Thursday, December 5, 2013
Oh, my Joe-Bug. So joyful, so full of fun; so sweet with his baby sister; so great with machines and moving parts and engineering; a passionate lover of building toys, marbles runs, dominoes; an imaginative inventor of potty-themed knock-knock jokes; kind and generous, open-hearted and curious. We love this boy to bits.
Joe has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He has his own logic, his own time-line, his own style. His logic is internally consistent but not always predictable. Hence, "Joe logic" is a blog tag-line, and a regular catch phrase in our household. "Joe logic," needless to say, is very logical, albeit quirky. It's sometimes impenetrable, but more often it's awesomesauce.
Which brings me to the topic of this post. We've always known that Joe was a bit "quirky," and I've shared some of that quirk with you readers. Joe was a very late talker, and has remained a bit behind in communication and social skills. Nowadays, Joe talks our ears off at home, and converses freely with his favorite people (his inner circle of friends and family), but it takes him a while to warm up to new situations and new people. And by "new people," I mean, "people he hasn't seen in the past 48 hours," or sometimes, "people he doesn't live with." When he's not comfortable, he becomes shy and silent. Sometimes this translates into quiet observation, "taking it all in" in a "still waters run deep" way that reminds everyone of his Daddy. But other times, Joe becomes overwhelmed in social situations - withdrawn, even afraid.
Preschool has been the most wonderful experience for him, and he is growing and learning so much. Last year, despite improving leaps and bounds with his speech at home, he was famous for saying only one word at school, ever: "No." This year, he is talking more freely with the teachers and parents, and slowly warming up. He has a couple good friends that he regularly plays with, and the instructors and parents love and accept him just the way he is. They see and appreciate his great spatial abilities and his essentially kind and generous nature. They love Joe logic as much as we do. He has made great strides, and I am so grateful for the loving and accepting environment we've found at Peter Pan. As I often say, we wish Joe could stay there forever! As it is, we will definitely be keeping him there an extra year to get good and ready for kindergarten.
Joe is shy and introverted, and that is okay. Steve and I are both introverted, albeit me less so than Steve, and we're both homebodies. And heck, most of my favorite people are a little socially awkward! But it goes a little beyond that with Joe: social interaction and unfamiliar or overwhelming environments are clearly an area of anxiety for Joe, and so, of course, Joe's social anxiety is a source of concern for Steve and me. Naturally, we want to help him become more comfortable in new environments and around new people, to open up and relax a little more.
There are a couple very specific things that Joe struggles with. One is physical contact and affection from all but his very closest family members (i.e., mama, daddy, Maggie). For years, we have just helplessly said, "Joe just doesn't do hugs or high-fives." When asked to hug someone goodbye, even someone he has known all his life, like his much loved cousin or uncle or auntie, Joe visibly recoils. When asked to give a "high-five," Joe tenses up stiffly. He just doesn't do it. Steve and I can see that this is something that Joe does not enjoy doing, and more than that, that these requests cause him anxiety, so we generally try to intervene and explain that it's just not his thing. We usually say "Joe is really shy." Or "Joe really needs his personal space." Or "Joe just isn't touchy-feely." Joe seeks out and loves physical affection from his dad and me, and he expresses his affection in other ways with others, so Steve and I weren't too worried (not everyone is a hugger, and that's okay!), except that we could see that these interactions were stressful for Joe.
And there are some other interesting things: As an infant, he hated baths. Even now, he really hates getting water in his eyes. Since the day he was born, Joe has been famously resistant to sleep. (As Joe puts it now: "I don't like closing my eyes.") We've had issues with teeth-brushing. Potty-training this kid was no picnic. Joe has always been a somewhat picky eater, and as my readers well know, he's a bit picky about his clothing too (he wants it to be soft). His preschool teacher informed us that while his spatial reasoning and building skills are off-the-charts awesome, his fine motor skills - holding a marker or scissors - are "immature" for his age. She gently suggested that Joe might have some "sensory integration" issues. I was not surprised - in fact, I have suspected as much for a very long time.
Yesterday, Joe had a formal evaluation with an occupational therapist, to look at his fine motor delays and evaluate him for possible sensory integration issues. And it was great!
I am still processing all of the information I took in at the evaluation, but the biggest take-away for me was that Joe shows some signs of "tactile defensiveness." Basically, due to his neurological wiring, he may feel tactile sensations more intensely than other people do. Sensations that would be perceived as harmless, no big deal, or even nice to another person (i.e., hugs, or toothbrushing, or water on the face), perhaps feel more intense to Joe. Perhaps overwhelming or even scary. While he may love to be cuddled and snuggled by the people closest to him, similar touching from people he is not as comfortable with might frighten him or cause him to shut down.
I have to say, this has been a revelation to me. Suddenly, I get it: Joe doesn't avoid people, exactly. He does not avoid affection, per se, nor is he unaffectionate himself. But he does avoid being touched in ways that are uncomfortable for him. This is a subtle, but very important distinction. And it makes a lot of sense.
The occupational therapist thought that Joe's issues were relatively mild and would respond well to some occupational therapy. And while occupational therapy is not directed specifically at social and communication skills, she noted that addressing Joe's aversion to touch might help him feel more comfortable in social situations as well. She didn't see any need for a diagnosis or label at this point, and she was optimistic that some additional help would really make a difference for Joe.
Of course I was anxious going into this appointment. I think is hard for any parent to acknowledge that their child has areas of struggle - I would, of course, save Joe from any anxiety or pain that I could. I also know that I cannot, and should not, protect him from all of life's ups and downs. Still, by the time we arrived for the appointment yesterday, I had completely finished off my fingernails and was starting to work on my cuticles. (Gee, I can't imagine where Joe gets his anxiety from!)
But by the end of the appointment, I was feeling remarkably great. The occupational therapist - an open, warm, and engaging lady that Joe (and me!) took to almost immediately - said "Oh look at him! He's great! I can tell you right now, he's going to turn out great!" And my heart swelled. Every parent wants others to see the awesomeness of their child, despite whatever idiosyncracies they may have, am I right? I could tell that she could see past Joe's little bit of social awkwardness and saw his humor and curiosity and brightness and kindness, and I knew everything was going to be okay. Joe is going to turn out great! Of course he is!
So we are off on a new adventure now! Trying to help Joe feel more comfortable in the world and with the people who love him. Because there are so many people who love and appreciate Joe's take on the world, his special and unique logic. And let's face it, so many people who wish they could hug him!
We're on your team, Joe. We love you just the way you are, and we want you to feel strong and capable and comfortable. All things are possible for you, kiddo.