Colin at a playground.
Six years ago, Colin was born to parents Patrick and Debbie who had both grown up in Howard County. (Patrick was one of the first babies born at HCGH in 1973). The family moved to Malaysia for three years when Colin was a baby. It was there – half way around the world – that they first noticed Colin’s difficulties. “He was late to talk and walk,” said Debbie. When Colin was 15 months old, Debbie was home for a visit and took him to see the pediatrician who had cared for him when he was a baby. The doctor agreed with Debbie’s concerns.
Nearly two years later, the family returned to the States, and Colin was referred to The Bolduc Family Outpatient Center at HCGH for therapy. By then, Debbie knew that Colin had unique challenges. “To look at him, you would just think he was a light-haired, blue-eyed cheeky monkey,” Debbie explains. “He was, and still is, very outgoing and social, but the clue came on the playground. He wasn’t the same as other children who were climbing on the equipment and going down the slide. These things were overwhelming to Colin.”
Colin was nearly 4 when he began receiving therapy for sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia. “Colin had difficulty with motor planning,” says Jen Jackowski, OTR/L, Colin’s occupational therapist at HCGH. “Most people have the ability to copy, learn or produce a new motor activity–like jumping jacks, for example–just by watching, but for Colin, learning a new motor skill was a longer and more difficult process.”
Debbie now understands that Colin’s difficulties on the playground were due to these disorders. “With sensory integration, his little body was trying and failing to process everything that was going on–the loudness of the children, the fear of heights, the fear of an unstable surface. Dealing with many things at once was too much for his system. Before therapy, we’d take him to a playground when it wasn’t crowded and introduce him slowly, trying to get him to just put one foot on the ladder.” But progress was limited until he started his therapy with Jen.
Jen designed therapy that provided more information for Colin’s under-processing proprioceptive system to help regulate his over-processing vestibular system (a disorder that made Colin feel overwhelmed by movement). He was exposed to movement on an incremental basis to help him gain a better sense of where he was in relation to his surroundings. Jen says, “The neatest thing about working with Colin was watching this little boy, who was terrified of everyday things like walking in the grass, overcome his fears. He has developed into an amazing kid who experiences life in a more confident way.”
Debbie credits Jen for equipping both Colin and his parents with tools they didn’t have. “The difference was that Jen was trained, she was a treasure chest of knowledge, she had access to special equipment, and she taught us how to help Colin. He will climb the rock wall now, and two years ago I’d have said that it would probably never happen.” Today, Colin loves to run; he loves the feel of his feet hitting the surface. He loves to play on playground equipment and go down the slide, and he is beginning to accommodate sound and noise. On the Fourth of July, with the help of special ear protectors, Colin was able to enjoy the fireworks for the first time.
“As a parent, you don’t want your child to miss out on something because of a disability, especially when you know that, with help, it can be overcome and lead to a richer quality of life.”