Up and Moved, Part 1 of ?

Hello Fellow Families of Ridiculously Attractive Children who happen to have been identified with Cortical Visual Impairment!

I have thought about writing a post for so long.  There’s so much to say and so little time to get it right.  I judge myself and it doesn’t get done.  We are in a time of transition.  I keep turning inwards into myself and asking the same questions without new answers.   There is a familiar feeling of despair nagging at me.

I woke up this morning with an idea in my head.  I am going to stop judging myself and get it out there.

I may need some serious help here.  I will get to that eventually.

I spoke to my aunt yesterday and I found myself repeating my mom’s favorite saying, “I always do things the hard way.”  I used to roll my eyes when she said that.

Now, I have come to understand that when you have a child who is one in a million (quite literally) the hard way is often the ONLY way because you are breaking new ground and learning as you go.

But, not always.  My mom could have asked for help more often.  The results may have pleasantly surprised her.

The most important lesson Eliza has taught me is that asking for help can bring you information and support you never thought possible.  And, if it doesn’t, no harm done.  I’m used to doing it the hard way.

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Two months ago, we up and moved.  (“Up and moved” is a particularly Southern phrase that implies doing something quickly.  Which is true.)

Our family’s life circumstances had shifted significantly.  My older daughter was about to start high school.  There was nothing keeping us in the state of Virginia.  I had been taking Eliza out of school half days to do private ABA therapies for various reasons.

I could not sustain the schedule of creating and maintaining an educational and behavioral program for her.  It was more than one person could do.  I didn’t feel particularly successful at it.

I am used to this feeling – the need to find someone who understands her better than I do.  Who knows HOW to teach her to communicate and to engage more with the world.  I am used to fighting battles and asking for more than IEP teams think is necessary.

In this instance, I needed to choose my battles and look at the big picture.

Eliza turned 12 this summer.

We needed to think about what we want her life to look like at 22 when she ages out of the school system.

We started entertaining where we would go if we could go anywhere.  Eliza would need to be in a state with good educational opportunities, a strong support network and good transition services for when she becomes an adult.  My older daughter should be able to start and stay in the same high school.  My husband and I would figure out how to make this work.  That’s what parents do.

So, we jumped, er, moved.  From Virginia to a state that rhymes with Smassachusetts.

Two months ago.

My husband, my older daughter and I packed and carried our house out the front door and into two Pods.  We made the trip to Smassachusetts and back to Virginia several times in two weeks.   It is not an exaggeration to say there was a little blood, so much sweat, a few tears, and a recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome.  We went through several bottles of Aleve.

It has been intense. Some days I HATE our stuff.  Who needs more than 2 towels?  Why do we have so many socks?  ONE pair of shoes should suffice, people!  One pan, one lid.  One fork, one spoon, one plate. Throw the rest away!  (I get that this is a 1st World Problem.  I do.  Forgive me.  Just had to vent a little.)

And, the files – the medical records and educational records from a decade plus.

A little light reading to relax me –

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH, wipes eyes and catches breath, AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, sniff. Sigh.

Sorry, I couldn’t write that with a straight face.

It’s necessary to decide where to keep them for quick reference.  There is so much information – maybe I should let some of it go,

but,

there are still many questions with respect to what makes Eliza  Eliza.  

Maybe the answer is in one of the reports and science just hasn’t caught up to her yet.

Maybe someday SOMEONE will be able to help me understand what we’ve lived from a medical perspective.

For that, I keep the records, in bags by the bed for now…like the master of domestic organization I am.

We continue to dig out from boxes and piles of laundry.

It has NOT been an ideal environment for a child with CVI.

moving
NOT a great environment for a child with Cortical Visual Impairment

The first few days she was most content sitting in the laundry room clinging to my legs.  It made sense.  The room is small.  Everything is off white – a clean visual palette.  The vibration of the dryer was comforting. I sat on the floor with her several times those first few days commiserating with her that we had found the only spot in this new place that didn’t look like a tornado had hit.

Looking at the  piles of boxes and clothes and furniture exhausted and irritated me.  I couldn’t exactly understand how frustrating it was for her, however, the way she clung to me like a drowning person, gave me a good idea.

We made her and her sister’s rooms the first priority to give them a place of respite from the craziness of a move.   She is laying in her room listening to music right now.  And, now she’s shuffling down the hall.

