The Amazing Owen
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Owen Climbs the Stairs!
We have been working on this one for a while now and we finally have success!  He actually climbs all the way from the bottom stair, but took some coaxing on the first two steps that I cut out because it took forever until he saw his sister at the top of the stairs and went up after her.  His pants are falling down by the end, but he sure gets there with no problem!

 
Owen Turns Four - And Other Things

It just doesn't seem possible, but it's true - Owen turned four today.  We've gone all the way from here:

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to here:

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This past year has been so eventful.  He's learning to talk, learning to walk and becoming just an amazing little person.  In just the last few weeks we've been seeing huge changes.  He has learned the words "up", "out", "light" and "all done" in the last two weeks - the last three words in just the last few days.  He's had the sign for "up" and "all done" for ages, but he is now saying them.  He has also picked up the sign for "light".  Owen loves lights almost as much as he loves ceiling fans.  I think being around the other kids at school has really helped. 

Owen can now climb all the way up the stairs to his bedroom - something I will have to get video of.  He's getting stronger by the day and I can't wait to see what the next year will bring!


 

 
Ears, Dogs, Meds & School
As you can probably tell from the title, I have a few subjects to update about :-)  Brace yourselves - I have a keyboard and I'm not afraid to use it! But there has been a lot of exciting stuff happening lately and I want to do each bit justice.

EARS - TWO YEARS WITH THE IMPLANT
The first is that two days ago was the second anniversary of the day Owen's cochlear implant was turned on.  Last year I did a really nice video for the "One Year of Sound".  I have not had enough time this year to make a video - but I did think that maybe I should spend a few words on the progress with the hearing.  Owen's receptive skills continue to be very good.  He can follow a very large number of simple commands like "stop that", "arms up" (for putting the tray up and down on the stroller or booster seat), "look at me", "take <whatever object>", "turn the page" and quite a few more. Really, he seems to understand the vast majority of what you are saying to him.  He seems to recognize which song you are singing to him and will put the correct signs (or as many signs as he's willing to do) with them. 

His expressive skills are somewhat further behind, but they do seem to be coming along.  He now uses the words "mama", "dada", "more", "hi" and "up" at the correct times and in a reproducible manner.  It may not seem like much, but if you had told me when we started the implant process that two years later he'd have 5 words I'd have been jumping up and down for joy.  And the good news is that all of these words have really come since he started speech with Ms. Jessie. Having consistent speech therapy twice a week since the end of last year has really made a difference, and so we are looking forward to more words coming in the near future.

I'm going to get a little ahead of myself by mentioning a dog here - I'll get to those details in a minute - to describe another leap Owen has made with his hearing.  Discerning spoken words in a room with background noise is not always easy for people with hearing aides or cochlear implants.   As such I think it makes Owen often seem anti-social because he doesn't always pick up on the fact that you are talking to him when there is a lot of other noise.  Tonight a woman came up to him in a room with moderate background noise and said "hi", and Owen looked right at her and said "hi" back.  There was another moment when a dog was being praised verbally with a "good boy" and Owen immediately clapped - just like we clap for him and say good boy in therapy.  To notice that someone was working with a dog in the room (Owen tends not to pay attention to what is happening elsewhere in a room) showing a very good social awareness and to be able to pick up the words "good boy" in a room full of people is a huge leap in his ability to listen.

Finally we'll cover the signing.  Owen signs rather better than he speaks at this point, but probably only because he's been doing it longer.  I'm sure I'll miss something here, but a quick list of signs that he has now would be:

Pear (his favorite food - will often use for fruit in general)
Cookie (his other favorite food - will often use for anything sweet)
Bar (for granola bar)
Want
More
Eat
Drink (uses milk for all drinks)
All Done
Up
Waves Hi and Bye
Fan (he really likes ceiling fans and has a sign to ask to turn it on)
Sleep
Yes (usually claps, but will sometimes use the sign)
No (nods head or signs no)

He will also put the signs together to make sentences.  Yesterday he made up his first real spontaneous sentence.  We have shown him "want more pear" and then waited for all three signs to give him the pears and he will evenutally mimic it and do it.  Yesterday though we were in the rather loud cafeteria and I just signed "want what?" in an offhand way to ask what he wanted next for food.  He very carefully signed "eat more pears".  I don't think I've ever shown him that combination, and I didn't prompt him with the signs first - he just answered on his own.  That's another big leap.  As with verbal words, Owen understands a great deal more signs than he uses himself.


SERVICE DOG
I haven't blogged about this because I wanted to get far enough along in the process that it was likely to be a reality before I got my hopes up enough to actually write it down.  We have an incredible local organization - Saint Francis Service Dogs that trains service dogs to help people with many different disabilities and health conditions.  A while back I had read somewhere that dogs can be trained to alert when a child is having a seizure - and that some dogs after, spending a fair amount of time with the child, can even learn to anticipate a seizure. 

