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C.

C.

Male / 4 years & 5 months

Share the first part of C.'s story for readers on Sleuth! When and why did you start to feel concerned?

My son (nicknamed C.) is a sensory seeker. He's very active. At 18 months, he was constantly moving and doing a lot of physical activities that I didn't see other kids his age do. He also had an enormous amount of trouble self-soothing at night to go to sleep. He was having trouble going from a highly aroused state to a calm, relaxed state where he could fall asleep. We tried sleep training. We tried to do all the typical things that people tell you to do at that age. None of it worked. I just felt like something was off. Like there was something else going on. And when he would wake up in the middle of the night, which a lot of kids that age still do, he just couldn't go back to sleep. He was in a highly vigilant state, wide awake. It was at 18 months that I first mentioned this to his pediatrician. She said, “Well, his nervous system is still maturing. Let's see what happens”. As the months went on, and he started to walk, we noticed that it was like he had no sense of where he was. And then feeding challenges started: he was a really good eater until he wasn't. It was very dramatic. We felt like there might have been some sensory-related stuff going on with either what we were putting in his mouth or what he was seeing. We still struggle with feeding. I mean, it's gotten better. But picky eating was a big indicator of his condition. Then there was the activity level and the lack of focus. C. had a hard time staying focused on one activity. My son was born extremely premature at 24 weeks. Not everybody knows that 24 weeks is the line of viability. He was literally four days after the line. It was a very traumatic birth for him and also a traumatic labor for me. He was born weighing 705 grams. I'll tell you why I say it in “grams.” Because when they are born that early, every gram matters. They consider your probability of surviving partly based on the number of grams you weigh at birth. After he was born, all the nurses kept coming into the recovery room saying, “Oh my! He's 705 grams! Isn't that amazing?” There was like this celebration. He was a little bigger than normal for 24 weeks, but 705 grams is actually one pound and nine ounces. He was tiny. He fit in the palm of my hand. He was very, very small. He spent about five months in the NICU, and it was a very complicated NICU journey for him. Every child in the NICU has their own story. He was challenged with a host of medical issues that almost claimed his life, and also were potentially going to impact his development. When we came out of the NICU we were linked with Strong Start, which is Washington D.C.’s version of early intervention. We started Strong Start at about four months of age, if we correct his age for his premature birth, or eight months old from birth. We were working on some very basic things around gross motor skills, making sure he was moving his head right, that he was making eye contact, some of those typical infant developmental milestones. From the beginning, I had a sense of vigilance around potential delays in his development. In that respect, I think my story might be a little bit different than most families. I already had a heightened awareness that things were probably not going to be typical. The challenges that I had were really the struggles with the system. We knew C. was going to need a lot of therapy. We knew that he was potentially going to be diagnosed with a host of medical conditions that we couldn't predict in his early infant years. I was very proactive about it. But it was still very, very challenging to get the right services, to know who the right people were to talk to, to get coverage from insurance. I always tell people who have questions about what it is like to have a child who was born early or has special needs: this is all really hard. You have the typical challenges of raising an infant. And then you also are a medical coordinator, you’re an insurance advocate, and you're an expert at X, Y and Z diagnosis. You have a host of different hats that you have to put on every single day. The system is not always cut out to support you, right? It's almost the opposite. There are some days where I wake up feeling, “Okay, I'm in fight mode. Let's go!” I have to fight to get through the day, to be able to accomplish the things that my son needs in order to continue to develop and to thrive. That’s our overarching experience. He is now three years and seven months old. When you're born early, they use “corrected age” (based on the date you should have been born, so to speak, if you came to full term at 40 weeks) versus actual age for the first two years of life, because there is a developmental lag. The medical and school systems assume that by the time you are two years old, the child should have caught up, unless there's a major medical issue. Then after two years, you use only on the actual birthday so to speak. So he's actually three years and seven months from his day of birth.

M.

M.

Male / 11 years & 11 months

Share the first part of M.'s story for readers on Sleuth! When and why did you start to feel concerned?

