This has been a week of outrageous swings: new development upon new development, meltdown upon meltdown.
Let me start with the good. Let me start with the incredible, because I am bursting with pride. Here, blog world, are the headlines—
Martin has managed new feats of attention. Sunday I asked Martin to put on his shoes. Martin walked to the front hall and put on his shoes, albeit on the wrong feet. That was an achievement in itself; seldom does Martin obey a command without additional prompting, especially not a command that requires multiple steps to fulfill. (Walk to front hall. Find shoes. Sit down. Put on first shoe. Velcro first shoe. Put on second shoe. Velcro second shoe. Usually I ask two or three times, and finally bark, “Martin! Shoes! Feet! Now!”) After the initial success Sunday, I said, “Oh, Martin, I think those shoes are on the wrong feet. Why don’t you switch them?”, and he did it without being asked twice. He looked at his feet, removed the shoes one at a time, reversed them, and Velcroed them closed again. He didn’t seem to notice that tears of happiness appeared in my eyes.
Martin is showing off. Tuesday on this blog I described how Martin jumped in circles on a trampoline at the doctor’s office and announced, “I’m jumping in circles.” It was a generalized observation, kind of informing the universe what was happening. Compare what happened the next day, Wednesday, at a Manhattan playground: After three tries, Martin managed to ascend a green spinning corkscrew and hoist himself onto a V-shaped joint at its top. Then, balancing himself, he checked to see if he had my attention and said, “Look how high I am!” That was no generalized news bulletin. That was a desire to show off to his mommy. He was proud of himself for climbing the corkscrew, and I was proud of him for wanting me to know it.
Martin is moving, at least sometimes. We live in a fourth-floor walk-up apartment. Because the apartments below us have high ceilings, it’s more like climbing five flights. There are 78 steps total. I know because I used to count them when I was eight- and nine-months pregnant. I thought getting up the stairs was tough in those days. It was nothing compared to the challenge of getting Martin up them. He dawdles. He fiddles with his bicycle, stored in the ground-floor foyer. (We have the kind of cool neighbors who allow that.) Especially when he’s lethargic, he sits down on the landings and talks to himself instead of continuing. If I take his hand and try to march him upwards, he bends his legs slack and suspends his body from my hand. The stair process can last ten, fifteen minutes. So imagine my surprise Wednesday evening when, as we entered the building, Martin said, “I want to hold your hand,” then took my hand in his and, next to me, ascended all 78 steps without interruption—a historic achievement in Martindom.
Martin wants what other kids have. Yesterday morning, Friday, I brought Martin to an Anat Baniel Method therapy appointment. As we were leaving, we encountered another boy, about Martin’s age, and his father. The boy made excellent eye contact and had far more verbal skills than Martin. He introduced himself by name. Then, obviously proud, he held up an MTA MetroCard and said, “My dad gave me this to hold, and it still has some money left on it.” Martin, who watched and heard this from a few feet away, immediately said, “I want to hold a card. I want to hold a card!” Unfortunately, I had just loaded $50.00 onto my MetroCard and therefore did not want to trust it in Martin’s hands. I said, “Let’s go back to the subway station and see if we can get you one.” I hoped that, in the ten-minute walk to the station, he might forget the incident. Instead, when I pulled out the MetroCard to enter the station, he demanded to hold it, which I allowed for a short time. Martin has taken an interest in other kids’ food before, but to my recollection he has not sought their playthings or special privileges, at least not so earnestly.
Martin is indicating the person to whom he’s speaking. This began when he started using the command form; to his dictates, he appended Mommy. “Come here, Mommy.” “Open the candy bar, Mommy!” (Martin doesn’t really eat candy bars, of course. We call Go Raw brand raw sprouted seed bars “candy bars” to make them sound as delicious as possible.) Within a few days, as we were driving in the car, Daddy became subject to our little dictator, too. “Close the roof, Daddy.” “Turn on the radio, Daddy.” Not too much later, we realized that even non-command comments were directed toward me or Adrian. “Mommy, I want something to eat.” “Daddy, I need some help.” Martin was no longer throwing words to the wind. He was giving them to his parents. Finally, just yesterday afternoon, I heard him specifically address someone other than me or Adrian. “No, Samara,” he responded to a question from his babysitter. Martin begins to understand that a conversation requires a partner.
Martin doesn’t always need the sound. Last night Samara was giving Martin a bath while I packed for our Thanksgiving trip to Texas. (I’m typing this entry on the airplane, while Martin watches Sesame Street on the iPad. We’ll be in Texas for a week.) From the bedroom, about ten feet away, I caught Martin’s eye. I put my hands over my heart and silently mouthed the words, “I love you.” Martin apparently read my lips. From the bathroom he called, “I love you, Mommy.” Can you imagine? A boy who once lacked appreciable receptive language read my lips.
So we had a week of singular advancements. Let me not, however, overstate where we are. As always, there’s more to the story.
• On Sunday while Martin switched the shoes from foot to foot, although he maintained focus on the task, he also perseverated nonsense to no one while he worked. “I’m reading it on the computer. ¡Hola! The elephant’s name is Mitt. I’m not going to take a shower!”
• The day Martin climbed the corkscrew, there were some four dozen kids scampering around the playground, chasing each other and playing games. Martin declined to interact with any of them. The activities to which he set his mind were his, and his alone.
• After Martin seamlessly ascended 78 steps while holding my hand, he entered the apartment, removed his shoes and coat, and immediately began self-stimming, running back and forth with two pa-dap-BUMPs capping each lap.
• While the boy with the MetroCard introduced himself, Martin turned around and thrust his face into a waiting-room sofa, with his butt in the air towards me, the boy, and the boy’s father. When I fished him from the sofa and asked him to say hello, Martin responded by muttering, “No, no!” and hiding behind my legs. It was from that position that he watched the other boy show off his metro card.
Moreover, Martin’s mood has been disastrous. Perhaps because of the itchy viral rash plaguing him, or perhaps because our travel has thrown off his sleep, or perhaps just as a counterpart to the rate of change in his neuro-processing, Martin has turned on the tears at any provocation this week, and sometimes at no provocation.
One sunny morning he said, “It’s cloudy outside.” When I said, “Look out the window, Martin. I think it’s sunny today,” Martin started crying and yelled repeatedly, “No, it’s cloudy outside. It’s cloudy outside.” For several minutes he was inconsolable. Another morning, following a poor night’s sleep, Martin whined continuously for 30 minutes. Oh mommy oh mommy oh mommy oh mommy oh mommy oh mommy on and on. And on and on. And on and on. His poor night’s sleep meant I was running on about three hours’ sleep that morning. The oh mommys did nothing good for my nerves.
This afternoon Adrian suggested that Martin consider wearing his green fleece coat to Texas instead of his bulky winter jacket. Martin responded by screaming from our apartment, screaming down 78 steps, screaming through the foyer and parking lot, and screaming halfway to JFK. I occupied the passenger seat and rubbed the back of Adrian’s neck as he drove. We pretended that no one was screaming in the back seat.
When the noise finally stopped, I said to Adrian, “It’s amazing, isn’t it, all the new things he’s managed this week?”