Today Atticus was able to blow up a balloon. An insignificant task for most, but for Atticus it’s a celebration of another milestone met – another goal conquered. Once that first balloon was filled with air from his very own lungs, he couldn’t resist inflating another…and another…and another. As I write this evening, new balloons, void of air, lay strewn across my living room floor anticipating their chance to be part of what seems a magical moment in my son’s life – a time of celebration.
Why is this ordinary, everyday event so important? Atticus has always struggled with oral motor disorders which contributed to a severe language delay and several frightening choking incidents when he was younger. His motor planning problems have prohibited him from performing functions that other children take for granted – including, but not limited to, blowing bubbles, blowing out candles, and blowing up balloons.
He began receiving speech/language therapy when he was 24 months old and occupational therapy at 26 months. I was diligent about implementing home therapies the first few years while working closely with the team of professionals who guided me as they worked one on one with Atticus to help him overcome his challenges.
I’ve watched him through the years as he struggled to attempt new, unfamiliar tasks – my heart aching at times with the realization of how difficult the simplest things in life can be for him. He’s logged hundreds of hours with a therapist of one type or another for the past eight years, giving up free time at home, and missing recess with his classmates at school, for yet another therapy session that I hope will serve him well as he ages. On rare occasions he will complain about missing time with his friends at school. At times, he grows frustrated because he has to attend another therapy session when he would rather be doing something else more satisfying to him. But he doesn’t give up.
Atticus never gives up. He would like to, often, but with encouragement he will continue. And I will continue to watch as he struggles to overcome new obstacles placed before him. I will watch as he grows frustrated, and screams “I can’t.” Then I will watch when his “I can’t” eventually turns into an “I did it!”
So, I watched today as he jumped over yet another hurdle placed on his road in this unexpected life. I listened as the occupational therapist instructed him: “Remember to breath using your belly, not your shoulders. Sit up straight. Put one hand on your belly to remind yourself to breath. Don’t close your lips too tightly around the balloon…” Her verbal guidance continued. Then, after weeks of trying and failing, it finally happened – the balloon expanded with air.
Atticus smiled with excitement. The therapist smiled and exclaimed, “You did it!” I was near tears as he released the air in the balloon and began filling it up again – this time with ease. Then he filled another…and another…and another – enough balloons to decorate for an extraordinary celebration.