When we got there the doctor could see the change within the first few minutes; it is that noticeable! And maybe 30 minutes into the appointment she told us that Hartley's amazing transformation, in such a short period of time, was the best she's seen in her eight years of working. Brian and I already knew that her progress has been nothing short of incredible. We went from an appointment in the fall where she wouldn't respond to her name, wouldn't give eye contact, and wouldn't answer questions to having a child who could do almost everything that was asked of her.
I said to the doctor that I think Hartley's teachers are miracle workers. That's seriously how I view them. Her doctor said that while she's sure Hartley has wonderful teachers, not to discount Hartley. She said that even back last fall we knew Hartley was very bright. The fact that she is very intelligent and very willing also deserves credit for her great progress. When I think of it that way, it kind of makes me realize she had all of this inside of her, and her teachers and school seemed to be the magic key to unlock it for us. There will never, ever be words to express how grateful I am for that, and how much I truly believe that early intervention is a life-changing tool for children like Hartley.
For now, her doctor still thinks Hartley's Autism Spectrum diagnosis is still appropriate for her. She is making incredible strides but her social communication skills are still not completely in line with what you'd typically see for a girl her age. The doctor did said, however, that she could foresee Hartley progressing to a point where a Social Communication Disorder diagnosis would be more appropriate or even possibly someday outgrowing any sort of diagnosis!
For us, we don't get too caught up in worrying about diagnoses or labels. In the beginning her ASD diagnosis was helpful to me because it felt like an explanation for some of her eccentricities. Now it's helpful because it is giving her access to these services that are helping her so much. However, I can't lie and say that I wasn't excited at that though that Hartley could be in the small percentage of young children that do outgrow their ASD diagnosis.
She gave us our homework. Someday I'll come on here and elaborate about this. I kind of wish I'd documented from the beginning the various tips and exercises that we've been given throughout the last year or so. I actually think it would be helpful to look back on for ideas of things to do with Patrick!
And Hartley will be seen again at Children's downtown office in the fall after school starts to do more in depth diagnostic testing. I love how thorough this doctor is. Something Brian and I vowed when we first heard that Hartley was "behind" (doctor's words, not ours) last winter was that we would never allow Hartley to slip through the cracks. We vowed that we would take her to receive whatever testing she needed, and we would follow up to get her whatever help she needed, and we would do all that we could. Now that Hartley is getting better, we will still forge on with the same attitude; she's getting better BECAUSE of these professionals and services. Her doctor said that yesterday. She likened it to antidepressants. She said if someone starts taking antidepressants and they feel better, it doesn't mean they shouldn't continue on with treatment because it is the treatment that's making them better. Hartley's services through the county and her doctor are making her better, but that definitely doesn't mean she shouldn't continue with them.
All in all, this appointment wasn't exactly new information. As Hartley's mom, and the world's leading Hartley expert, I already knew that she had drastically improved since her last appointment. But there's nothing like a doctor at a renowned children's hospital be blown away by the progress you've been lucky enough to witness.
If I could talk to me back in September, the woman wiping away tears while she heard her daughter receive her "official" diagnosis, I would give her the biggest hug. If I were to tell her it would all be okay, she wouldn't have believed me. She loved/loves her child so much that she couldn't help but worry for her. But I would tell her that next spring her daughter would be able to tell her about her favorite things and her feelings. I would tell her that Hartley would grow to become the absolute best big sister, so maternal. I would tell her that Hartley would engage her! She would ask her to come to the playroom to have a tea party! I would tell her Hartley would be picking out her outfits and her snacks. That she would put on her own rain boots and proudly boast, "Mama, I did it!" All of those little things that so many parents out there are wishing and praying for, I get to have every day.
It is never, ever lost on me how lucky Brian and I are. I know that it's a beautiful combination of hard work from lots of various people in our lives including ourselves and our little girl, and someone up above looking out for us.