Monday, March 28, 2011

What's New, Little Shoe?

Shoes, yes, shoes.  Our youngest calls shoes Yahyehs.  She calls socks Yahyehs.  She calls food Aphum.  She calls milk Meh.  Haha is thank you, sorry, and horsie.  It's enough to drive a speech therapist nuts!  Seriously, though, she is far behind in her speaking abilities and we have taken new steps this month to not only discover why but also improve the situation for her.

At 25 months, she has just started to put 2 or 3 words together in a complex concept.  They aren't sentences since she gets the words in different orders, but the ideas are there.  For example, she'll say, "Psssss.   Elmo.   Abbah."  What she means is that her sister used the toilet.  She has an Elmo potty seat and she knows that her sister went pee.  It's not quite a fluid sentence, but it's a more complex concept than the grunts and single words we were getting up until two weeks ago.

Out new pediatrician recommended a hearing test for M along with a referral to a state-run PT/OT/Speech Therapy program.  We have been to our audiology appointment and also had our first interview with the social worker for the Birth to 3 program.  What we know now is that M's hearing is considered "borderline normal with flat tympanographs bilaterally."  In layman's terms, her eardrums are not moving properly.  Most likely, this is due to fluid or congestion in her ears that prevents the eardrum from vibrating when sound waves enter her hears.

This was a huge surprise to us since neither of our children had ever had an ear infection, or so we had thought.  The prevailing theory now is that M has had on-going ear infections since about September or October.  That's when we first started noticing her speech was delayed and also that's about how long ago she started having unexplained intermittent low-grade fevers.  Here's a good place for us all to learn an important lesson.  While toddlers and children often get low-grade fevers from random virus, they can also have a bigger issue, like otitis media.  Ear infections can be almost entirely asymptomatic and present only as low-grade fever.

As of last week, M is on antibiotics twice a day to clear up any remaining ear infections.  She's made huge progress.  As I had already said, she moved from single word concepts to mulitword concepts.  She's also greatly expanded her vocabulary, is more willing to try saying new words, and has started to dance along when A and I sing silly songs together.  This is all new to her and great to see!

After our preliminary interview with the social worker from Birth to 3, we have also learned that M qualifies for speech therapy, too.  She qualifies in that she has a more than 25% decrease in speech ability in comparison to other children her age.  I think that the hardest part for me, as a parent, was when the social worker expressed surprise that M does not have a way to say "I love you" yet.  Until that point, I had simply accepted M's delays as being real, but not major.  It made me sad to realize that the social worker felt that M should be saying "I love you" in some way, even if it was hard for anyone but me to understand.  Suddenly, I was missing something.  Suddenly, I realized that even one of the most basic positive emotional expressions was beyond my child.  I later realized that it was okay because while she doesn't say the words, she does kiss, hug, and whispers sweet nonsense in my ears at bedtime.  She loves me.

As for how much we'll have to pay for speech therapy, we don't know yet.  It's a sliding-scale program, which is great, but we haven't been contacted by the finance department to find out how our income fits into their scale.  I'm hoping it won't cost us a whole lot because while I do want to help my child catch up in her speech, money is really tight right now and will only get tighter when the new State Worker's Benefits Package changes and we pay an extra $200+ per month towards health care and retirement. 

After doing our taxes last week, we were told that we only had $13,000 worth of taxable income last year.  I was shocked.  Don't get me wrong, we made more than that, but that is the portion that is considered taxable by our state.  It makes me re-evaluate our income in an all-new light.  I knew that we weren't making a whole lot of money but we live fairly well.  We have a home, two cars, and enough to eat.  We have always tried to live within our means and are thankful for what we have.  A few weeks ago, I was looking at a flier for an energy assistance program, wondering if we'd qualify.  I thought that our income was close to the cut-off, and maybe a few thousand over it, but now I'm rethinking that. Maybe I should look into the program afterall.

In other news, the dog is doing well still.  I feel like I've been given this huge gift in that he no longer requires home-cooked meals, is on no medications, and lets me sleep through the night.  He was sick for all but the first 4 or 5 days that we had him so this is a huge change for me.  Hooray for puppy poop!

We had a playdate last week with Frank's good friend Bogart.  Bogart came and stayed with us one day.  The two of them were inseparable.  It was really quite sweet.  I'd have Bogie back out to our place any time.

I also invested in a prong collar for Frank.  I had been hesitating because I wanted him to leash-train with the more reward-based training methods.  I wanted him to WANT to walk with me, at my side. I underestimated the lure of the scent and the fact that a beagle's brain just can't concentrate on anything else.  The books said, "hold a treat in your leash hand, just above his head and he'll concentrate on earning the treat and not wander off."  Um, nope.  They said, "any time the dog tries to charge ahead, stop walking and make him wait until he's sitting nicely at your side before walking again."  Well, a beagle doesn't care whether he's walking or standing.  The world is FULL of wonderful scents and he can smell them just as well sitting as walking.  They said, "Try yanking on the leash anytime he pulls."  Yeah, he didn't care.  It became a game.  Run, yank, run, yank, run, yank.

