Wednesday, September 10, 2014


For the past couple of months now Chloe has been going to physical therapy for a tight muscle in her neck. The technical term for this is torticollis, it's fairly common, and it's really not a big deal. They just do stretches and perform different exercises to help her get a full range of motion when she's turning her head to the right.

By coincidence, and the fact that I was tired of hauling Chloe through the metropolis that is Connecticut Children's Medical Center, we've switched her appointments to the same outpatient center where Ethan has gone for various rounds of speech and occupational therapy and social skills groups for the past five years. And during our first appointment, we were on the mat doing our thing with the physical therapist when Ethan's very first therapist ever, an occupational therapist who started seeing him a month after he was diagnosed, was working with a child right next to us.

Here's the thing about therapy. I knew not a thing about it, before Ethan. I thought physical therapy was something you went to after a serious injury (as I had after my really bad ankle sprain years back). Speech therapy was something for "slow" kids. And occupational therapy? I had no idea.

Since then I've gotten quite an education. Years of watching therapists in action has me thinking like one. I have great respect for them, and appreciate the way they weave therapy into play for children. Thanks to five years of appointments now, I know the difference between gross and fine motor skills. I understand terms like "crossing the midline" and "motor planning" (which has not much to do with motor skills). I can spot an immature pincer grasp when a child is coloring and can point out signs of low muscle tone. I know that some kids don't want to communicate or talk, while others have actual physical issues preventing them from speaking (apraxia). The list goes on and on.

Because I now have a pretty good idea of what therapists are looking for, therapy with Chloe is really, well, not fun.

The first day, when she was evaluated for PT, I asked the therapist straight out if she was on track developmentally for a five-month-old. "Oh yeah, sure," came the matter-of-fact answer.

And yet still, I've wondered. This is what happens when someone comes out of a little room and tells you your son has autism. And you watch your son getting evaluated for speech and OT and feel as if he's failing the biggest test of his life. And you have a physical therapist at the preschool surprise you that your son has low muscle tone that the doctor never brought up and really should have physical therapy, too.

I don't like assessments and evaluations. I really don't like surprises.

And so I wonder if they think Chloe is not being social enough since she doesn't really like to smile that often at the therapists wrenching her neck in certain ways. When one therapist mentioned her liking to mouth everything I wondered if she was mouthing things too much for a baby her age, if it's some kind of sensory thing, if she should be playing better with her toys. I wondered when the therapist asked me, kind of making conversation, if I "brought up any concerns" at Chloe's last doctor's appointment, if it was a hint that I should be concerned about something. I wonder if her foot really does turn out a little the way Ethan's did or if I'm just imaging things. I wondered when the therapist joked about how "flexible" Chloe was if that really meant "low tone." Even after they told me she was pretty mobile for her age, and sitting up better than most babies her age, still, I wondered.

And yeah, when I saw Ethan's old therapist in the big room, I wondered after we exchanged pleasantries if she wasn't wondering why I would take the risk with my family history of autism and have another child. I wondered if she was secretly watching Chloe, looking for signs.

Yeah, I tend to wonder way too much what everyone else is thinking.

I can't tell you how much I wish I were one of those happy-go-lucky types who doesn't overthink. Such is the beast that is anxiety. It's never satisfied. I've learned I may never be able to stop the thoughts from swirling. But I can choose how I respond, because really, that's the only thing over which I have any sort of control.

I am really, really grateful for the therapy Ethan (and now Chloe) have received. I'm amazed at all of the resources that are out there and what a difference they can make. But still, I'le glad when she's done, and we get a break -- from not just driving out there every week, but all of the imagined scrutiny. Until I get a break, from me.


Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. said...

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence
Deb, I don't think you over-think! It sounds like your constantly increasing learning curve is what your kids benefit from. You've become a very well educated wise parent and it's helped your kids. It's working. You know the old saying, "Don't fix what's not broken!" You're working very well. Just stay in your stride. Sometimes there's healthy worry--it motivates us to learn--a lot!

Deenie said...

I'm the same way with the over thinking and the projecting thoughts into other peoples heads. On one hand I think it's fabulous to be aware and knowledgeable but it can do a number on us for sure. I have a cousin who is now a doctor. She had 1 child before she became one and 1 after. She has told me that the 2nd pregnancy was so much harder emotionally because she was keenly aware of all that could go wrong and she saw everything as a potential symptom.