I will pick this thread up again soon.  I would like to tell you what is going on and to see if you have any insight.

From my spot on the distant periphery, I see CVI moms shaking up the status quo and creating real change in their local education and support systems.

It occurred to me this morning that I am not alone anymore.

Until I can share more, I (the master of domestic organization that I am) have a handy dandy tip for families who have just moved.

When you move to a house without a single curtain or window shade and you are in a pinch….

window treatment
Quick and easy window treatment for families who up and move!

….Halloween decorations make GREAT window treatments!  And, in August, they are ALMOST holiday appropriate!

window treatment 2
Hello SMASSACHUSETTS! We are YOUR new neighbors, you lucky ducks!

Moms on Monday #8 / Rebecca from VA

Good morning fellow CVI families,

Time is a precious commodity in the lives of parents of children with special needs.

The never-ending loop of Christmas songs in every public place and the constant parade of UPS trucks in your neighborhood means holidays are just around the corner.

During the holidays, the disruption of our routines and schedules makes life more stressful and time even more precious.

Dr. Roman-Lantzy says, “CVI moms are the busiest people I know.”  Now is not the best time to be writing up your story for a blog for other parents. You are in the throes of making holiday magic happen for your family.  That is what we do.

Since I have posted all of the Moms on Monday stories sent to me thus far, I will be today’s MOM.  And, because, I am today’s MOM, this post is late because that is how I roll (or write, or whatever, you know what I mean).

Maybe, after the holiday festivities are over, in the calm of the new year, you will consider sharing some of your stories with us.

Introduction:  I am Rebecca, Eliza’s mom.  She is 11 years old.  We live in Virginia.

(Fun fact:  Over the past 11 years, we have lived in 4 states.  Eliza was born in California.  She received early intervention in California and Indiana.  She has attended schools in Indiana, Kentucky, Florida, and Virginia.  Out of necessity, I have learned a lot about the differences between states in early intervention, early education and public school services. And, BOY, are there differences.) 

Here she is at about 11 months old.

Baby_E[1]

 

About your child: What does she like to do? What makes her laugh? What are her favorite activities? What do you like to do as a family?

Eliza is a social, curious and loving kid. She loves to be near other people, especially other children. Listening to other children playing makes her very happy. Her older sister is her favorite person on the planet. Eliza’s dad can make a noise that makes Eliza giggle like crazy every time. Her favorite activities include going for a walk, swinging, listening to music,  swimming, and jumping on a trampoline.  As a family, we go to the park and take long walks outside when weather permits.  We also take her to the pool as often as we can.

She LOVES music.  We spend a ridiculous amount of time changing the songs on her IPad or her CD player.  If I never hear Waterloo by ABBA again, it would be too dang soon.  I have Ziggy Marley’s Family Time album playing in my head right now. Also, I think we paid for Laurie Berkner’s car by incessantly playing her YouTube videos.  You’re welcome, Laurie Berkner.  My older daughter and I can sing a Laurie Berkner medley at any given moment.  Not everyone can say THAT, now can they?  Silver linings and such.

When did you first learn about CVI?  How were you given the diagnosis?

We knew before Eliza was born that she would have some challenges ahead.  We just didn’t know exactly what those challenges would be.  We were given the grimmest prognosis during the third trimester of my pregnancy before we even got to meet her.  That’s another story entirely.

At 4 months old, Eliza wasn’t tracking anything.  We took her to a pediatric ophthalmologist who called it  Delayed Visual Maturation and told us her vision would eventually develop normally.

“Don’t buy trouble,”  he told me. (Hmmm, well,  Dr. Expert Guy Mansplainer, maybe I’ll just rent trouble and see how it feels.

CAN I JUST SAY HOW ANNOYING and CONDESCENDING THAT PHRASE – Don’t buy trouble – IS? 

How many times are mothers of children with special needs or medical issues dismissed by a doctor who “knows better.”  Too many.  ARGH.)

Which leads me to the truest thing I have ever seen on the Internet.

that which does not kill me

A neuro-ophthalmologist assessed Eliza’s poor vision at 9 months old.  He diagnosed Cortical Visual Impairment and Optic Nerve Atrophy.

We received a diagnosis, but, we also got the expert opinion from the neuro-ophthalmologist.

His expert opinion:  CVI may improve.  It may not.  There is nothing you can do about it.  Wait and see. Take her home, treat her like a blind child, and come back to see me in a year.  

