Saturday, March 17, 2007

Maya's developmental evaluation

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were having some concerns about my daughter Maya. We decided to have an initial evaluation done by a child psychologist. The psychologist (I'll call her L to keep things simple) observed Maya at school one morning this week, and then again in her office yesterday morning (together with us).

This is what came of that. So far anyway.

Where to begin...

For starters, the results of the initial evaluation at her school were quite worrisome to L. She said Maya exhibited quite a lot of problematic patterns - sinking into herself, spending ages just lining up blocks (no imaginative component), staring at herself in a mirror, not responding to the efforts of those few children who still try to engage her, not using speech to communicate with her teachers... She did beautifully during circle time, participated, spoke appropriately, etc. L also noted that her cognitive abilities were quite advanced, that she was doing very well in that and was quite bright. She was however very worried by the difficulty and even lack of interest in interacting with others that she displayed during free play.

On the plus side, L was able to engage her within about 5 minutes, something her teachers have not been very successful in doing. They were actually very surprised that within 3 or 4 minutes Maya was talking and playing with her.

I've been saying since this all started that the behaviors they describe are not my Maya, not today's Maya, but I don't think that was all that credible coming from me, her mother. Her teacher is a neighbor and her dd is in school with Itai, so she does see Maya out of school at times and knows there's a difference in her behavior, but I'm not sure she realized how distinct that difference is. Maya did show more problematic behavior last year, but in the past six months she's really made huge developmental strides, at least here at home. She went from being a difficult two year old who often seemed unhappy with life in general to a truly delightful three year old, someone it's honestly FUN to parent.

I was really worried about what L would see when we went on Friday, whether Maya would show her the "real" Maya, the one that I know and see daily. Thank god she did. Maya talked, she played, she danced, she made up stories with the toys, demonstrated imaginative play, cuddled, went freely to both Jay and I and to L, had great eye contact... All those normal things that "normal" children do. I did agree that we see a few of the more problematic patterns, but that they were to a MUCH lesser degree than what is apparently going on in school. L said that a lot of that was probably because of the positive way we react to and parent her and that we instinctively and automatically pull her up as she starts to slip down into herself, without even really realizing it.

L was very happy (and relieved I think) to see this other side of Maya, but the school side is a problem. It may be (is probably) developmental, possibly due to the discrepancy between her English language skills and her Hebrew skills. She apparently has a lot of "compartments" in her life - different behavior patterns for different places or situations (much like the way she was perfectly potty trained at school and would come home and pee and poop all over the house, thankfully nearly a thing of the past). The challenge is now to figure out how to help her out of her compartments, to move past the need for them. It may correct itself even if left alone, but she spends about 7 hours a day in school, and it's not helping her to have those 7 hours be so limited (and limiting) developmentally. The problem is how to do that. L said that if she were exhibiting only one of these two aspects of her personality then the answer would be simple, she'd know what to recommend. The fact that she's for all practical purposes a Jekyll and Hyde makes things more difficult to figure out. I've been saying all along that the behaviors they were describing didn't make any sense to me, because that is not the Maya I ever see, at least now that's been validated and will hopefully provide a more positive place to start from.

For now, L will meet again with the school staff and try to give them concrete tools to pull Maya up from within herself. Jay and I will also be meeting with her again this week to discuss her history in more detail. In parallel, L is consulting with some other specialists to try and find the best treatment path for Maya. We'll also request a developmental evaluation from the health fund now just to get that on the books in case we need their services later (socialized medicine - it will take ages to come through).

I met up with Maya's teacher when she picked her dd up from kindergarten and we had a chance to talk as the kids all played on the playground, and she got a chance to watch as Maya ran and played in a perfectly normal, social manner, but whenever Maya started to run to me and saw her teacher she stopped short and pulled back instead. It's not a problem with the school. Both we and L agree that the staff is wonderful and that they are making a serious effort to help Maya. It's apparently more that Maya has placed them in an "I'm not responding to this" lower-functioning compartment for herself.

Her teacher is convinced that language isn't the problem, because Maya can communicate reasonably well in Hebrew. After seeing the level at which Maya communicates with us in English though L isn't sure she agrees, and I think I'm with her. Yes, Maya's Hebrew is reasonable compared to some average Israeli child. However, her English is far above that, and I worry that on some level her innate perfectionist tendencies have made her feel that it's better to withdraw than to fail to communicate at the level she wants to. Hopefully we'll be able to find a way through this together that will get Maya whatever kind of help she needs, whether developmental, speech therapy or otherwise, to help her school persona get back on track with the rest of her life.



Anonymous said...

Oh Robin-how worrying for you and Jay. If I'm understanding correctly the compartments you speak of exist mainly at school as opposed to home where she doesn't feel the need to "keep up." Do they have any type of parent professional program where Maya could have an adult with her (maybe for a period of months until she became accustomed to communicating at the school level)to help her not to sink within herself? Someone to continuously pull her up as you and Jay do?

It must be so hard for you to see that "other" Maya who is clearly not your happy and bright little girl. Good on you for being proactive and seeking out solutions. You are very obviously a wonderful mama (and I've known you long enough to make that statement and to know it's really true)and Maya is a very lucky lil' girl to have you both in her corner.

I'm here if you ever need a friendly shoulder buddy OK?

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Robin, I can only imagine the hell you're in with this. And it probably doesn't help if I say that my son has made friends with a boy at school whose behaviors are similar (the boy in question just turned seven a month ago).

I'm at a loss as to how to deal with this kid, except I treat him like any other kid and he seems to withdraw less around me -- but a lot of it depends on the day, I think.

Hang in there.

Space Mom said...

Robin- This sounds rough, but there are lots of indications that Maya can work with this. I understand the compartments, it is how I dealt with things as a child...

Sending some calming thoughts

Fairly Odd Mother said...

It sounds like you are working so hard on Maya's behalf. Having parents who really really care and are there to help is going to be such a good thing for her!

Best wishes!