Thursday, December 20, 2012

Last day

Today is Jasper's last day of the school quarter, and I am particularly emotional. When Jasper returns after winter break, he will move from "tweenie" group to toddler group. I was offered a choice of two classes and chose the one that is held in the same classroom, with two of the same teachers and therapists from his current class. In short, a familiar setting, familiar people, a smoother transition for a little boy for whom change is not easy. But the transition may prove to be tougher for me than for Jasper.

It is hard to describe in words the gratitude I carry around for the team of doctors, therapists, teachers, who have helped Jasper. Ever since Jasper’s strabismus surgery last June, I choke up at the end of each ophthalmology appointment, blinking back tears - thank you for helping my son, I want to say, each and every time.

Jasper has been at EEU a relatively short time, about six months. Short by my time frame, six months is still a good quarter of Jasper's life at this point. Transferring him to the Experimental Education Unit at the University of Washington is one of the best decisions I have made in his recovery. Class is a structured playgroup with up to ten kids, between one and two years old. It is an integrated program - half of the kids are typically developing, half are like Jasper and have some kind of disability and / or delay. Parents may watch class via an observation room. Jasper started last May, near the end of spring quarter, after we had both recovered from whooping cough. In those first weeks, months, it was difficult to watch Jasper struggle with a new, unfamiliar routine. He did not like the structure, the sensory table, the food, or circle time. He took no interest in new toys, preferring to wander the room - usually the periphery - what I've come to think of as his mapping. It was hard standing behind the glass with the other parents, watching his perambulations, feeling like he would never get the routine. For the first three months, more often than not, I would collect Jasper afterward and leave with a lump in my throat. It was hard to imagine the day when Jasper would pick up his own mat after circle time, and put it away on a shelf three feet away. I questioned whether I’d made the right decision in transferring him there.

For reasons I will never know, fall quarter has been transformative. Maybe it was the time off during August summer break. Or maybe it was Jasper’s mastery of walking, allowing his brain to focus on new things. Now when I pick him up, his teachers and therapists (Monday speech therapy, Wednesday occupational therapy) consistently tell me Jasper had a great day. He ate a new food, used a spoon, drank from a cup, drew marks on paper, painted, walked over a ladder laying flat on the floor without tripping. He made good eye contact with his teachers. Jasper’s attention has improved, his perambulations have decreased. Recently, I stood in the observation room and watched in near disbelief as Jasper got up after circle time, bent down to pick up his mat, walked over and put it on the shelf - by himself, without being asked. I had thought it would be a long time before he could do something like that. Every day since then, I make sure to catch the end of circle time.

Come January, Jasper will have a new teacher, a new physical therapist. And I am having a hard time saying goodbye to the current teacher, the current occupational therapist. This has been the best school quarter for Jasper, a lot of growth, a lot of hard work. Jasper has also begun forming attachments to his teachers, especially the head teacher, a petite, athletic woman with dark brown hair, go figure. Teachers and therapists provide invaluable support to Jasper, but also to me. His teacher spent months searching for a TVI (teacher of the visually impaired) for us, at my urgent request. She gracefully handled my middle of the night email messages, begging for updates. She accepted my list of Twenty Things Jasper Needs Most in his recovery from infant stroke, a list inspired by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. His teacher always insisted I was never bugging her with my requests, and reassured me she was there to help.

Jasper is not the only one who has formed attachments. These amazing people who help my son learn, grow, reach milestones, are a source of stability in our lives right now. I know before we get to school that I will cry.

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