As a refresher to get started on the next six videos here is a little information about NACD. In my blog post I often refer to Sam's home program through NACD, and his evaluator, Ellen Doman. Sam has been on program with NACD since he was 18 months old. I originally found out about NACD as I was researching Down syndrome and brain injury and I came across a letter that Bob Doman (the founder of NACD) had written to parents of Down syndrome children. Bob's letter spoke to me because it was the first time I heard anyone say that a child with Down syndrome has an unlimited potential. I often wondered how the medical professionals I had met when Sam was a baby could give me such bleak predictions of his future when we hadn't even tried to work with Sam. As I researched further I appreciated the fact that their programs were individualized to the child and their family situation. I knew early on that Sam was not just dealing with Down syndrome, he also had a brain injury and other medical issues related to his respiratory/immune system and I was already questioning his hearing. I really needed someone to help me with Sam from head to toe. With the help of this amazing organization Sam exceeded the medical professionals opinions by the time he was 3 years old and at that point my husband and I could finally focus on Sam's unlimited potential.
In this video Bob talks about speech...whew...this is a big one for Sam. When we think of speech we have to remember the two components, speech and language. Speech is how you articulate and language is what you say. Most children with Down syndrome struggle with language, Sam struggles with speech and language. When looking at speech you have to consider the auditory issues first, in Sam's case a bi-lateral conductive hearing loss was not helping his speech production. He couldn't hear speech sounds well. Structure and function is the next area to consider, this includes jaw placement, pallet size, congestion, size of tonsils, size of tongue, tongue movement, jaw strength, chewing and lip strength. Oh...where do I begin with Sam?? Basically, Sam had issues in all of these areas. Sam's oral cavity was small, Sam's tongue was large (being able to touch your chest with your tongue is not a benefit for speech unfortunately), Sam did not know how to chew and he began life swallowing solids whole (a benefit when it comes to having to learn to swallow tablets, not such a great benefit in preventing choking, aspiration and producing good speech sounds), Sam had a ton of congestion which is why he also had respiratory/immune system issues (removing dairy was the first step), Sam's tonsils took up 70% of his airway uninfected so when he got sick he lost that airway which led to stopping breathing and oxygen deprivation/brain injury. Sam had his tonsils and adenoids removed at 11 months and has had his adenoids shaved two more times. Infants tend to give big ole wet, open-mouth kisses, Sam did this until the age of 4 years old, his lip strength was very weak. Sucking on a straw, a puckered kiss and candle blowing were dreams we had and our NACD program assisted us in all of the areas described.
The next video deals with motor skills. NACD feels there is a direct correlation between motor skills, cognitive function and efficiency of the central nervous system. I can't express enough how important this area is. Often times children with Down syndrome walk later and therapists don't always follow the developmental steps of tummy crawling, creeping, walking, running and jumping. In Sam's case Down syndrome probably caused low tone and his brain injury caused right side weakness similar to what you would see with a person that has had a stroke and caused a dysfunctional central nervous system. Sam could touch a hot surface and not realize it was hot until he was burned. Sam did not react to cold either. Sam would use his head to help him roll but he didn't try to crawl. Sam could roll over his right arm and never realize it was in a bad position even risking dislocation. We had to start at the very beginning and in Sam's case this meant deep pressure, hot and cold compresses...basically letting the brain know that there was an arm and a leg on the right side and it needed to use them. From there we moved on to tummy time, cross pattern tummy crawling which meant two of us would move Sam's arms and legs for him to help his brain learn the pattern. Then we moved him to an incline surface to help facilitate forward movement with the patterning. Sam had been in 0-3 since he was 6 weeks old and at 18 months he was not tummy crawling, he was not moving beyond his rolling, after two weeks of our NACD program Sam was tummy crawling. The rest of the developmental steps took time as we assisted and strengthened Sam with the right side of his body and at 3 1/2 years old Sam began to walk independently, something we were told he may not be able to ever do. We worked on his gait, his walk, his run and coming up and down stairs. At 5 years Sam had a beautiful cross pattern and could walk, run and go up and down the stairs, however he never learned how to jump. Possibly that was an indication of our future diagnosis of hip dysplasia and Perthes. Those two diagnosis destroyed the beautiful gait we worked so hard to achieve but that foundation has given him a better chance at regaining the mobility he once had.
The next video deals with social development. This was a major concern of mine in regards to Sam. I struggled with the concept of homeschooling and the perceived lack of socialization. Hmmm...well let me tell you...I was wrong. I had thought that if Sam was in a school environment he would learn to become social by watching the other kids. A few problems with my thinking, Sam had an undiagnosed hearing issue, Sam's global development was that of a 2 year old in a class of 4-5 year olds and Sam had other neurological issues. Let's be Sam for a minute in a classroom setting. A teacher is up front talking of which Sam is only hearing bits and pieces (think of the teacher talking in Charlie Brown), children approach and ask questions that Sam may hear parts of but is unable to process the number of words they are using, when Sam doesn't respond they learn not to talk with him. Sam becomes isolated, unsure of what he is expected to do or how he is to respond...he begins to withdraw, stim more and becomes frustrated, acting out his frustration with negative behavior. Now change to one on one communication with Mom (someone who loves him and isn't going to give up). First I had to enter his world, do things he did so he could see I was interested then we exchanged sounds and I added a speech sound, soon those exchanges became more frequent and the sounds became words. Aphasia and speech issues made this exchange, our communication, a slow and cumbersome task....but I wanted Sam to be social, to communicate. Sam still struggles with back and forth communication but I don't think anyone who meets him would say he isn't social. Sam loves to talk at people, we are working on talking with people...but all in all, not bad progress for a child we were told may never speak due to his brain injury, small oral cavity and large tongue.
