We have been quite underwater as of late. First there was a freak snowstorm in October (OCTOBER!). Then I had a million deadlines to meet for my freelance work. And Chad had a heck of a lot of projects going on, too. So I had to take a forced hiatus from this share-Nate’s-progress thing because eating and sleeping took a higher precedent. But now I’m back! Well, sort of. I’ve contracted a cold and it’s not making for a good work-writing day. So, rather than charge my clients for ineffective writing, I’m giving all of you an update on Tate. And if my writing is ineffectual here, it does not matter because you do not pay me. So there.
There’s a lot going on in Tater’s world lately: brushing (not his hair or teeth – his skin) for a recent bout of sensory overload, trying new foods (pumpkin and apple butter and refried beans are now on the list!), and preparing for our Thanksgiving trip. But today, I’m chatting about testing because it’s on my mind and I hate the process.
Testing just takes me back to the beginning. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been one year since Nate was diagnosed–and it makes me remember that, last year at this time, he wasn’t walking and still took his baths in the kitchen sink. He’s come so far in the past year but testing, well….it just shows you how much further you really have to go.
When Nate was diagnosed with autism, a series of tests helped make the determination. One of them was the Battelle Developmental Inventory, which measures a child’s strengths in five areas: adaptive skills, personal-social skills, communication skills, motor skills, and cognitive skills. (If you’ve been with us from the start, you might recall that the Battelle test is the one with the infamous Cheerio incident. Again, I ask why a toddler would be dinged for eating the cheerio instead of putting it in a bottle!?! But I digress….) his strengths in those five categories. The test is being administered by one of Nate’s main therapists, his speech therapist, and his occupational therapist. Data is being obtained through parental interview and observation.
But let’s be honest here: the test doesn’t measure Nate’s strengths–because those aren’t even included on the test. The test measures Nate’s abilities against those of a normally-abled 30-month-old child, which feels unfair. There’s no blank “other” box that allows his therapists to say, “Ok, so Nate doesn’t yet do this but he can golf backwards like a pro.” (Which is true.) And, again, I’m left feeling like we could have studied for this test instead of winging it, only I didn’t know what to study in advance.
Case in point: the stacking cups test. Miss Lisa gave Nate a set of six, brightly colored cups that nest inside of each other. She took them out and asked Nate to stack them back together. I saw this test and was thrilled! Nate can do this! He does it all the time with his nesting blocks, especially during Miss Alison’s sessions. So, Nate gets to stacking. Plop, plop, plop: three go together. In another pile, plop, plop, plop. Now to put them all in one stack. No go. They won’t fit because Tater put one cup in the incorrect order. Usually, he figures this out, shuffles things around, and completes the task. But that was with blocks. This test is with cups. And that’s enough of a difference to throw Tater off. He got mildly frustrated and, instead of switching the two incorrectly placed cups, he took them all apart and started again. This time, he made the same gosh darn mistake and now he’s mad because the cups won’t fit. So, he looks to take them all apart again to start over for a third time. At this point, Miss Lisa helped him to sign, “I need help!” and we assisted him in completing the task. He got a ding for that one because he didn’t get it done on his own.
And then there’s the bear test. Four cups of four different colors correspond to four plastic gummy-bear-sized bears, also of the same four colors. Nate needs to plunk the bear in the cup of the same color. Again, I saw this and thought, “HOORAY! He can do this! He’s been matching colors for months!” (In fact, his school teachers were astonished how Nate made a nice neat pile of green, and only green, legos at school.) Blue bear? Blue cup! Green bear? Green cup! Yellow bear? Blue cup! (Oops!) So Miss Lisa took it out and gave it back to Tater to try again. Well, he saw Lisa remove the bear so then he thought the game was take the bears out instead of put them in the cups. So he tried to remove Blue Bear and Green Bear only that wasn’t what the activity was. Poor Nate was so frustrated because he didn’t understand. He thought the game had changed but it hadn’t and here he was with a wee yellow bear and he didn’t know if it should go in or out of the dang cup. So that one ended early, too. (Ding.)
The good news about this round of testing is that the therapists administering the test have been with Tater for nearly a year. So even though the data tells one story, the accompanying narrative can explain that, while he didn’t demonstrate the skill on the day of the test, he has successfully accomplished the same task under different circumstances (blocks vs. cups) during prior visits. There will be no repeat of the Cheerio incident (I think).
The first two rounds of testing have already been done. Miss Lisa did the parental interview with me on Monday along with the cups and bears and other random tests with Nate. On Tuesday, she spent three hours with him at school, observing his natural interaction with peers and how he follows the directions of his teachers. (He sat unassisted for three minutes at circle time yesterday!!!!) I was so nervous that he’d perform poorly on Tuesday, as Nate randomly awoke at 4AM and refused to go back to sleep. But all accounts say that Nate was in a great mood before he crashed for a 2.5 hour nap at 12:40. The speech portion will be administered today and OT on Friday. The results will be shared with me, Chad, and the team at our meeting on the Monday after Thanksgiving and then sent to the public school system to assist them in placing Nate in a class this May. (Oh, did I not mention that? THIS TEST MATTERS.)
It’s quite exhausting to be reminded over and over again of what Nate’s unable to do at the moment instead of celebrating what he can do, which is what we try to focus on every day. And when he does accomplish and master something great, it still fades. Kissing is gone (he used to kiss me on the lips) and his distal point, which he mastered months ago, has turned into this dead-fish-limp-hand thing that helps no one understand anything. We tried to revive distal pointing yesterday and it led to a hysterical meltdown, as if Nate had no idea what we were asking him to do. So, we start from page one, again, and continue to rebuild. And, in the meantime, we celebrate every awesome moment and try to not think about the silly test. Test. What does that thing really know anyway?