Monday, March 15, 2010

Overcoming Sensory Integration Disorder with a Love of Horses

If you would have told me
two years ago
that I would be spending every Monday afternoon in a horse stable surrounded by dust and hay and well, horses, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. But, today was Monday, and that is exactly how I spent my afternoon...

"It’s Monday. You know what today is, don't you?" I ask Emma on the way to school. "Horses" she answers, with a little smile.

Emma rides horses not just for the sheer pleasure of it, but because she needs it. Riding

horses provides a very unique form of therapy for her called hippotherapy, and she has been riding for about a year now. To Emma, the idea of therapy is the farthest thing from her mind.

It is not always obvious, but Emma has a mild form of sensory integration disorder (also called sensory processing disorder) and therefore needs other outlets to receive proprioceptive input - feeling her body in space. She also has some low muscle tone in her hands and upper body. Riding horses helps her to keep her body upright, and holding the

reins is good for her hand strength. She is also able to follow directions more easily while in motion. And, it doesn't hurt that she is a fierce animal lover.

It wasn't easy to deal with this news when heard it from Emma's preschool teacher at age 3. When you hear anything about your kid that is out of the ordinary, you start to panic. My husband Dave and I had never even heard of Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), and now they were telling us that she will have to have an evaluation to see if she qualified for Early Intervention including occupational therapy and possibly physical therapy. Early Intervention? Our daughter?

Lying in bed that night, Dave and I went over in our heads how she could have gotten this in the first place? Whose fault was this? Of course I thought it was my fault. I didn't take her to enough art classes as a baby. I didn't eat healthy enough when I was pregnant. But we soon came to realize that it is just part of her and there really isn't one reason that anyone can pin-point as to why. We got every book that we could find having anything to do with sensory integration disorder. We were also told that she may grow out of it. She will always have some low muscle tone, but she will "probably" adjust to a lot of the sensory issues.

And you know what? It's true. Over the last 2 years she has grown up (or more appropriately), grown into herself. She has had OT and PT twice a week for the past year and a half, and we have added swimming and acrobatics in addition to her horseback riding. Almost every day after school, she has "something." We have to allow her to have more time to transition and/or get her energy out as often as possible. Many times after her bath, she just needs to jump on the bed for 10 minutes before she can even think about sitting down for books. I also have to remember to be very patient. It's not always easy...

I'll admit, taking Emma to her lessons is not my favorite thing to do. I don't like the smell of horses, and I am very allergic so the hay makes me sneeze and sometimes I feel as if I can't even breathe. In the winter the stable is so cold that I lose all feeling in my hands and can see my breath when I speak. The smell of horse pee is so strong that my eyes water and there have been times when I feel as if I will pass out. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. But when Emma rides, all of this doesn't really matter.

Because when Emma rides, she is happy. She is calm and centered. She doesn’t feel fidgety or out of bounds. She seems to have this connection to the horses that is pure and real and without fear. We found this amazing organization called Gallop, NYC and they provide this type of therapy for many other NYC families like us. Emma listens and does what she is told from her instructor Ben. She makes sure that we bring carrots or apples to feed the horses and she feels right at home in that stable. She knows the names of most of the horses and has a special horse named "Emma" that she brings an extra carrot for each week.

There was a time when sitting still was out of the question for Emma. Keeping her hands out of her mouth or off of someone else was almost impossible. We dreaded going to restaurants or public places where she was supposed to be quiet and still. In school she was often frustrated with group activities, writing, legos, puzzles and the littlest hand related tasks, and she often had a frown on her face. Now, Emma CAN control her body. She CAN hold the toothbrush to brush her own teeth. She CAN write her letters and numbers and hold a pencil the proper way. She CAN avoid stepping in slushy puddles (although she just chooses not to) :).

Our Emma has a true zest for life! She sings, dances, paints, draws, jumps, smiles, laughs and has the most amazing imagination. We're still learning how to best help her, and it still takes a lot of patience and understanding, but it seems like she is pretty happy with her little self, and that makes us feel like we are doing something right. I guess putting up with a little dust, hay and horse pee once a week is worth it after all...

Dave made a video of Emma riding in her first "horse show" last spring.

* Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded sensory input .
*Gallop, NYC Donations accepted via their website.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Birthdays really are special

Usually for me, birthdays are bitter sweet. I always feel my age and I usually question my direction in life. Should I be doing this anymore? Am I making a difference? Mostly though, on my birthday, I just want to feel special.
I had to perform 3 times over my birthday weekend to very diverse crowds. The first party was at an organic bakery in Jersey City and it was a tiny little place packed with high energy kids of all ages. I brought Albert with me, and we arrived early, like I like. I was a bit frantic trying to set everything up amongst tons of little kids and a face painter who still had a line of customers, but somehow we pulled it off. When I looked up to start the set, I saw lots of shining faces. Not just on the kids, but on the grown ups. I guess some of them knew who I was, and the others were eager to find out... Ah, the pressure. We started singing and it was so much fun. The kids were dancing from the very beginning, and shakers were flying. There was a lot of laughter and, well, it was also fun playing with Albert. He cracks me up, and he had practiced a lot, so it sounded pretty good. I was proud of him, and so grateful that I wasn't there by myself. We were very well received and got lots of hugs and thank you's at the end, in addition to some free cupcakes. Totally worth it.
At the second party (a bit smaller and more mellow), the Mom of the 4 year old birthday boy told me that he watches my DVD every day and knows all of the words by heart. He soon proved it by standing right next to me the whole time singing his little heart out and playing his brand new ukulele! All of his friends seemed to remember me as well, and were very much into singing and dancing along with us. It was pretty awesome. Then, his Dad and a friend joined in playing some pretty incredible African drums on the last three songs! It was so much fun I almost felt guilty charging them for the party...
The next party was different. Lots of people, lots of balloons, a bit of "typical birthday party chaos" and a little three year old whom I had never met before who also apparently knew most of my songs and had a special request set list. I wasn't sure how this one would go as I had never met the family before, and well, you never know. This little girl sat through the entire 45 minute set with a big smile on her face. Albert was joining me on bass again, and we went for it. There was a range of ages, but those kids lasted the entire time. I was asked to end the party with "Ten Thousand Kisses," and the birthday Mom promptly sat her daughter on her lap and rocked her to the entire song. It's a long song. After the set, she thanked me for coming and said that I really made her little girl's birthday special. Then, the birthday Dad told me that he had to leave the room the first few times he heard Ten Thousand Kisses because he was so emotional, and he told me that he really enjoyed my singing and my songwriting. That was really gratifying for me to hear. I was happy.
I was exhausted.
That night, as tired as I was, Dave took me out for sushi. Albert and Jen took the kids. It was so nice to just relax and have a Sapporo and some good food with my husband. We talked about goals, and we talked about the kids, and we talked about us.
Yesterday, my 39th birthday, was all for "me." I started out the day with a meditation and felt really good about the direction that I am going. I got tons of phone messages, e-cards, and FB posts. Both my parents and my sister and her family sung to me, and they made me choke up. I had quiet time, and I had family time. My perfect balance. My family brought me my favorite chocolate cake and some handmade cards and some cool, new clothes. It couldn't have been any better. And you know what? I felt special.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Family Ties

Today my sister called to say that she really missed us. She was going to check into flights and try to visit us with little Annabelle. She lives in NC with her husband and 2 kids - Annabelle is 8 months and Jackson is 2 and a half. If I may say so myself, they two of the most adorable little kids you have ever seen. After we hung up, I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy that she is planning on coming, since I haven't seen her since Christmas. But it is so sad to me that we live so far away. If I could change one thing in my life, this would be it. The fact that we live so far away from each other. I mean, life is going by too fast... we are missing out on the good stuff! I miss seeing my niece and nephew and all of the amazing things that they are doing every day. I miss having her see my kids growing up and going to all of their various "things."
We are missing out.
We are not there to run over on a moment's notice when one of the kids is sick and we need to take them to the hospital or doctor's. We can't have her kids sleep over and give them a "date night", or have them do that for us. I never imagined that it would be this way. I never for one minute growing up thought that we would not live in the same town, let alone the same state.

Last week a good friend of ours called to say that she was moving to New York City. Her husband is getting transferred and now they and their little one year old are coming to live here for at least 2 years. They will be right in Manhattan, or possibly Jersey City, but either way, it's just a hop, skip and a jump. I can hardly imagine the culture shock for them trying to raise a baby in NY, as it is a combination of extremely rewarding and extremely frustrating. Especially when you are used to a 4,000 sq. feet home, entertainment centers the size of a small movie theater, a backyard, 2 cars, luxury strollers that don't fold into the size of an umbrella, and well, space. But it is really exciting for them, too. They are happy to try something new and to experience life in NY. And I am happy and excited for them.
I just wish it were my sister coming instead.