And, what do we know now – 10 years later?

He was so very wrong.

I did not know how wrong he was, but, I could not accept that I would just go home and do nothing.  Just wait and see?  Moms do not work that way.  My heart could not accept his “expert” opinion.

I began researching CVI.  I bought Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book.  I emailed her.  We met her in a hotel room in California where she was attending a conference with her husband, George Clooney.  (He loves it when I say that.)

Slowly but surely, we learned as much as we could about CVI and made accommodations to Eliza’s home environment.

AND, a year later, after we had worked on developing Eliza’s vision at home, when we followed up with the same neuro-ophthalmologist, he had this to say:

“I do not understand how her vision has improved so much.  I would not have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.  I don’t know what you are doing at home, but keep doing it.”  

This was when I handed him the copy of Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book I bought for him.

I told him I knew he couldn’t “fix” CVI.  The prescription for CVI is educational modifications and strategies specific to each child’s unique learning needs.  It is education for parents, caregivers, and teachers about how the child has access to the world.

I told him I did not expect him to know how to address CVI, but I did expect him to stop telling parents to “Wait and see. There’s nothing you can do.”  I expected him to tell parents about educating themselves about CVI and to expect improvement.

He is still speaking to me, so I think it turned out okay.

Does you child have other diagnoses?  Yes, microcephaly and pachygyria of currently undiscovered cause, CP, epilepsy, global developmental delay, autism (age 4)

How is/was your early intervention experience?  How much time do you have?

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A decade ago, there was very little consistent information about CVI on the internet.  Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book was still new.  None of the early interventionists in vision loss in California had heard of CVI.

When we moved to Indiana when Eliza was 2 and still eligible for another year of early intervention, I discovered that Indiana did not have ongoing early intervention for infants and toddlers with vision loss.  Just didn’t have it.

Indiana offered families of young children with vision loss a yearly – roughly 2 hour- consultation from one teacher.  A fantastic teacher (Miss Annie from the Blue Bowl Story), but ONE teacher, nonetheless, for an entire state.  She had a caseload of over 300 families.

HOW IS THAT OK?  (It’s not,  but that is another story entirely.  That one has a happy ending, though, for another time.) 

Did I mention – that which does not kill me

I did the best I could to inform the early interventionists and therapists we’ve had over the years about Cortical Visual Impairment and the importance of ACCESS for children with vision loss.

ACCESS is what it is all about – whether the child has low vision from another diagnosis or CVI.

No therapeutic or educational program is going to work for your child if your child cannot access it. Yes, I’ll keep saying ACCESS until I’m blue in the face or every child has actual ACCESS to learning whichever comes first.  (A bluish tinge is more likely I think.)

Imagine you are sitting in a room and the answers to all of life’s most important questions are written on the walls around you – glowing in golden paint.  But, when you open your eyes, you see squiggles, shapes, and lines.  It could be hieroglyphics for all you know.  It has no effect on you whatsoever.

It does not matter how much brilliant, life-enhancing, brain stimulating information is around you, if you can’t reach it.

This seems like common sense.  It is.  But, it is astounding at how many typically sighted folks cannot learn this lesson.

How is CVI being addressed in your child’s school setting?  

I have been the person who has brought up CVI and the issue of access at every IEP meeting we’ve had in every state we’ve lived in.  In her current placement, it has taken me the better part of 3 years to get CVI acknowledged, and to get the school district to agree to getting training for teachers, TVI, and support staff.  It is an ongoing process.  There are ups and downs. I’m learning a lot.  That is all I’ve got right now.

What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your journey as your child’s mom?   

Honestly, I wish that I had spent less time seeking out therapy after therapy.  I wish I had had regular access to an experienced TVI early on in Eliza’s life who could have told me to slow down.  I wish I could go back and tell myself that no one has all of the answers here and to trust myself more.

I wish I had known that the love and bonding time we had were as important as any hour spent in a clinic.  I wish we spent fewer hours in a clinic and more hours laying on a blanket watching the clouds float by.  Okay, technically, I’d be watching the clouds, but we’d be doing something together.

I also wish I knew as much about CVI as parents today know about it. There has been a lot of new, incredibly useful information to come out of Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s years of study and research, the work of Dr. Gordon Dutton, and Matt Tietjen’s What’s the Complexity framework.

I wish I had asked for more help.  I wish more help had been offered.

