Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Occupational Therapy Saved Our Lives!


Energetic.  Whirlwind.  Dynamo.  Energetic.  Vivacious.  Survivor.  Courageous.  Brave.  Did I mention energetic?  These are all words used to describe our daughter, Annie.  Annie came to live with us, along with her little sister Amie, nearly 12 months ago through a fost-to-adopt program.  Annie is 4 years old and counting our home, has lived with five different families.  She has experienced much neglect and much abuse, and obviously a lot of transition in her short little life.

When I met her, my first impression was “wild kitten.”  She was constantly on the move, scratched and bit anyone that seemed a threat, was nearly non-verbal, and could not be contained.  We knew parenting her would be a challenge, but we also knew that God was calling us to this and after one meeting, Annie had a big place in our hearts.

Annie was diagnosed with mild-mental retardation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Attachment Disorder, along with ADHD.  As a youth pastor to troubled youth for 15 years, foster parent, and also having worked as a substitute teacher for a number of years, I have worked with many kids, but I have never seen the energy level that Annie had.  Her attention span could be as short as 20 seconds.  In just a few minutes’ time, she could go up and down our stairs, through each room in the house, and pull things out of cupboards and closets.  When her body was constrained in her high chair or car seat, she would talk non-stop, repeating things over and over, as if her brain could just not rest or pause.  (Once she said "Mommy" 300 times in 5 minutes while driving in the car. Yes, I counted.) In addition to this, I noticed she seemed to always be “off-kilter”, leaning forward and to the side a bit as she walked (well, ran, really, Annie never did anything slowly).  She was constantly crashing into things and people, tripping over things, and falling down nearly every 5 steps she took, without registering pain.

A physical therapists’ assessment deemed her walking and muscle tone as “normal” and other assessments just placed her as “delayed” and “energetic.”  Much of her issues were attributed to the lack of stability in her life as well as her mental delays.   We began seeing a family therapist who specializes in traumatized kids to help us parent Annie and Amie.  She explained to us that much of the aggression and energy levels could also be a result of the PTSD.  Further reading confirmed this - kids like Annie who have lived in unsafe environments for an extended period of time experience chemical changes in their brains.  Too much adrenaline and cortisol coursing through her little body has kept her on the alert and “safe”, however, when placed in a stable and caring environment, her body and brain still wanted to be on the ready, causing the extreme level of activity.

Although Annie was beginning to attach to us, in May, around her fourth birthday a lot of the energy turned to aggression towards me and toward her sister and brother.  She was constantly arguing with me, pushing, hitting, and fighting any instruction.  After about two months of continual battles with her to do anything, to talk nicely, or to behave at all, we were nearly at our wits’ end.  Apparently, Annie was too, although we did not understand why.  It was our therapist who made the discovery, and suggested that Annie may have Sensory Integration Disorder.  As I did research on this subject, it was a resounding, “YES!!”  We were filled with hope that we could do something to help Annie thrive and settle into herself and her family.

My brother-in-law is an administrator of a physical therapy wing of a local convalescent hospital which employed a woman named Maria as an Occupational Therapist.  He discussed Annie with Maria one day and asked about Bal-A-Vis-X therapy.  Maria, being the giving soul she is, offered to work with Annie one on one in her home.  

We began the therapy, and after just one session I saw improvements in Annie’s behavior.  Annie lasted 12 minutes in her first session and had a “normal” level of energy for a kid her age the rest of the evening, even going to bed early that night.  We have been meeting with Maria two times a week for 30 minutes each, and we have seen an amazing improvement in all areas of Annie’s life!  

Since starting Bal-A-Vis-X, Annie has been walking more upright and has reduced her crashing significantly, only now doing so when she is really tired.  After just four sessions, Annie ran ½ mile non-stop on uneven ground without falling.  She has started potty-training, pretending, speaking in 3 and 4 word sentences, and will play for 15-20 minutes at a time now.  She has become much less combative verbally with me, and the aggression toward her siblings has been reduced to almost nothing.  I believe this therapy is helping Annie get a sense of herself, and herself in her world.  Because she is becoming more in control of her body, she is feeling better about herself and is behaving more positively in every aspect of her life.  

