E is in boot camp. That’s what it feels like anyway.
For nearly three hours yesterday he endured a thorough evaluation by a speech therapist. “To establish a baseline,” she said. Never ending questions, prompts to point at things, to name them, to demonstrate his verbal abilities. Except it didn’t. It just wiped him out.
He was put in an unfamiliar environment, with unfamiliar people, and peppered with questions and prompts for an extended period of time. And this is supposed to establish a “baseline” of his abilities? All it succeeded in doing was overloading his senses and driving him into multiple meltdowns. Five for him, two for me, if we’re counting.
Years ago when my husband and I were dating, I remember him describing boot camp with the Marines like this: they break you down completely so they can build you back up the way THEY want you.
We’re there. I think we’ve effectively been broken down. But it’s not over yet. We have to go through it all again today.
Today we are headed to another lengthy evaluation – this time with an occupational therapist. Another unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, lots of questions, and demanding activities. I’m tired already.
It was extremely challenging to even get E out of the house today. After such a long day yesterday, all he wanted to do was stay home in his pajamas all day. So did I. Just getting clothes on him, let alone shoes, left us both emotional and exhausted.
But we made it here, and now we’re sitting in hard plastic chairs under fluorescent lights, waiting for our name to be called. Day 2 of boot camp.
A kind-looking older woman with a warm smile and laughing eyes opens the door between the lobby and the therapy rooms. She calls E’s name. I stand and take E’s hand to lead him toward the therapy rooms. He is clutching his blue blankie tightly, eyes dazed. He’s overwhelmed, and he’s checking out.
I smile weakly at the therapist as she extends her hand and introduces herself as “Miss K.” As I greet her, I’m praying she can read my face and the pleading in my eyes. “He’s scared, overwhelmed, exhausted. PLEASE tell me you will be a part of building him back up, and not just breaking him down,” I say, without saying any words at all.
As we move into a therapy room she asks me, “What does E like to do?”
“Anything with Legos, or toy cars, or organizing sets of things – like lining them up,” I respond.
“Okay, let’s start with these blocks, then,” she says.
YES! Blocks! Something E will be excited about! This is a good start. I take a deep breath, feeling like I’ve been given a reprieve.
Miss K pulls out a bucket of blocks and E’s eyes light up. He goes straight to the bucket and begins to build. As he does, Miss K watches him intently while talking to me.
“This is an exercise to see how E handles transitions. So we start off with an activity he enjoys and then after a few minutes we will transition him to another activity that is perhaps not as preferred, and see how he responds.” My stomach knots up. I know what’s coming. Another meltdown.
“We have a really hard time with that at home,” I say. “Trying to get him to stop building with Legos before he thinks he’s ‘done’ with whatever he’s building typically results in a major meltdown.”
“What do you mean by ‘meltdown’?” Miss K asks. “Can you describe it for me?”
Tears spring to my eyes. My throat is getting tight. I haven’t even begun to answer her question and I’m already crying. This is ridiculous.
“I’m sorry, Miss K. Can you give me a minute?” She hands me a tissue as I turn my body away from E to try to prevent him from seeing me cry. Taking a deep breath, I pull myself together and attempt to respond.
“Well, I can’t say every meltdown looks the same,” I begin, “but generally they include things like crying, screaming, rocking, hiding under things or curling into a fetal position, covering his head with his blankie, and sometimes banging his head on things. He also tends to repeat a word or phrase over and over, like a broken record. And we don’t know what to do when he’s like that. It’s like he gets in a cycle and can’t stop until he’s gone all the way through it.” I’m crying again, silent tears streaming down my face like drops of despair into a pool of hopelessness.
“You’ll see,” I say. When you ask him to stop building with the blocks you’ll see it.”
She nods her head in understanding, taking it all in as she observes E.
“E, in one minute we are going to put the blocks back in the bucket,” she says. “Then it’s time for Play-Doh.”
“No, no, no…” E responds. “Blocks. No, no, no….”
“Yes, E,” she replies calmly, yet firmly. “We’re going to build with Play-Doh next. In one minute.”
She turns to me. “With this we are working on transitions, on moving from the preferred to the non-preferred, but we’re simply moving from building with blocks to building with Play-Doh. If he likes to build that same skill can be applied differently – in this case, with Play-Doh – to improve his fine motor skills and tolerance for different textures.”
Transitions. I feel like all of those blocks on the floor right now – broken in pieces. Pulled apart at the seams.
Miss K leans over and picks up a couple of blocks, putting them back in the bucket. E begins to melt down. She continues, encouraging him to help pick up the blocks too. He is holding tightly to the two blocks in his hands as he cries, the sound escalating.
“I hear you, buddy,” I think, my throat tightening again. “I don’t want to let go, either.”
But when you let go, I can work. In your weakness, I am strong.
My breath catches. He’s here. Even here He’s with us. He cares about this moment. This moment where my son is melting down over blocks while I melt down over transitions.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear. I am with you.
I feel like time has stopped temporarily as the weight of His words wraps around me like a protective blanket. He’s spoken these words before. I’ve read them. Joshua. It was in Joshua, when Moses died and He commanded Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land. Talk about a transition.
Time starts again as Miss K turns to speak to me amidst E’s continued cries. “It’s obvious transitions are hard for him. This will be our primary focus for a while because transitioning is a necessary skill for everything else we will need to work on. He first has to accept transitions.”
Transitions. Like the one we are living right now. The transition of the last three weeks.
Leaving all that we’ve known to walk into unknown, uncharted territory.
It doesn’t feel like the Promised Land is ahead of us right now.
But He is with us.
For this moment, this transition, that’s the promise I will cling to.