Our First Visit to the Occupational Therapist
I remember the day very clearly. My then ten-year-old son Kevin had been recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and an appointment was made for a highly recommended Occupational Therapist in town. I expected him to help Kevin with his sensory issues. Not wanting to be touched, having to go through ten socks in the sock drawer before they felt right, wearing comfy clothes, cutting tags out of his clothes, the noises that he reacted so harshly to—like my singing that he hated so much. Well, okay I’ll give him that one.
We must have been a sight. Probably the only thing that saved me from someone calling the authorities was the fact that he did just get a haircut. Something he hates doing so I put it off as long as I can, since he’s very strong willed. He hadn’t changed his oversized comfy clothes in a couple of days, his nails were long and he was running a pen underneath them to ‘clean’ them, which means they looked like he had blackish nail polish underneath the tips. His socks were dirty because once he found a comfortable pair he would refuse to change them. He would only bathe once a week, because this was the habit that he was in when he was younger and I could never break him of it since it had become part of his routine. He was wearing old comfy sneakers even though he had new ones at home. He looked at the ground. He was in this habit of combing his hair constantly and since he wasn’t able to do that in class he took to running a pen along his scalp. Hindsight being what it is, I’m sure that was a sensory thing that felt good to him. But now that his hair was shorter you could see the pen marks on his scalp and neck. In the van, before we entered the center, he washed down his M&M’s with his red mountain Dew. We were ready to go. We had obviously hit bottom.
His therapist who was working with him on his social skills told me I would like the OT, and boy was she right about that, I liked him immediately. But what would Kevin think?
I secretly resented the other women with toddlers who were in the waiting room while Kevin was with Aaron. How was it that they were able to find their way to this office while their children were still so young? It played on my guilt, my wondering if I had dug enough, searched enough, or if I was in denial all of those years. I spent a lot of years waiting for him to grow out of this. I spent a lot of time in meetings with teachers with a glazed look in my eyes because I didn’t have the answers for them, and wishing they had some answers for me. We had an appointment with a child neurologist who misdiagnosed him, with our family doctor who didn’t see what I saw at home, the local birth to three program who said he was too old (almost three at the time) for them to help us. No one had the answers for us for many years. So even though I could look back and see that I had been searching for answers for many years, I still felt guilty that I couldn’t find him help earlier.
What surprised me during that visit was the last ten minutes that Aaron and I spoke before we left the center. Aaron wanted to speak to me about the things that Kevin needed to do. I could tell that Aaron simply didn’t know where to start with me. So he started with the coveted red Mountain Dew that Kevin confessed to. I didn’t need to be told that this was bad for Kevin or any other child for that matter, but I was told anyway. He continued with a handful of other things like cutting his nails, showering daily, greeting people appropriately. He was pretty strict and I could tell he was more anxious to get his hands on me and shake me up more than working with Kevin. He knew that he only had an hour a week to work with Kevin, so I needed to get in the game and take it from there. This is clearly not what I expected from this visit. But my eyes were tearing as he described the kind of child he wanted to see in a handful of months. A boy that is happ, looks him in the eyes for a moment and shakes hands with him, wears appropriate clothing so he doesn’t look so sloppy.
I didn’t need to be told all of these things. I knew what we needed to do. What I didn’t know was how to get Kevin through his sensory issues that would allow us to do those things without him digging his heels in and making me give up since everything was such an issue, such a struggle. That’s where Aaron would come in with the therapy he did at the center.
Then a few hours after we came home, something amazing happened. Kevin said to me “Am I going to see that Aaron guy again?” I didn’t believe anyone could be that good that my son would look forward to it. But he did! This was a major step in helping Kevin learn to cope with the outside world that he was so uncomfortable in. It was the first in many sessions with Aaron. We were on our way.
Aaron would continue to work with Kevin for about a year. Once that year was over, Kevin was a completely different kid. I look back at that day and realize how much we needed the help and how grateful I am for the professionals that came into our lives to help us. We are very blessed.