(Warning: another long post ahead. Go get a snack and get comfy. I’ll wait. OK, ready?)
I feel like I’ve been through a boxing match, physically and emotionally. Remember how I said I wanted Cordy to show her true colors at the evaluation today? She certainly did.
It started out as a really good morning. Cordy was in a great mood, happy to get into the car, etc. She kept talking about going to school, but I reminded her that we were going somewhere different – not to school. That still didn’t help when we arrived. Getting her out of the car, she immediately threw herself down on the pavement and refused to budge. That’s when the Mother of All Tantrums erupted.
I carried Mira in her car seat with one hand, and scooped up the screaming toddler with my other arm. I made it halfway down the sidewalk before Cordy’s kicking and thrashing caused me to set her down. At that point she tried to crack her head on the concrete, but I stopped her, causing her instead to push on the car seat in an attempt to knock Mira over. At that point a woman approached, introduced herself as someone who works with the evaluation team, and offered to carry Mira in so I could carry Cordy. Yay for nice people.
Getting Cordy into the building, up to the second floor, and into the room was a fight. She tried everything she could to get away – scratching at my face, grabbing my neck, kicking. Once we got into the room, the evaluators helped to keep her in the room. They tried everything they could think of to distract her and draw her out of her meltdown, but nothing worked. She crawled to and banged on the door, screaming that she wanted to go back to the car. Then she’d come back to me and try to hurt herself. I’d restrain her, and she’d get an arm free and push it hard into my neck. (This going for the throat tactic is a new one.) The screaming and shrieking continued for about 20 minutes, then she calmed down a little.
I was presented with several forms, which I began filling out while Cordy took in her situation. The room was full of toys of all types. She eventually picked up a ball and threw it around. The evaluators then whipped out their checklists and started asking her questions and presenting her with pictures, asking her to name what she saw. She did name all of the colors on one page, but when asked to name pictures on the next page, pushed it aside and went looking for another toy. She clearly didn’t feel like playing their games.
While she played and continued to ignore her evaluators, I answered question after question from a speech pathologist, a school psychologist, a special education teacher, and a school nurse. The nurse, who seemed a little intimidated by Cordy after seeing Cordy’s initial meltdown, decided she didn’t want to try hearing and vision tests. Instead, I was given a medical form to be filled out by her pediatrician. She also recommended a dental exam. Actually, she started to say it would be necessary, then considered Cordy’s behavior for a moment and amended her statement: “Well, I recommend a dental exam, but if you brush her teeth well each day, it may not be worth the stress to you and her.”
Cordy did eventually calm down and acclimate to the room – an hour and a half after we got there. She moved from toy to toy comfortably, counting the play food, pointing out the shapes, and playing with the magnetic numbers. But she still wouldn’t do anything the evaluators asked. The special ed teacher decided to push Cordy by not letting up, and even taking away the toy she was playing with to make her focus on pointing to a picture of a sleeping child. Cordy ignored her and reached for the pop-up animal toy, and when the teacher moved it completely out of her reach, she took one look at the book the teacher held, got out of her chair and found a new toy to entertain herself with.
Meanwhile, I made an effort to stay out of the way and not interfere, focusing on the forms and tests I had to take. Reacts negatively in a new situation? Absolutely. Likes to play with food? Not at all – hates to touch anything gooey. Plays with other kids? Not so much. Defiant? Wait – are you serious? What kid isn’t?
Mira was blessedly quiet and happy nearly the entire time. The only time she cried was when a little boy lost his balance and fell into the car seat, sitting on her head while she was asleep. (I acted quickly and caught most of his weight.) In that case, I think I’d cry too.
It was interesting to see the mix of other kids in the room, too. Each had a parent nervously watching nearby, and each child had his or her own mix of quirks that brought them there today. Several of the children seemed perfectly “normal” to me, but I reminded myself I’m not a professional, and I don’t see these kids every day. Those parents who came in after the meltdown might have thought the same thing about Cordy.
After two and a half hours, the professionals sat down with me to go over the results of the day. Based on her behavior and my interview, she immediately qualified for the special ed preschool. They qualified her based on communication, social-emotional, and adaptive behavior delays. I was surprised about the communication delays, but the speech pathologist said that while Cordy has an enormous vocabulary, she’s still not putting it to proper use, choosing to fall back on scripts (reciting things she’s heard) instead of forming full sentences on her own. She also won’t use the language she knows when she’s frustrated or scared, choosing to act out instead.
They again told me she’s very bright, her cognitive skills are sharp, and she might even be gifted. But she only made the shortest amount of eye contact possible with each of them (she has extended eye contact with family, however), and didn’t even notice other kids in the room who were also there for evaluations. She also refused to follow anyone’s agenda but her own.
And then the school psychologist told me she was also adding to the qualification an educational diagnosis of autism. I felt the tears building in my eyes when she said that. I knew it was a possibility, but hearing it still surprised me somehow. Autism.
Seeing my reaction, the psychologist quickly added that Cordy is very high functioning, but based on the tests, observation, and interview, she fits the profile for autism. I asked her what type, and she said they didn’t differentiate for an educational diagnosis – a medical diagnosis would determine that, but it was most likely PDD-NOS. Getting a medical diagnosis was optional, but if I wanted it I should call Children’s Hospital for an appointment soon – the wait time is 6-12 months!
So there it is. They will put together an IEP based on her MFE (alphabet soup, anyone?), and they hope to start her in one of the special ed preschools by the end of this month. They also told me about additional services that I’m entitled to outside of the school district (private therapists, etc.), and how to go about getting funding to pay for those, but by that point my brain had reached maximum capacity from this information overload and I didn’t understand a thing they told me. I have the paperwork (oh, the paperwork!!), so I can look back on it later.
I’m exhausted. My entire body aches from the wrestling match I endured when we first got there, and my mind aches from the emotional trauma. It hurt me so much to see her in that gigantic meltdown. Her screams to be let out of the room still echo in my head. Even after she calmed down, I watched with heartache as the evaluators checked boxes on their little clipboards and nodded to each other in agreement, knowing that they saw aspects of her behavior that were outside of the norm. And I’m still processing the diagnosis of autism.
But I’m also happy for the events of today. She will be switching schools soon, but this new school will help her so much. Cordy will learn to be more comfortable with herself and her world, and they promised me she will blossom in this environment. It’ll be tough at first, but we’ll look back on this and know it was worth it.
My favorite part of the day? Getting to fill out the section on the questionnaire that asked What are your child’s strengths? The writer in me answered: Cordelia is a wonderfully smart little girl who sees so much beauty in what many consider mundane. Through her eyes, the world is a complex series of patterns: shapes are the building blocks of everything, numbers are the supports, and colors the decoration. She has an excellent memory and loves to learn new things. She is a deep well of emotion, the depths of which contain a lot of anger and fear, but just as much or more love and compassion as well. In her own environment, she is sweet and gentle, never malicious or spiteful. She gives big hugs.
It felt good to remind them, and myself, just how amazing she is.