I began to investigate this as a possibility for warning us if Owen has a seizure at night while we are sleeping or while we've stepped out of the room.  I found that this is actually not an uncommon thing for a service dog to be trained for.  Owen's PT actually knows a child with a St. Francis dog that can tell when the boy is about to have a seizure and alerts him to lay down so that he doesn't fall.  The idea of having a dog that could sleep with Owen and wake us if he has a seizure was just something we couldn't pass up.  I also liked the idea of a companion that could be there with him through scary procedures, and they can also help balance children learning to walk. 

So, back in late May or Early June we filed an application for a service dog for Owen.  It was a 29 page application and it felt like we were trying to adopt a child.  Of course it was probably 29 pages partly because I'm a bit wordy in my writing :-)  They need to know a lot of history and really dig into the lifestyle and medical issues so that they can know whether or not you would be a good candidate - and if you are which dog might suit you best.  Part of the application process is a home visit to make certain that you have a suitable environment - including a fenced in yard - for a dog. We had our home visit in June.

After you have applied and had your home visit your name and information is brought before the screening committee to determine if they feel that you would be a good candidate for a dog.  The screening committee then passes your name with or without a recommendation to the board of directors that makes the final decision on whether or not you will be accepted as a candidate.  At the end of July we received the good news that Owen had been accepted as a candidate. 

Before I describe the rest of the process I should state that a large part of the reason that the process is so lengthy and complicated is that Saint Francis is a non-profit organization and they provide the dogs free of charge - well, there is a $200 fee for the equipment that you receive like the crate, leash, vest, etc - but it is essentially free.  They have a limited number of dogs due to the volunteer nature of their organization and a huge number of applicants.  There are many places that will guarantee you a dog in a certain amount of time, but you have to pay the $14,000 - $20,000 that it costs to train the dog out of your own pocket, which is not an option for us.  Saint Francis takes their job of training their dogs and placing them with compatible partners very seriously and most of the process is to guarantee that the partnership will work for both the person and the dog -and to place limited resources where they can help the most.

So, tonight was our orientation and first training class.  While a service dog comes to you well trained, you have to have a fair amount of training as well to be able to work effectively with the dog.  You must learn all of the commands, you must learn your individual dog and you have to keep up the dog's training because just like children they will stray off of their good manners and hard work if you don't keep up your efforts.  So they explained the rest of the process in detail to us and even let us meet some of the dogs they have in training. 

At this point we will continue our training classes one night every other month.  In the meantime we are "eligible to be matched".  This means that if a trainer feels that they have a dog that would pair well with Owen we will be called in for an interview.  Each dog that is ready to be paired is interviewed with three or four people.  During the interview you meet the dog and the dog meets you.  You discuss the dog's strengths and weaknesses and compare them to your needs.  After the interviews are done, they decide which candidate best matches the dog.  If you aren't the one chosen then you go back into the pool. If you are then you begin the intensive training with the individual dog over the course of a few weeks.  Even after you finish your training and the dog comes home there is a probationary period to make sure that the pairing is compatibile. 

This is a long process, but I definitely think it will be worth it.  Tonight we met several of their trainers and they had all kinds of suggestions for other things that the dog could help with - such as retrieving meds or the pulse ox during a seizure, opening doors when I have him in the stroller and such.  Oh, and now you know why we were in a room with a dog that was being praised tonight :-)


MEDS
When I last wrote we had just been to the neurologist at Duke and we were all excited.  Well, it hasn't been quite as smooth as we had hoped.  When we got back the blood levels it turned out that his levels were low on the Trileptal and the Lamictal, even though he's on a pretty big dose of Trileptal.  The Zonegran was at least in therapeutic range, but the others were not.  Owen must just be one of those kids that metabolizes everything really quickly.  I called the doc the morning before we got the levels to let him know that Owen's outbursts of anger had gotten so bad that he was biting through to bleeding again and that we really needed some guidance on how to get wean something off as quickly as possible.  They called back and said to up the Lamictal (the one that has been making him so angry) and then we'd see about weaning later.  I growled a lot and told them that they needed to come up with a better answer.  This was at 5:00 on the Friday before Labor Day weekend so we knew that we were on our own until the following Tuesday.  \

On Sunday Owen woke up in the best mood we had experienced in ages.  All day long he was as happy as could be, until 5:47pm when he had a nasty seizure.  Boo!  But he woke up on Monday in a good mood again and so we decided that we would try increasing his dose.  Rather predictably his mood went right downhill.  One week later - yesterday - we upped the dose of Lamictal again to get to the final dose that the doc wanted.  Owen's day is a roller coaster of really good moods and really, really angry swings. The anger tends to pass fairly quickly, but it's very intense.  Today I called and told them that we were on the final dose that he wanted, and asked what the next step was.  The doc was out today, but his nurse called to verify all of his dosages and said that they would call us back tomorrow with a plan.


SCHOOL
And finally school. Things are going well at school and we're settling into a routine.  I really do think that having the background noise has helped Owen practice picking out individual voices.  He has also been babbling more and has been more interactive.  So I think the stimulation is doing some real good.  Owen is also quite fond of the playground. 

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And in this one I swear he's saying, "I can do it Mommy, I can climb this!"

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And I have no doubt that he will someday!
 
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