The next video deals with one on one interaction. My life with Sam is based on one on one interaction because when you put Sam in a group he chooses to withdraw, he chooses to limit his frustration by not participating. I often wonder what Sam would be like if I hadn't spent the years I did working with him one on one....was it easy....no....crucial....yes. Sam has spent most of his life being significantly behind his peers including his peers with Down syndrome due to his complicated neurological profile and sheer stubbornness, a very strong family trait, thankfully I was blessed with it too. Sam is the kind of guy that doesn't really work at something unless he wants to or sees a reason to. My son Ben was the same way, the difference...I could reason with Ben, we could talk about it and come to an agreement...not so much with Sam. With Sam's hearing issue, auditory processing level and neurological issues from a brain injury...he needed one on one more than most. As Bob says when you work one on one you alter your approach as needed by how your child reacts...how does a teacher do this in a class of 10, 15, 20 or 30 all indicating very individual and different needs? It is impossible. My thinking with Sam was that we had a lot going on and if I had any hope of reaching him, teaching him, helping him reach a better potential he required good, strong, productive one on one.
The next video is about educational placement...a thought process I struggled with for years. Considering so much of Sam's life was different than what other people had experienced...our NACD program was intense, Sam had a lot of therapies, doctors and doctor appointments I kinda wished...kinda hoped school was going to be easy. Yeah, not so much. I just wanted the "easy button" in one area and instead my NACD evaluator was trying to convince me that the best placement for Sam would be homeschool. Ummm...not even remotely what I was thinking or wanting or willing to consider. I tried pre-school but Sam was sick more than he was in attendance. NACD's gentle suggestion was becoming a strong plea and I was beginning to listen. I hated our hospital stays and it seemed we were becoming frequent flyers at Children's, a designation without any perks. I kinda thought all the illness and ICU stays were God's way of changing my mind. Soooo...I began to think about homeschooling and I hated the very thought of it but slowly, ever so slowly I was beginning to think outside the box and realize that for Sam with his respiratory/immune, hearing and auditory processing issues...it may be the optimum placement. I took the jump...and it was the best thing I ever did. Now I'm not going to tell you that each and every day I enjoy homeschooling Sam, if I am honest there are days I would pay that little yellow school bus to come and carry him away but in all honesty...this was the best thing for Sam and me (yes, I said me too). Sam returned to school when he was 10 and was placed in a kindergarten class to work on his speech and language, he was very popular since he was the biggest kid in class, but one month in and his diagnosis of hip dysplasia and Perthes came about and I decided it was another sign that Sam should return home. The important thing that Bob stresses is that you need to look at your child as the unique individual that they are and figure out what is the optimum placement. Half days, full days, public, private, typical classroom, special ed. classroom or homeschool and don't be afraid to try different placements. I did and it helped me figure out the right one for Sam. The route I took was not easy and is not for everyone...but it was the right one for Sam.
The next video is a discussion of Down syndrome and Autistic tendencies. I agree with what Bob presents in this video but I also have an area that I will agree to disagree. I wholeheartedly believe that any of our children with Down syndrome can have autistic tendencies, low processing which can create a rut where the child gets stuck. Sam was stuck at a 3 in processing for what seemed like FOREVER! His behavior was stimmy and erratic and as a parent it would have been easy to throw in the towel and say "I give up". He was at this level while in school and would often flap, play with his eyelashes, get too close to things and any number of other stimming behaviors when he was bored or lacked any kind of engagement. I'm sure over time he could have been given the label of autistic based on his behavior but Sam had focus when engaged, Sam could stay focused for short periods and he had some social interaction behaviors. I have met other children with Down syndrome that did not have any focus, refused social interaction, had excessive stimming and have the label of Down syndrome and Autism. I understand that any label is an umbrella of symptoms, Down syndrome can mean speech, hearing, tone, joint issues but each child is different and may not present with all these issues. Autism describes an umbrella of symptoms too and yet each child is unique in their challenges. When a child's challenges become excessive, when they don't move forward as fast or far as other children even though they receive the same input a parent begins to sense that something else is wrong, something further is involved. Getting a multiple diagnosis is both a blessing and a curse. As a parent you feel better knowing that your child has unique challenges other children may not have but it is also easy to give up, to feel hopeless to let their challenges become the focus. When Sam received multiple diagnosis I had that sense of relief that he was different, more unique...but in my mind it just meant that we needed to be more creative, think further outside the box, question and research to figure out how to make things work for him. Having added a physical disability to the picture makes everything more difficult...but not impossible. I am not going to tell a parent that their child does not have a multiple diagnosis but I will tell them what Bob is saying that everyone, no matter who or what, can function better. I may not be able to get Sam into the super kid category but I will get his potential higher, he has already surpassed all medical expectations...for us the sky is the limit.