We had decided that on Day 4 we wanted Maggie to take a class with some other kids and give a show and tell style presentation to a small group of adults,in order to replicate what she is expected to do at co op every week. Therefore, a big part of Day 3 was spent working toward those goals.
Maggie and I had prepared her presentation the night before but on day 3 she spent time giving her presentation to Katelyn and talking through what that would be like to give the same presentation to a group of Katelyn’s friends the next day.
She also practiced it in the room where she would be giving it, and we saw what that room looked like. She had another “speech therapy session”, this time with a different counselor posing as a speech therapist, and that also went well.
We went to the park and practiced initiation by asking some other kids to play. One of them seemed to have SM as well, since she would not speak. They did manage to play some Eye Spy, and the therapist tried duck duck goose again but with the same lack of success as on the day before.
We went back to the office and Maggie spent time making some difficult FaceTime phone calls to our Pastor and to her Uncle, speaking to both of them for the first time ever. She actually enjoyed it!
Martial Arts Private Lesson
At the end of the afternoon we went to the martial arts studio where Maggie and Katelyn got a private lesson in Karate from Master Brandon. Maggie was a little nervous but she participated and did everything Master Brandon asked her to do, including reciting/repeating after him some of the rules of the studio, and bowing, making fists, punching, etc. Her favorite part was breaking the practice board, even though she wasn’t able to break the real board. This was a big step for her and I was really nervous for her as she was both excited but also a bit scared. She did it though, and it was great!!
Brave with an unusual communication partner
That night after therapy Maggie and I drove about 30 minutes to a shopping center to go to Barnes and Noble and also get some “comfy princess dolls” at a Walmart there (we can’t find these in our area). She spoke to one of the workers at the Walmart, and later that evening she spoke to a woman at the restaurant while we waited for our to go order. We sat at the bar at the restaurant, since there was no other seating. There was a woman sitting beside her who had very black hair and a lot of rings and tattoos, and very long fingernails.
This woman would have been challenging for Maggie to talk to even a few days prior to that. She was nervous but she wanted to ask the lady about her rings, and she did! We used the same type of techniques for fading in and me prefacing it so the person would understand what she was saying. The lady was very kind and it was encouraging.
Stages of Grief
That night Maggie went through all the stages of grief as she came to terms with the fact that the next day she was going to have to take another karate class and this time there would be other kids there. She was really stressed out about that. She started with denial, insisting that she would NOT be doing a class the next day. Then bargaining—could we go home a day early? We don’t need to do this any more. Then came anger—she was SO mad at Katelyn for making her do it. She kept saying, “She is going to say No, you HAVE GOT to do it. You HAVE GOT to do it!” After anger came depression, and she cried off and on for at least an hour about having to take the class the next day. It was sad and I was really wondering if we should skip it, as I thought we were pushing her too far.
Finally depression gave way to acceptance and she started asking questions like “What if I cry in front of the class?” and we were able to talk about what could happen and how to handle it. She was also able to practice jumping jacks that night and Simon says, and push ups, which were all things that Master Brandon had prepared us to expect the next day. I went to bed relieved that she was taking steps to prepare, and had accepted that the next morning we would start the day with a karate class.
Maggie was very scared about going to the karate class that morning. She was so nervous, and so was I. I had downloaded some “brave songs” and made a play list so we listened to that and I prayed for her on the way to class. We got there early to give her time to adjust to the environment. I was encouraged that the spot where we were told to put our things had Chinese characters for “hope, faith, and love”. Love was Maggie’s Chinese name, and I pointed out to her that there was a picture of her Chinese name on the wall. It was really encouraging and I knew the Lord had gone before us.
Some kids started showing up before the teacher. They introduced themselves and asked Maggie if she wanted to learn a karate kick before class. They were so kind, and one little girl thought she already knew Maggie and adopted her as a friend. It was going so much better than feared, and Maggie was able to conquer each part of it, one bit at a time. They took attendance and she said she was here. The kids asked where she was from and she told them, and one was interested because he had family in Georgia. They started the class, and Maggie often had to look to Katelyn for reassurance or to know what to do, but she was able to hang toward the back and do everything. They ended class with a game. Maggie was having fun and playing, and even about to win but at the last moment she was put out of the tag-style game.
