Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mea Culpa

I have to plead guilty to having completely neglected this blog since late August. I think you'll understand. As you might guess from my nom de blog, I live in New Orleans. We lost our house and Katrina and everything has been chaos since. More of that story in my house blog.

One of the many lessons learned these months with regard to Susan, is just how important early intervention really is. Susan has gotten physical therapy, occupational therapy, and special instruction since she was six months old. I've always described it to people as "nice girls coming over the play with the baby." As she has gotten older, the therapy has become more intensive. She does things in PT that I could never do, like sitting up against gravity on an exercise ball. After we'd been in Houston for a couple of days, I contacted the Texas Early Childhood Intervention program to get Susan in their system, because we didn't know when or if we might be going back to Louisiana and I didn't want her to lose months of therapy.

I totally have my hat off to Texas and the people of Houston in particular. They got Susan into the program without all of the standard medical records and referrals, and waived the usual parental copay for treatments, because of our refugee status. I don't know that Louisiana could or would have done the same. Even with their amazing helpfulness, just the process of finding service providers and scheduling appointments took us to about a month out from our arrival before Susan was able to start getting any treatments. Naturally, Mr. Nola and I work with her ourselves and try to keep her moving and active, but there is just a difference between what the parents can do and what the therapists can do. As her Mom, I'm not going to push her so hard she's unhappy. Especially during such a stressful time, I had to be her "safe place." When the PT comes in though, Susan knows it's time to work, and she cooperates much more than she would have with me.

Another issue was that our home-in-exile was not set up to be baby resistant, and if left on the floor for long, Susan could create total havoc. She found pulling books from their shelves to be especially fun, and taking CDs out of their cases was a real treat. Basically we had to hold her or keep her in the high chair to keep her from destroying the place, since it wasn't ours to destroy. During that time, we saw definite signs of backsliding, particularly in her gross motor skills. She wouldn't stand for long, or push up on her arms much, or do much of anything we had been working on in PT for months beforehand.

As soon as we started seeing the Texas PT, she was trying new things again. The PT could show us techniques to use to encourage her to sit or stand the best way to get her ready to learn the next skill. Susan also gained enough confidence to be willing to try.

Really, the biggest difference has just been getting into our own place (albeit a different place than before the storm) where we can let her make a mess and scoot about the house freely. Having carpet instead of wood floors at our apartment creates more resistance when she's scooting, so she's working harder to move around and getting stronger. I think the carpet also makes her more confident to try standing because she doesn't feel as likely to hurt herself if she falls. As much as I prefer the look of the wood floors, when/if we rebuild our house we're going to use carpet in the family room and bedrooms to make them play-friendly.

Of the four therapists she was seeing before Katrina, only one is back at work in the New Orleans area. Fortunately, we've been able to get her into the early intervention program at a local hospital, where they have their own excellent staff service providers. They are coming out to the house to see her until the end of the year, then in January she's going to start going to play group at a nearby hospital where the treatments are integrated into a nursery school program. We think having that social interaction will motivate her to want to do things she sees the other kids doing - like eat and walk.

I think the group will be great for her, once she gets settled in and comfortable there. We've had a hard time in the past with leaving her with sitters, but at least she has a chance to get to know the providers this month before the group starts. I am also delighted at the prospect of a couple of baby-free hours a week to get work or errands done. As much fun as she is, it's pretty much impossible to do anything that requires concentration while she's with me. Just while I've been typing this post, she's dismembered my wallet and spread checks and credit cards all over the living room.