What would you tell a mother whose child has just been identified as having CVI?

You are not alone.  There are resources available.  There is a community of parents who have faced similar challenges.

Be gentle with yourself.  Be gentle with your child.  The foundation of any child’s success is the love and trust that grows between a child and her parent or caregiver.  It starts and ends there.

What would you like for people who have never heard of CVI to know?  

This is a population of complicated children, many of whom have survived because of the miracle of modern medicine.  It is time to recognize them and to rise to the challenge of meeting their needs.  There are more children with CVI than you know.  We need your help.

Hopes and dreams? 

My hope for Eliza is to help her get so independent that she develops her own hopes and dreams and that she has a way to tell me what they are.

One of my dreams is that every child with vision loss (whether or not the diagnosis is CVI) gets the educational support she needs from an early age to become independent, productive, and joyful.  Here is my definition of JOY  by the way. eliza in the car

 

P.S.  It would also be great if  no pediatric ophthalmologist or neuro-ophthalmologist ever again tells a parent of child with CVI that there is nothing she can do.

Maybe we will work on that in 2018.  Hmm?

 

 

“CVI Moms are the busiest people I know”…and THIS IS WHY

I had quite the action plan this week and I learned stuff.

I learned that if you are up late typing a blog post,  you will fall asleep.  You will delete the nearly finished post when your head bobs, you jerk awake, and your hand slaps the keyboard. Then, groggy and irritated, I learned that when you spend five minutes clicking refresh in the hope that the words will reappear, they will not.

This was not part of my action plan.  Just thought you should know.

I haven’t given up on my action plan, but, the learning lesson with a blog post reminded me that CVI moms are often trying to cram more into a 24 hour day than will comfortably fit.  It’s like the day is a pair of Spanx and we have to fit the elephant in the room into those Spanx.

Every day.

It’s not pretty.  There is chafing.  But, it gets done.

Mostly.  There may be some unsightly bulges and an enraged pachyderm, but, hey, nothing’s perfect.

(I just used the word “Spanx” in a post about vision loss.   I’m thinking this is a first.) 

Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy often says that CVI Moms are the busiest people she knows. She says this when the need for more CVI endorsed teachers, policy changes, and basic awareness about CVI is inevitably brought up in a presentation.

CVI Moms are often the mothers of children with multiple diagnoses.  We are juggling medical and educational needs while attempting to maintain families, jobs, and, (oh, who am I kidding?) – an identity of our own.   I am mostly failing at all of the above.  And, I have forgotten my middle name.

This week, I have not been particularly successful.  My patience is worn thin.  I speak in short, rushed sentences.  I am behind on making the adapted experience books I promised I would make for E’s classroom.  My dining room table is the insurance/invoice/bill station.  I owe return calls to therapists, the genetic counselor, the insurance case manager, to name a few. I may have walked/fed the dog.  Maybe.  My couch is covered in pictures, more pictures, Velcro, (So. Much. Velcro.), glue sticks, bare books (www.barebooks.com – You need these to make simpler book versions of other books, or of pictures of objects that are meaningful and motivating.) 

This week I was able to correspond with some other CVI moms about some advocacy and fundraising items in the works.  They are getting it done.  They are managing their jobs, their families, and their children’s IEPs.  They are doing the legwork teaching their schools about what children with CVI need.  They are training the educational staff. They are demanding more educational staff.  They are adapting materials.  All of these activities are full time jobs on top of their full time jobs.

And, still, when asked to do something that will help other families like ours, they say “yes.”

They understand that change will come only when we work together.

There will be chafing, however, it gets done.

In the past, relatives have asked me as they coolly examine my never-ending stacks of paper and pictures, my bed head and permanently furrowed eyebrow, “Why do you try so hard?”  At first, I stumbled over my words because I was so surprised by the question.  It seemed so obvious to me.  And, then, in their presence, I felt so alone.

I thought, “No one should ever have to feel this alone.”  I’ve thought that a lot over the past decade.

This is why a community is so important.  The CVI Moms I know are fierce, loving, dedicated, and resolute.  They are some of the best people I will ever know.  Their determination and courage gives me heart when I lose it from time to time. They remind me that I am not alone.  They remind me why we try so hard.

THIS IS WHY.

 

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This post and life got the better of me this week because I spend a lot of time advocating for my daughter’s quality of life.

And, then, I don’t feel so unsuccessful.