh, wait. That wasn't in the IEP ;) But its what I was thinking during the peer portion of our meeting. AJ learns best when he instruction is 1:1 and he has 2:1 assistance. Meaning, the teacher, and his assistant helping/modeling/prompting him. However, there has been a huge shift in his interaction with his peers. As in, its exploded! He loves to be around his peers. He's seeking them out. He's getting better at acknowledging them with a high-five. This is the blanket action we all do to greet him. He's really good at doing it with adults, but he needs a bit of prompting to do it with his little friends.
AJ's regular education teacher sat in on AJ's entire IEP. I wanted to squeeze her. AJ is rarely in his classroom, so I was unsure what she would have to say. But she opened my eyes to the magic of my little boy. AJ has a desk in her room-he has all year. I took a picture of it at the beginning of the year in awe that my boy was a first grader. With a desk. Sigh. Anyhow, she shared that even though AJ isn't in the classroom, the kids have NOT forgotten about him. She hears conversations between the kids, "Did you see AJ today?!", "I saw AJ on the way to lunch"! I just about fainted from the cuteness and kindness of these children. They look forward to seeing him and guard his desk, saying, "That's AJ's desk". I just. We could not have asked for a better school environment. He went to hug one of the preschool girls the other day. I just about died from the sweetness. They are his little army love. I love it.
AJ's been involved in a peer social group for the last few months with some of his male buddies. They all just radiate cuteness. This has really helped him make eye contact with his peers, engage, and learn social skills. It has transferred into other areas, such as engaging his peers throughout his school day. Currently, AJ eats lunch in the special education room with a few of his friends. The goal for next year will be to start him in that environment again (for consistency) and then transition him back into the lunchroom with all of his peers. Apparently, his friends have asked to have him back at lunch with them. We miss him! Tear. At his CI follow-up well be figuring out if we can map a specific program for the lunchroom environment so that he can be with all his peers. It is now appropriate for AJ to be with his friends on a more consistent basis.
He's bored here at home. Often. I am not as fun as a squealing 7 year old girl, apparently. Or his other buddies. I am hoping to set up a playgroup with his buddies over the summer.
Speaking of summer-another shocking revelation at his IEP. AJ only qualified for auditory services with ESY this year. Holy buckets. I had to have the staff clarify about three times to really grasp this concept. Our school district offers regular summer school-what I call fun summer school-which AJ will be participating in. They have a special needs component which will allow us to sign him up for some fun sessions. His auditory will be built into that time. I am so excited I can hardly stand it. No more summer ESY with him and a teacher in a room. He'll be with other kiddos. None of this was appropriate last summer, nor in years past. He wasn't ready. But boy oh boy is he ready now. To know that the only area they see regression possible in is auditory, that means my little boy is being successful.
Another goal for AJ is to attend to books for a certain period of time. Often, AJ flips through books like he flips through apps on his iPad. It's not that he doesn't like books, because he does, but its a crapshoot as to whether or not he'll attend or not. Some days he's really "on", some days he's "not".
A few months ago I attended a seminar called "Lights, Camera, Autism". It was awesome. And not just for autism. I learned a lot about how to use technology to help AJ. I was proud to realize we were already ahead of the game! One piece that I really took away was that the structured "frame" of an iPad (or other screened device) really helps frame and concentrate his brain. His school SLP asked me for videos of each of us waving and saying "Hi to AJ". From that format, AJ has learned to sign "Mommy", "Daddy", and "dog". Yeah. Pretty incredible. Just this week he produced the modified sign we created for him for "all done" (tapping his hands on the table or his lap). Yesterday he mastered "bath". Next up- "sleep" and "cat". He loves the videos of our dog and cat that I took. The dog barks, the cat meows up a storm. He squeals with delight when he sees those videos at school during speech time. I've noticed him reacting differently to the dog and cat here at home as well. He's more aware, seeks them out, and pets them. Framing his world has been very, very successful.
If you are interested in learning about using technology to help your kiddo, check out the Lights, Camera Autism book.
The one area that is still grey and often frustrating is AJ's behavior. We've figured out that he's displaying these behaviors for attention. And, because he has no other way to express his emotion. When he's super excited his he'll scratch and pull hair. When he's mad he'll scratch, bite, pinch. Sigh. One thing that has helped decrease the behavior is putting words to his actions. "Oh your mad, I know you are mad! You.are.mad!". I'd say that this is helping about 75% of the time. We'll keep at it. I'm also brainstorming with his school SLP and OT as to how we can teach him emotions. I would be ecstatic if we could teach him happy and mad for starters. AJ doesn't understand those cute/creepy posters with the faces of emotions. I hope we figure something out soon.
AJ can open and walk out both our front screen door and the back screen door. He's so independent now. One of his IEP goals is to independently wash his hands. He's 75% there. Little skills like this all lead to his successful independence as he gets older. You wouldn't think it matters, but oh it does. He can get fully undressed on his own now. He gets in and out of the car without assistance. He walks down the stairs without assistance, holding the railing, independently-and is much, much faster. He understands verbal prompts only, such as: stand up, sit down, pick it up, where's your coat, let's go, stop, get down, I could go on. Isn't that awesome that I could go on!
The biggest idea we discussed was how AJ is displaying a copious amount of intent. With everything he does, there is intent behind it. No longer is he just wandering through his days. The little boy who wasn't supposed to walk or communicate successfully-IS. He has expectations, wants, needs, intention, and happiness in his life. I don't think I could ask for much more than that.