I never had any trouble in school when I was growing up. In fact, I was a classic glasses-wearing, metal-mouth, teacher’s pet, straight-A’s geek. I remember thinking that since I found school so easy, my hypothetical future kids would, too. Later on I realized that it was quite possible that I could one day have a child who got average marks, or even — gasp! — a child who was slower than others. I wondered how I would be able to deal with it.
Now I have a child who does have trouble learning. Although she hasn’t been formally assessed, a speech pathologist and a physiotherapist have confirmed that Jade is delayed in both her language skills and her gross motor skills. I figure she’s behind by up to a year. And I’ve found it doesn’t bother me a bit.
Well, no, that’s not exactly true. But it doesn’t bother me the way I feared it might. I thought that if I had a child who was slow to learn, I would be frustrated with her and I wouldn’t know how to help. But with Jade, I’ve felt little frustration or blame. I do wish she could express herself more readily, but only so that I could understand what she’s thinking and feeling. As for helping her, the speech pathologist recommended vocabulary-building exercises to do while we wait for a formal assessment. We found that all the exercises she gave us were things we already did intuitively.
Sometimes, though, her delays really hit home. My friend Heather has a little boy who is a few months short of his second birthday. When we go down the street to play with him and his older sister, there’s no denying Jade’s limited speech when we listen to him chattering away at a level far beyond hers. I don’t feel envious; I just realize how much ground Jade has lost in the eight months we’ve been struggling with her seizures. I do believe she was a little verbally delayed before the seizures started, but the constant seizures made it very difficult for her to move forward and she kind of got “stuck” at the same level she was at back in May.
Still, she’s making strides in her own time. This month, we’ve heard her construct her own three- to four-word sentences on her own, something that never happened even just one short month ago. And we know that she understands what’s going on in her world. Yesterday, Michael told her that the agenda for the next few minutes were to put on a diaper and change into jammies, and she said, “And then bed?” A three-word sentence AND demonstrating understanding of future events!
Sometimes the lack of clarity in Jade’s speech can be endearing. I can’t help but smile when she raises her cup and says, “Tears!” (This is one of her favourite moves right now, a legacy of Nai-Nai’s patented “let’s get Jade to drink more” strategy.) Also, she’s very polite and never forgets to say “‘Ank you!” when someone helps her. Unless, that is, she says, “‘Anks!” instead.
Sometimes a lack of clarity is just convenient. “Or turn!” means Jade never has to distinguish between “your turn” and “her turn”, since it works in both cases.
One of my favourite new expressions, even though it shouldn’t be, is Jade’s recent habit of firmly and loudly saying, “No,” with her index finger pointing at me and a very serious frown on her face, her dark eyebrows scrunching ominously. It’s a you’ve-crossed-the-boundaries move that she invokes when I’m doing something like tickling her when she doesn’t want to be tickled. Or when Nanuq lies down too close to her and dares to breathe on her. It’s such an obvious imitation of me that I can’t help delighting in it, even if it is somewhat uppity behaviour to be taking from a(n almost) three-year-old. I’m afraid I am completely encouraging her by giggling every time she does this. Jade is nothing if not a ham; she loves making us laugh.
The ketogenic diet continues to have its ups and downs. For example, Jade recently decided she no longer cares for drinking whipping cream, which is a staple, so I’ve been trying all sorts of tricks to hide it (like in soup) or change its form to something more palatable (like ice cream). Happily, she is no longer quite as frantically excited when we tell her it’s snack or mealtime, so the day doesn’t feel like it revolves entirely around food anymore.
Still, you can tell food is an important part of Jade’s world. When she isn’t at the table for one of her meals, you will very often find her at her play kitchen, making supper. She loves to bring me a toy plate covered in toy French fries and sausages while I’m working at the computer. She tells me it’s hot. She brings me a cup, shoves it in my face and declares, “Or turn!” Then she gets one for herself and says, “Tears!” (And I had better play along, or else.)
Because it’s important to have Jade eat every last bite of her meal, I often feed her some or all of it, even though she’s capable of feeding herself. It’s not unusual for the last few bites to require coaxing, and I’ve found one good motivator is letting her feed me as a reward. Tonight, for example, I fed her the last ten bites of her chicken soup and she got to feed me the last few bites of my rice. Some of those grains of rice must have been loaded onto the spoon at least three times. She hasn’t yet quite got the hang of keeping the spoon level to keep food from falling off on the way up, up, up to my mouth.
In somewhat-related news, Jade’s last molars have finally made an appearance. The last top one broke through about a month ago, and I found half of the last bottom molar showing its crown about two weeks ago now. I think the worst of the teething is finally over, and I’m not at all sorry to see that phase through. I can only hope that she will no longer suffer from seizures when we start looking for her adult teeth!
When I have the energy, I can always count on arts and crafts to interest Jade. Before Christmas, we made paper snowflakes and “stained glass” trees (out of tissue paper). Jade loved adding globs of glitter glue paint to them, and even after they were up on our windows, she’d ask for them to be taken down so that she could paint them some more.
Jade also loves to colour, but she prefers to do that in the company of an adult. Colouring, for her, usually involves her demanding the adult to draw something, which she might then colour. “Shish!” she might say declaratively. Whereupon, you had better draw her a fish, or she’ll stick her face right in yours and repeat “SHISH!” even louder. Even at three years old, people know that saying things louder makes them easier to understand.
Another game Jade has enjoyed lately is playing cards. Michael has taught Jade how to play War. Sort of. She doesn’t recognize the numbers, of course, but she loves the act of flipping up her card and then gathering up the winnings into her pile. Interestingly, when Michael plays this game with Jade, she wins a lot. Michael swears he’s not cheating. Here you can see Jade playing her own version of Solitaire.
The best toys, as always, are the impromptu ones found in everyday objects. Our cat Crook loves to climb into any box that might happen to be around, like this one that contained a new battery for our car. Jade is also attracted to boxes. Here she is, giving Crook the ride of his life. In the next few minutes, she let a teddy bear join in on the ride. Crook was kind enough to allow the teddy bear to share in the pleasure cruise.
When all other forms of entertainment fail, we can always count on YouTube. Jade has a particular affection for Caillou, and even has favourite episodes. With her evolving language skills, she can now ask for the “apple picking one”, or, more frequently, “‘ISS one!” while poking a grubby freshly-scrubbed finger at the screen.
In just under two weeks, Jade will be celebrating her third birthday. There won’t be any cake, but we’ll find a way to mark the occasion. With all the ups and downs we have had, I feel privileged to have such a beautiful little personality in my life. And that deserves celebrating.