I had a little dream of having a Disney family movie night after the girls joined our family.  With Annie, I knew this would be a long way off, maybe even a year or two from now.  A few weeks ago, that dream was realized when Annie sat and cuddled me while we all watched Toy Story 3 in its entirety.  My little girl, who a few months ago couldn’t sit for more than a minute or two snuggled with me for an hour!

I thank God for leading us to Maria, and I am so grateful for Maria and her time with Annie as well as this therapy, which to our family, is nothing less than miraculous.

Energetic, dynamo, and all the other words still describe Annie, but I can add “happy” to the list now.  I can’t wait to see what else we can say about Annie in the future, thanks in large part to Maria and Bal-A-Vis-X.

Note: I wrote this for a Bal-A-Vis-X therapist newsletter in September after 2 months of the therapy. Annie has continued therapy and now Amie is doing 2 sessions a week as well. They both have come so far, they learned to ride bikes last week!
For more information about Bal-A-Vis-X, check out their website: www.bal-a-vis-x.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Finding Amie


Finding Amie

The journey to grow our family has been a difficult one.  Caleb was a wonderful surprise, but after that, things weren’t so easy.  Many steps have been taken on our journey - mountain highs of other pregnancies, only to hit the valleys of loss and miscarriage.   

After much prayer and soul searching we decided to pursue adoption as a way to make our family larger.   The process of fost-to-adopt is a journey in and of itself, long and arduous.

We made it through the classes, the paperwork, the interviews, the home study, the home inspection, and the next step was to find the child for whom we would be the right family.  We had discussed looking for a single child, but somewhere in me, I knew it might be two.  

This was the most difficult road of all to travel for me.  Every other week I would head to our agency to look at books of profiles of children new to the foster care system - yes, that’s right, books - there are thousands of kids who need homes right here in California, 115,000 in our nation.  It was heartbreaking to read their stories, even more heartbreaking to set their profiles aside because they weren’t the right ones.  I poured over websites like “Heart Gallery” looking at pictures and profiles of kids who need homes, and went to an adoption picnic where prospective parents could meet and interact with foster children.  I left that picnic in tears, having been with so many kids who would walk away that afternoon to a place that wasn’t home.  

I did this for 6 months, until, at an adoption fair, we saw the pictures of our sweet girls.  And I knew.  I knew these would be our girls.  I couldn’t stop thinking about them, Amie’s sweet face on the forefront of my mind all night long that night.  After a month of many phone calls and meetings with social workers, we were chosen to parent these girls.

We met the girls for the first time at a McDonald’s play place.  Both girls were pale, Annie malnourished.  Both had dark circles, and Amy had scratches all over her face and hands.  Amy was quiet, fearful, reserved.  Neither girl could talk much.  They reminded us of wild kittens, terrified, unable to communicate, lost.

When the girls came to live with us, I made it my job to protect and to help Amy, who was living vicariously through Annie, to find herself.  Amy had no possessions she was attached to, no opinions of her own.  She followed Annie around and copied whatever Annie did.  She called Annie, “Amy”, an extension of herself.  

As I got to know Amy and her story a little better, I began to understand why.  We are the fifth family she has lived with.  She has experienced every kind of mistreatment imaginable, and she has gone by three different names.  How is a little girl, at 2 years old, who has been through all of this, to know who she is?

Our quest has been to help Amy find herself.  With lots of love, affirmation, and intentional therapy, our Amy has begun to emerge.  A strong girl, sweet, and funny.  She loves to hold her babies, put on pretty clothes, get her hair done in the bathroom with Mommy.   Her eyes are beginning to smile, she’s playing on her own and saying, “Mine!” and “No!”.

When we were told that we would be able to change her name, my first reaction was, “not again!”.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized her given name is not who she is.  We decided on Amie, and are changing her middle name to “Sue,” which is my aunt’s middle name as well.  When I tried the new name out on Amie, she lit up, lifted her little chest and shoulders up several inches, put her hand on her heart and said, “I AMIE SUE!!!”  She walked around for hours saying this over and over.  Amie Sue found herself that day.

The journey to adopt has really been a journey to find Amie.  I knew she was out there, I knew God had planned for her to be a part of our family, and now I know that we’re finding her more and more each day.    Amie Sue, you are loved.  Amie Sue, you are home.

Amie Sue, you are found.