He’s Not Behind, Behind Who?

Posted by Guest Blogger Heather Loreen Kava on 23rd Jul 2019

This moving guest blog comes to us from Heather Loreen Kava.  


He's Not Behind, Behind Who?

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My large knees jutted out and my bottom barely fit onto the toddler chair. I tried to blend and hoped the little legs could hold my weight and the weight of the infant wrapped against my body. Looking ahead, I saw my sweet 3 year old boy, Daniel. He stood in a line waiting to perform a song celebrating the end of his preschool year. It was a small class of only 12 kids and parents were able to squeeze into the classroom to watch the ceremony. The song was simple and short, sprinkled with cute gestures.  
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But Daniel was not singing.  He was not gesturing. He was grabbing his tongue with his fingers and pulling it hard.  He was grasping his hands together like he was wringing out a towel, and staring blankly at the back wall oblivious of his mom and baby brother a few feet away.  
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I had never seen him do any of these gestures. His classmates’ lips moved, their little hands fluttered and their feet stomped. But he could not. I wanted to scoop him up and escape out of that overwhelming room. But the moment dragged on and I stayed. Stunned. It was then I knew something was not right. 
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As a new mom, I struggled through Daniel’s first year. “Oh..., you have a colicky one,” People would shrug and say when hearing of our sleep struggles. Or my least favorite, and always from random strangers, “Is he a good baby?” With extreme emphasis on the word “good.” I wanted to scream. Classifying people as good and bad should never happen let alone to babies.
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Daniel seemed healthy and was reaching milestones in a decent span of time. He looked into our eyes, smiled, cuddled, played and was always happy. He could be burning up with a fever, but he smiled so brightly no one could tell he felt poorly. Daniel was simply a sweetheart. 
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As a special education teacher, runner, and healthy living advocate, I thought I had utmost control over creating a healthy start for my baby. I ran nearly everyday of my pregnancy with him and ate all the colors of the rainbow. 
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But here was my boy, disliking noise and crowds, overwhelmed easily, unable to settle to sleep unless driving or in a bear-hug; playing with the same toy for hours and frustrated to the point of giving up if a block he set toppled over. All of those times people shrugged off the struggles I spoke of as typical colicky baby or “boy” traits.  In hindsight, those were so vividly signs of a sensory processing issue. 
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After the 3 year old ceremony I drove home sobbing. Something was bothering my child and I did not have a name for it, a solution for it or a reason why it happened.  After an initial evaluation and IEP he was asked to leave the private preschool because they could not give him the help he needed. I felt devastated - at 3, he was being told he was not good enough. He was different. As a special education teacher I felt I’d failed. How could I be a teacher and not know how to help him or what was wrong?
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I have devoured educational books, researched homeschooling, unschooling, and located possible therapies and resources that I could. I still do not feel like I have it figured out. But I tell myself I don’t need to. There’s no race. He’s not behind. He’s not missing out. Behind who? That is my new motto.
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I am grateful for the present.  Today we know Daniel has sensory processing disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.  What I have learned is the label provides you a tool - but you choose if you let that label guide, limit or empower. Children’s resilience will always amaze. So much weight they bear on their small shoulders and yet if they feel loved, safe, and encouraged to be their best selves, they will thrive.
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At 6 years old, through a kindergarten assessor's eyes, he may seem extremely behind. But the bars to measure success are subjective and fluid. They are not embodied in grades, SAT scores, college choices, boyfriends, girlfriends, extracurriculars or first pick for teams in gym. They are embodied in the love for learning he has in his soul, in his endless desire for knowledge, in his adoration for nature, insects and animals, his innocent and pure mind and passion for caring for and connecting with people. I’ve learned to celebrate and love those unique traits that make him shine. And to adjust my measurements for success not only for him but for myself.
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Heather Loreen Kava

Mother of two boys, 6 and 3, Heather grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She holds a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University of Chicago (2007). After nannying a young girl who has Down syndrome post college she knew she wanted to pursue teaching. She attended Cleveland State University and received her MA in Special Education (2010). Heather has taught children with mild to moderate disabilities ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade. After her second son was born, she decided to stay home with her children. They currently reside in Cincinnati and do a mixture of child-inspired homeschool activities and Montessori education.

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