Introduce here, the prong collar.  The basic idea behind the prong collar is that the dog doesn't feel any discomfort until the collar tightens and then he feels a pinch, like the teeth of a more dominant dog when nipping to correct the younger dog's behavior.  It's not a choke collar, and it's not a stabbing feeling.  It's a pinch.  I had our trainer fit Frank with a prong collar on Friday.  On Saturday, I took Frank for a walk with both children.  Prior to this, walks consisted of the dog yanking and pulling like crazy and the kids screaming and crying.  Now, we simply walk.  Frank bounces alongside us, chasing down pinecones and pouncing on sticks.  He stops to sniff every once in a while, but never lets the leash slack play out.  He learned within 30 seconds that he no longer was allowed to pull.  I kid you not.  I never had to pull on the collar.  Not once.  All it took was one attempt at barging ahead and he learned to stop before the leash played out.  I am convinced!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week 10, Twenty Weeks Old

Frank has been with us now for 10 weeks.  He's 20 weeks old and well on his way to becoming a nice family dog.  It's been a great couple of weeks for us.  He's fully housebroken and as of this week, finally healthy.  We've managed to transition him onto real dog food again for the first time in a long while.  He's also finished up a fourth round of antibiotics to clear up the giardia, but from what I can tell, he's well and truly healed.  In a few more weeks we'll reintroduce rawhides and bully sticks, I think.

We invested in a retractable leash when we decided to switch his potty area from the fenced in back yard to the open side yard.  We're inheriting a swingset and intend to make the backyard a play area for everyone and don't want any landmines.  He's doing well with the new area and the retractable leash is really nice since it's now that time of year when rain and snow duke it out for top man in the forecast.

Now that Frank is feeling better we're seeing an increase in his energy levels and a decrease in his willingness to laze about all day.  We're working hard to keep him busy with 1-2 walks a day and active playtime inside as well. Walks are problematic as he doesn't like walking behind the children or stroller.  He pulls and yanks on the leash.  I've taken to walking him before and after the girls go to sleep so that I don't reinforce his pulling.

At 5 months old, Frank is entering his last month to go to the Puppy Social Hour at the local training school.  We'll be sad to see the end of that class as it's always a ton of fun for Frank and for us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"No, really! I did fit into this dog bed just 8 weeks ago!" Week 8

Frank has certainly grown since we adopted him.  It's hard to believe that he's gone from a 7lb fuzzbomb to an 18lb teenager in such a short time span, but it's true.  Frank is now officially 18 weeks old and 18lbs.  He has outgrown his puppy bed and we've had to readjust the divider in his crate!  The first picture was taken during Frank's first week with us.  You can clearly see that he filled less than half of the cat bed.  In the second picture you can tell that it's a tight squeeze for him now.

On the good side, we're pleased that he has passed from that stage where we had to hound his every movement to make sure that he didn't pee on the floor.  He signals his need to go out by ringing a strip of bells hung on the back door.  It took him less than 2 weeks to master the bells and once that was done, he seemed to take a huge leap in his understanding of what it means to be housebroken.  Maybe he feels more in-control of his elimination now that he can simply request a trip outdoors.

It's great not having to worry about wet carpet, but on nice days Frank does tend to take advantage of the bell's ability to grant him access to the great outdoors.  Quite often he'll ring the bell 3, 4 or even 5 times in a 20 minute span just to go outside and sniff the breeze.  I try to take it with a good sense of humor and not get angry.  It's a good reminder that ALL of us could stand a good long walk on nice days.  Now that Frank is polite on the leash it's possible to put the toddler in the stroller, the dog on a leash and the preschooler on her honor to take a good long walk around town.  A even complains if we're gone less than 45 minutes!

 On a less happy note, Frank continues to have digestive issues.  He's been cleared of the giardia and all other parasites, but we just can't keep him solid.  It seems as though every time we transition him back onto his hard kibble his gut acts up.  We're going to attempt to switch him to a limited ingredient diet, but have recently learned that he may need to be on the homemade bland diet for up to 4 weeks to allow his gut to heal before making the switch.  Thankfully, I have a new rice cooker and boiling chicken is not hard to do.  I'm also adding a probiotic suppliment and will soon start another holistic supplement to help seal his gut.  I have high hopes for getting this resolved before it turns into a lifetime of chronic issues.  I suspect that having been on three week-long rounds of antibiotics for the giardia did a number on him and if we can allow him to heal before irritating his system again we can clear it up.

All of this is, of course, on top of a very difficult month of health for the entire family.  We've all been suffering from a bad cold or flu that struck in mid-February, which was mixed with digestive issues for some of us and followed by a fever and true flu for at least one, maybe 3 of us.  We're all about at the end of our ropes as far as reserves are concerned.  Here's hoping for a healthier spring!