The Longest Year Ever

If you haven’t already read my blog a couple weeks ago entitled The Sibling Dynamic, make sure you do that. You will get a small glimpse into the relationship between our kids, Marissa and Jacob. This blog will be an update on where we’ve come since then. It has been a LONG year of lots of CHANGE!

I will be honest, this blog was tough for me to write. I’ve been putting it off because there are SO many details that I could share and want to share, but I’m going to keep it to the basics. I didn’t share any of the tools and great things the therapists use, but will share some of that soon. Certainly if you have questions, please let me know and I will answer any of them.

So let me start off with this, we were struggling at home, BIG time! We couldn’t clear the table after dinner without the kids getting into some type of fight, which almost always turned physical. At one point we found Marissa on top of Jacob punching him. We quickly realized the kids could not be in the same room if we were not present and separated them when we couldn’t be right there. We needed help.

We did the only thing we knew to do at the time. We turned to the place that Marissa was diagnosed. They were extremely helpful for many years, but we hadn’t been there for a while at that point. When Marissa was younger, we looked into ABA Therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis), but it wasn’t covered by our insurance at the time. This therapy is crazy expensive, like tens of thousands of dollars a year. Not something most families can afford and definitely not something we could manage. But, when we came back, we found out that our insurance had started covering this therapy! We started getting the ball rolling right away because nothing else was working for us.

Let me explain what happens in this therapy. For our family it meant they would come into our home 4 days a week after school for 2 1/2 hours each of those days. They would play and do activities for that time and work on small goals, all leading up to a bigger goal. They track everything! Lots and lots of data is collected during this therapy and they strategically use that data to set new goals down the road. Our big goal was improving the relationship between Jacob and Marissa. They had told us when we started that it was going to get worse before it got better. We were NOT prepared for what that meant.

One of the things that they initially started work on with her was doing things she doesn’t necessarily want to do. For example, before we started therapy, if Jacob got to pick a movie we were going to watch as a family, Marissa would get very aggressive verbally and physically. If Jacob got to go first, it was not a pretty sight. So, the goal they set initially was to do a “non-preferred” task for 2 minutes (a game or activity that she didn’t choose) before she got to do something she loves to do (short funny pet video clips or Tom and Jerry). Easy right?!? WRONG! She did not want to play a game the tech picked for any amount of time and she made it very clear. Early on, she would kick, hit, bite, destroy anything and anyone that she could get a hold of. We lost some of our board games during that time because she destroyed them. I’m surprised we didn’t loose our tech too because she had more bruises and hair torn out than I would have been able to stand. (I’m so thankful for those that CHOOSE that profession and we’ve grown to love the tech and BCBA that works with Marissa). It was a tough time. Even thinking about it now brings me to tears. She needed to learn this skill or how would she ever succeed in life?

This goal was one of the toughest to get past. During that time her verbal aggression was horrible. We were told to ignore all verbal aggression so we could focus on getting the physical aggression under control. We didn’t go out much those first 2-3 months. She would say the worst things, things you would never think you would hear from a child and she didn’t care who was listening. You should have seen the looks on another adult’s face when they heard a our 9 year old tell me that she was going to punch me (or something worse) and I just ignored it. That was such a low point in our life. It was tough, but don’t stop reading here! I promise it gets better.

After the first 3-4 months, we started to see some improvements. (Yes, things move very slowly on the therapy road). She started meeting her goals. She has been so proud of herself too. She went months without any aggression, verbal or physical! The kids do “rock, paper, scissors” to figure out who gets to go first and Marissa is not upset if Jacob wins. We’ve had a complete turn around.

The other day, we were sitting in the living room and Marissa started reading a book to Jacob. She allowed him to sit on the same chair with him. This would have NEVER happened a year ago. She couldn’t even stand being close to Jacob. Things like this, helps me to remember how far we’ve come.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we still have our moments. The past few weeks, we’ve had a bit of regression and it has gotten a little tough again. But, when I look back on where we were a year ago, we have made so much progress.

If you have a child with Autism, I highly recommend ABA Therapy. It was life changing for our family and could be for yours as well.

Marissa's Mom

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