Not walking to jumping jacks. A journey through OT and PT
There is this video of Ashlynn learning to walk. It’s a video I have only reviewed once because it used to break my heart. My daughter was 17 months old and still not walking. My husband and I bought her the kid version of a walker, and almost every night we would encourage her to “walk” with it from one side of the room to another. At the time, I of course knew she was delayed. Why I didn’t seek early intervention for these delayed milestones is still beyond me. Pride is a nasty bugger.
Anyway, I was determined to help her and work with her just like I was doing with speech. I just knew this walker would be the bridge that completed the gap. She was excited and stood up with it right away. Soon, it quickly started to roll away and Ashlynn’s legs, unable to keep up stretched out behind her and left her tumbling to the floor. Despite the failure, my husband and I were excited and cheered her on in video after video.
It still wasn’t until almost a year later she finally was put into PT and OT for delays in gross and fine motor skills due to motor planning. This sounds crazy, but when she was identified through Child Find close to her 3rd birthday, I still had never heard the terms dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder. I knew she was delayed, but I didn’t know why. I kept thinking she must have cerebral palsy or something.
Today at the age of 8 years and 3 months, my daughter executed 10 jumping jacks. “What’s the big deal?” you might say. It is so difficult to explain the steps it took to get there, but I’m going to try because it absolutely blows my mind.
It started with just a simple jump. My daughter had to be taught how to even jump. They started her on a trampoline in which she could only march, and graduated to her feeling the bouncing motion with her body and she bounced with her feet planted on the tramp holding a bar for balance. Soon after she was able to catch air on the trampline, which paved the way for an actual jump on hard ground. Learning how to bend her knees and propel herself upwards was a challenge, but once she had succeeded we had assumed she had the jumping thing down. We were wrong.
Jumping vertically was one motor plan, jumping forward was another. It took her more time and effort in OT and PT to learn how to jump and then to jump forward. Once she had that down, we assumed she had the jumping thing down. We were wrong.
Jumping off a ledge, or even a small curb is completely different than just jumping forward because the depth change is a different motor plan and involves spatial awareness and balance. It would be more time and effort spent in therapy to learn this and not only learn it, but to keep increasing the distance of the ledge. Jumping into the pool took a very long time for example.
Next came skipping. I had no idea skipping involves hopping, as we basically “step-hop” (as her therapists would say). “Step-hopping” is harder because it requires a child to be able to hop on one foot. That is yet another different motor plan from jumping together with two feet. Oh, and it also requires a child to “alternate” their steps. Ashlynn was still taking the stairs one foot a time. She would have to learn to alternate climbing. During this time she first learned to gallop with one leg. This stage lasted awhile until she could finally coordinate her second leg to follow suit. After awhile, a slow and methodical skip began to take form.
I might add crossing midline, vestibular activies, and balancing goals were also being worked on. When you put all of these skills together, the last mother of all motor plans and total body coordination is nothing other than a
A Jumping Jack! A fun activity most typical kids pick up one day around 5 years old in gym class. No therapy required.
My daughter has been able to execute about two jumping jacks for awhile, but actually getting the motor plan down to do ten in a row was taking a collaborative effort between OT and PT. Ashlynn true to her nature, always practiced at home.
Tonight, at the age of 8 years and 3 months, my daughter who walked late and consequently went on to learn every gross motor skill through extensive time and work in therapy, executed 10 jumping jacks independently. Her excitement was so palpable she asked me to record her, and she never asks me to record her because she always freezes!
THIS moment is Ashlynn’s first place blue ribbon. THIS moment, basically 3 years beyond her neurotypical peers, is our gold medal. I have long since toughened my skin to all the precocious and amazing things my facebook friends’ children are doing. None of that matters. Comparison is the thief of joy. What matters is my daughter wakes up everyday and fights to do things most others take for granted and she attacks it with a drive and determination that is unprecedented. I have come to realize, my daughter learned the key to success early on; and though I still worry about her future, I know I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t because I have inspirational quotes constantly running through my head. Babe Ruth: “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Michael Jordan: “I have failed over and over in my life and that is why I succeed.”
So many others too. Too many. Ashlynn always succeeds. She has this internal motivation and drive. She competes with no one else either. She measures herself to the bar she has set for herself and strives to do better than she did the day before. It is remarkable. It is what ALL of us should be doing everyday. Can you imagine how amazing this world would be, if instead of getting older and accepting our “place” in life, we all woke up striving to be better than the day before. Setting goals and not stopping until we reached them? Always aiming higher, and higher and higher? When did we as adults stop doing that? When did I stop doing that?
I don’t know when I stopped, but I know when I started again. I started again after watching Ashlynn. Watching her literally fight her own body and failing two many times to count. But then, I have watched her rise victoriously too, time and time and time again.
As a child I always cared what people thought. I always measured my worth by the A on the paper, the awards I won, the medals I received, and all the accolades that were given to me. The problem is that leaves one in a very vulnerable position. Ashlynn learned the game of life early. We need to strive to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day before. The only person we should be competing against is our past self.
I had a parent tell me the other day that there is a certain beauty in parenting our kids because we celebrate everything so much more. I had to agree. The human experience is this exact sentiment. We take for granted our health, until we don’t have it. We take for granted the sunshine, until we are knee deep in the snow. We take for granted our children’s laughter, until we watch them go through pain. We take for granted finding love, until we get our heart’s broken and so on and so forth.
Parenting Ashlynn has made me realize this tenfold. We take for granted our legs, until they don’t work or cooperate. We take for granted our speech, until we have no voice to communicate. We take for granted all the mundane things we do like getting dressed or brushing our teeth, until you see someone like Ashlynn struggle for years to get it down. You take for granted your ability to do a jumping jack, until you see over a span of not days, not months, but years, YEARS, of all the little wins along the way that were fought and won just to be here where we are today, watching the executing of 10 simple jumping jacks.