In utero, we already had a few challenges that came up. We found out about clubfoot at one of the early scans. It was a non-issue really, in the scheme of things. When M. was born, he had left clubfoot and torticollis. Those were the only issues of note. We started seeing a physical therapist right away for torticollis at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. My dad, who is a retired physician, noticed that M.’s eyes were non-reactive to light at about three months old. (It wasn't the pediatrician who noticed. It was my dad.) That is where I would say our journey really began. Then, one by one, other issues started to crop up over the years. For his vision, we saw an ophthalmologist. We went to one ophthalmologist when he was still three months old. This is one of those stories: The doctor was like, “Well, he could be blind.” We thought, “What? What are you saying to us?” So that guy was out. We switched to another doctor. And actually, M.’s eyes just kind of caught up to other kids. He was diagnosed with cortical visual impairment years later, and he wears glasses, but his eyes did catch up to a degree. Some of my friends have a similar story, too. You end up seeing a lot of different physicians to get all the information you need. But after this, M. wasn't really meeting the expected milestones. We had gotten into Early Intervention early. He must have been six months old. He needed physical therapy because he wasn’t rolling over and the torticollis was unresolved. Then, at 12 months, M. wasn't really verbalizing at all. I think one of the main reasons M. was given an autism diagnosis early on was because of his visual impairments. It's the way he used vision: when he's thinking, he looks someplace else. When he's walking, he doesn't look and instead he uses his feet to feel. He wasn't he wasn't making eye contact when you were talking to him, and then he also wasn't speaking. The autism diagnosis is definitely not correct. It helped us get therapy early on, but it also was not accurate. Later on, that diagnosis also didn’t help get other kinds of support. I always knew it wasn't autism because of his social engagement. M. was always so sweet and engaging. He was also given a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified). I don't think they give it anymore. It was a catch all: “We don't know what's happening here, so we’ve got to give you something.”

eyes non-reactive to light observed at 0 years & 3 months

baby boy

baby boy

Male / 2 years & 10 months

Share the first part of baby boy's story for readers on Sleuth! When and why did you start to feel concerned?

I am a first-time mom. My son is 23 months old now. My son prefers to sleep on one side of his head, and when he was eight months old, he developed a lopsided head. We took him to a neurosurgeon - I believe that is the type of doctor that assessed him - and he was diagnosed with plagiocephaly. To reshape his head, he got a helmet that he had to wear 23 hours a day. He was wearing this thing, and it was hard for him to sit up. Every time he would sit up, he would fall backwards. He would bang it and I would hear him in the helmet when he was sleeping at night. Well, I don't know if it's because of a helmet, but he didn’t start walking until he was about 17 months old. Everything he did, he did really late. Initially, he qualified for Early Intervention because of his medical condition, and because he wasn't sitting up yet by himself or crawling. I thought the helmet was going to come off and he would be a typical, developing child. Unfortunately, it just took him a really long time. He did crawl, but he did it really late. He did sit up finally, but he was almost one. Then, I was concerned he wasn't walking. I had thought “Oh, well, it's okay. At 13 months, we'll do it.” Nope. 14 months. Nope. He was almost 17 months old when he started - that’s late! He’s still struggling with how he walks. He trips and falls a lot. He still has physical therapy. He walks like he doesn't have the muscles in his legs - like a penguin, that would be my interpretation. And he doesn't pay attention to where he walks. He doesn't look straight ahead. He's walking and he's looking over here, and I keep telling him “Look ahead! Look where you're going!” He bumps into the wall, and he'll trip and fall. It's like this catch 22. I am nervous about taking him out walking, because I feel like he's going to fall. But if I don't take him out walking, he doesn't get to practice the skill. And he's not talking. He's now at 23 months, and he has no words. He has a speech therapist that we do Skype with once a week. She gives us suggestions and advice on how to repeat (and repeat, and repeat) certain things. He says, “Mama”. He was saying “Papa,” but he stopped and that's where we are today. People tell me, “I wouldn't worry. My son didn't talk until he was three years old.” Or, “My son didn't talk until two and a half.” Things like that. I have a lot of friends with kids his age, and I’m on certain Facebook groups. We do video [chats], and I see how communicative their kids are. How they say, “Hi!” This one little girl said, “Happy birthday!” I have this hope that it's going to happen. But the reality is, nobody really knows if he's going to communicate or not. That's the biggest stressor for me. Not knowing.

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