Saturday, September 29, 2012

Summing up September

I've set a new record now, going nearly a month without writing here. This month has been an unprecedented kind of busy for our family. We've picked up the level of homeschooling as I'm now teaching a 1st grader and a 3rd grader, we're attending a coop art class on Tuesday mornings, and we've added soccer with two hours devoted to practice on Monday nights and two hours devoted to games on Saturday mornings. This has significantly reduced any "freeish" time in my schedule from precious to endangered.

But what has really consumed my remaining time and energy is another round of illness--not the viral and bacterial kinds that plagued us last February, but a sudden outbreak of the autoimmune kinds: asthma, allergies, and chronic ear infections (likely caused by chronic inflammation of the eustachian tube due to allergies). Emma was diagnosed with asthma earlier this month after weeks of uncontrollable wheezing and coughing. She also got an ear infection at this time, and had two episodes of inexplicably breaking out in hives. Toby had an ear infection in August that caused blood to seep out of his ear tube (that was a bit alarming). He also had some minor cases of hives. Now he has been coughing uncontrollably for weeks and was diagnosed with asthma on Monday. Both Emma and Toby are on a daily dose of singulair now, which is helping.

Hannah has been having frequent stomach aches and diarrhea which I think I've traced to a corn allergy or sensitivity. Even little Elijah has broken out in hives this month and had a six-week-long ear infection that managed to resist 10 days on Amoxicillin, 10 days on Augmentin, a shot of Rocefin with 7 days of cephalexin, then 3 shots of Rocefin. When he finally saw the ENT last week, the doctor remarked that there was a "tremendous amount of pressure on both eardrums" and that he was surprised Elijah wasn't "screaming 24/7." He pulled strings at the hospital and got Elijah into ear tube surgery the next morning.

With Elijah's ear tubes in place he is finally fussing less and sleeping more. Emma has returned to a state of health. Hannah seems to be OK if we avoid corn (not easy on a gluten-free diet). But Toby's lingering cough, dark eyes, and poor appetite still concern me. I did get the three girls into the doctor this week for more extensive allergy testing. The boys will get their turn soon. I'm hoping I can glean some helpful information and get us all back to relative good health before cold and flu season hits hard.

I feel perpetually depleted these days--not depressed, just old-fashioned exhausted. Some uninterrupted sleep, and a day or two of down-time would really help. I would love to record the more funny and joyful moments from this month: Emma's fifth birthday, Hannah's inability to keep from daydreaming on the soccer field, her melodrama at her last blood draw, Toby's adorable sayings, and Elijah's adventures in crawling. But now it is time for me to pack everyone into the van for another Saturday morning soccer game, then to my in-law's tonight for a cookout. Hopefully I'll be back to blog again soon.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Speech Maps

This morning Emma wanted to tell me that her vitamin pill was a "monster on a skateboard." But having just learned how to pronounce /n/ /s/ /t/ /r/ /k/ and /d/ in the last two months these two words posed a daunting challenge to her. At first she just reverted to her familiar pronunciation of mostly vowels: "mah-eh ah a gay-oh." I smiled, raise my eyebrows expectantly and waited for her to try again.

She got a look of determination on her face and gave it a second try, hitting a few more consonants, "mah-sss-er ah a gate-bor!" I wasn't sure whether to just praise her and move on or to push her further. I didn't want to make her melt down with frustration, but she seemed fresh enough to give it another try. I broke the blended sounds of "nst" and "sk" into separate consonants and we made it through both words slowly, but blending the sounds fluently seemed to be far beyond her capability.

Before giving up I wanted to try one more thing. Grabbing my notebook I wrote the words "monster" and "skateboard" on a clean sheet of paper. Emma immediately began to sound them out, carefully and perfectly blending all the sounds! I could see that the jumble of sounds coming into her ears had just straightened themselves out on the paper in front of her like puzzle pieces falling together.

Speech apraxia is a "motor planning" disorder, meaning Emma has difficulty planning out the movements needed to produce the complex sounds in our language. She also has difficulty sending this plan to the muscles of her mouth. It's like needing to draw a map and then email it to her mouth so her mouth knows which route to take. When we practice certain sounds in isolation over and over again this strengthens the "internet connection" between her brain and her mouth, increasing the "bandwidth" so that these messages get through more smoothly. But I realized this morning that these new, faster neurological connections that we've been working so hard to build are of limited use if Emma can't draw an efficient map in her mind of the sounds she needs to say.

My experiment this morning confirmed for me that Emma is a very visual learner, that seeing the sounds laid out in order for her made sense of them in a way that hearing them never could have. I am a very auditory learner: I need to hear a sentence spoken to understand it well, but living with Matt has helped me understand that other people out there need to see things written down in order to understand efficiently. Emma clearly takes after Matt in this area.

This is wonderful news as far as I am concerned. It means that as Emma learns to read and spell words she will be building a library of speech maps for all of these words, ready to pull up and send down her newly built neurological pathways. Her tongue should get less lost on its way to an intelligible sentence, and hopefully someday she will arrive at fluent speech.