Learning with Julia

I finally watched the Sesame Street episode that introduces Julia, the new kid on “the Street.” For those of you who haven’t strolled down the Street “where the air is sweet” in a while, Julia has autism. Our family is a few years and a few streets over Sesame Street, but as a parent of special needs children, I wanted to meet Julia.

meet-julia---season-47-of-sesame-street---photo-credit-zach-hyman-6

Well, DANG! Where was Julia when our first child, Sam, was an infant? We could have learned so much from her and her yellow-feathered friend. Five minutes into this introductory episode, Dan (my husband) looked at me and said “Well, Sam is 4 for 4 from what I’ve seen. Why wasn’t this around 5 years ago?” Exactly what I was thinking.

Dan and I were not only first time parents, but had not been around many children prior to having our own. We didn’t know what was developmentally normal. Yes, we read the books, and our son was meeting and, in some cases, exceeding the milestones. He was a great baby and infant. We told people, “You know that old saying ‘G-d never gives you more than you can handle?’ He must not think very highly of us.” Then, we laughed and counted our blessings. Clearly, by age 4, He determined Dan and I were ready for a new challenge! Sam became a full-fledged hell-cat. We couldn’t understand what happened.

Our mild-mannered son developed strange behaviors. He became known as the “Woo-Woo” kid (not to be confused with the “Woo-Woo” sorority girls, but more of a siren “Woo-Woo”) because he was constantly making that siren noise, along with a few others. His noises disrupted his class and detracted from his learning, not to mention the learning of others in class. The teachers spoke to us about it, but didn’t seem overly concerned.

There was the screaming bloody murder about being touched during teeth brushing, bathing and hair washing, “STOP! STOP! YOU ARE HURTING ME!” He loved being in the water, so thinking he was being dramatic and not knowing any better, we wrestled with him, forcefully washed him and told him to stop yelling, “You are fine. This can’t hurt.” Bath time became a torturous task we despised and fought over whose turn it was to bathe Sam.

Up next, the socks were strangling him. He went 9 months without wearing socks. Yes, his feet stunk! Yes, I gave him pedicures almost every day. I couldn’t wash his face or brush his teeth, but man, he loved those pedis. Have I mentioned how much I hate touching feet? These were no longer cute baby feet; these were sweaty boy feet in stinky sneakers with no socks! (My love for my son is endless. There is nothing I won’t do for him, including pedicures).

Then, the tags – while most kids don’t like tags, Sam loved rubbing the tags to the point that his hands were constantly down the back of his pants in search of a soft, satin tag. (We now know tag rubbing is his way of self-soothing). For the record, hands down the back of your pants is not a good look and not socially acceptable at ANY age. The preschool teachers reminded us of this repeatedly. Thankfully, a therapist recommended cutting out the tags and sewing them in his pants pockets. When he needed to calm himself, he simply put his hands in his pockets and rubbed the tags. This worked like a charm. And, as an added bonus, you can confirm if you are a recipient of my son’s hand-me-down pants and shorts, as the Gymboree size 5 and 6 clothing all have tags sewn in the front pockets.

Now, don’t think we were oblivious. Dan and I were constantly talking to each other about the odd behaviors. We brought it up to teachers and doctors alike. No one seemed overly concerned at that point. It wasn’t until he started flapping, had limited body awareness and thus started bumping into kids, that the teachers showed concern for his behaviors. The impulsiveness associated with ADHD didn’t help the situation either (although he had not been diagnosed at that point). Some children in his class regularly complained that Sam was hitting them. Sadly, he just wanted to be their friend. He flapped his hands in their faces, trying to engage, trying to come up with the words to contribute to the conversation. Thankfully, the school defended Sam as the parent complaints rolled in. He wasn’t actually touching the children, he was trying to engage in the only way he knew how. It was at that point that Sam, at age 4, began receiving services.

Fast forward to today. Sam is almost 8. He is doing remarkably well. However, as I watched Julia and her friends on Sesame Street, I wished she was on the show years ago. Would it have helped us in getting Sam help sooner? Would we have embraced his unique way of learning and expressing himself sooner? Would others have accepted him sooner? I don’t know, but I do know that we are blessed by our friends, neighbors, therapists and the school he attends.

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet.

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