She started crying and I had to take her out of the room. I think part of it was the pent up anxiety of the whole thing, and part of it was the fact that she struggles with losing unpredictable group games so she always avoids them. She may not have even realized she was going to have to play a game but she had hung in there and done it. Once she realized she had lost it was all too much and she broke down in tears.
She was so embarrassed that she cried and for days afterward when I said she was successful she wouldn’t admit it, as she thinks that her crying made it a failure. But she did great for 55 minutes out of 60, and when she was done crying she was able to go back into the room and make her bow and thank the teacher, so she recovered and did what she needed to. I felt it was a great success!
She decided that she doesn’t want to take a karate class but she could possibly do gymnastics or ballet now that she knows she can successfully navigate a class.
After class we went to the cat café to celebrate. This cafe was an amazing place where rescue cats wander around as people eat their lunch, play board games, take yoga classes, etc. This was very low key and was a reward for Maggie. She loved it so much that she wants to go back to Michigan to have her birthday at the cat cafe!
Maggie spoke to some of the people at the café and she enjoyed following the cats around. It was a practice in initiating but also the most fun she had all week, so a fitting celebration. She also got to Facetime with her co op teacher, and with her adult sister in law while we were at the cat café. These were two very important people in her life whom she had barely spoken to before.
Show and Tell
After cat café we got lunch and went back to the office. She talked with Katelyn a little bit and got ready to give her presentation to the group of adults. After making it through the Karate class it felt like nothing would be too hard for her, and she sailed through the presentation with seeming ease, including answering their forced choice questions (which we had anticipated, scripted and practiced ahead of time).
After that we had a time of wrapping up (me and Katelyn) and talking about goals and plans for transitioning back at home. Then Maggie and I headed to the airport. At the airport I wanted to go into a store to ask about a product and Maggie asked if she could be the one to ask them. What a turn-around!! She has continued to make amazing progress since our return home.
Following Up From Therapy
We got back from Michigan on a Thursday night. I was able to arrange to have a special meeting of her co op class the following Tuesday, even though in Georgia we were already on summer break. Her teacher was willing to teach and Maggie’s classmates attended (all but 1).
We set it up for her to practice all the things she had not been able to succeed at before. And she was able to do everything! She was able to repeat the verbal memory work, try some hand motions, do a hand motion by herself when called upon, roll the dice for a review game and participate in the motions like marching, jumping jacks, etc. during memory work time.
We also did presentations and she gave her whole presentation on the gray catbird, verbally!! I asked her before class if she wanted me to write out forced choice questions on index cards to hand out to her classmates for the question and answer time, but she said she would just let the kids decide what to ask and she would answer whatever they asked her. And she did!
Then we did art and her teacher asked her to tell about her picture, and she was able to do it. This was the activity she had failed at just a few weeks prior, when we had left class crying after what had been her “best day ever” at that point. How far she had come!! Everyone was absolutely amazed and many of us moms were teary-eyed.
After that we had an unpredictable game (hot potato) and when she got the potato she had to recite her x10 facts, and she did that by herself as well! All the moms were holding their breath, but she did it! It was amazing. Afterward we went outside on the playground for group play. I wanted her to initiate playing with other kids by asking if they wanted to play or if she could join them. She was able to do that two times and had a successful time playing. Then the class went to Chick fil a and had lunch, and she ate with the other kids and also played there on the indoor playground.
When lunch was done we came home and had a private swimming lesson to cap off the day, and she did everything he said to do—including jump off the diving board to his arms! What a brave day. I was so incredibly proud of her!!
I am dating this post June 2019 but in reality it has been over 6 months since our time at Thriving Minds. Maggie continues to make breakthrough after breakthrough. This school year she is taking ballet and participating in a once weekly drop off co op class. She has friends and is acting like a normal child. I no longer cry when she does these things, as it has truly become part of our “new normal”, but I do sometimes stand back in awe at how much she has changed. It is hard to believe it has been less than a year since our time at Thriving Minds. It feels like a lifetime ago in some ways, and I will always be thankful we found the time and money to go. It was truly the best thing we have ever done and the best money we have ever spent.