That's exactly how I spent yesterday afternoon when I dropped Jake off at his friend Kelly's house to play for a while. Kelly's mom, Katie, is one of my first and best friends that I've made since we moved to Stanford. She's been there through all of the craziness we've been through with Carter and she has seen him at his worst. She also hasn't seen Carter since this summer.
The last time Katie saw Carter was at Kelly's birthday party in June. Carter spent most of the party on the floor of her living room, butt up in the air, rubbing his face on her rug. I'm not sure if he even talked while we were there. Yesterday, I thought nothing of it when Carter walked in and spoke directly to Katie in words that she could understand...until her eyes grew as big as saucers and her jaw dropped to the floor. I was just thankful he wasn't screaming or spitting on anyone. When he walked calmly down the hall to Kelly's room to play alongside the other boys, I realized that we have come a very long way in a very short time.
A couple months ago, Carter was still struggling to make himself understood. His speech therapist approached me in the cafeteria while I was having lunch with Carter the other day to tell me how she couldn't believe the progress he has made. I smiled and thanked her but didn't think too much of the compliment. I spend so much time helping Carter overcome his obstacles that I haven't stopped to notice the incredible changes he has made. He enunciates now!!! His speech is by no means perfect but I'm finding that I am no longer the only one who can understand him.
He's talking to kids in class. After weeks of silence, Carter broke out of his shell and is actually making friends. His teacher told me that he sometimes doesn't know how to take it, but everyone wants to play with Carter. Here I was, worrying obsessively over Carter never having anyone to play with because of his behavior and now he's the popular kid in class? I couldn't be happier.
On top of these social changes, we're making huge strides physically as well. His strength is improving. Sometimes, I'll even let him go to school without his ankle braces. He's walking farther before he tires out. His core strength is improving and he's actually able to sit unsupported for a few minutes at a time.
Last night, he grabbed a hot pan on the stove. While the burn didn't hurt him, he recognized that it was hot and withdrew his hand before it could do any real damage. It wasn't long ago that he would have just let his hand sit there until an ER visit was necessary. The occupational therapy is working!
The most life-changing event of the past couple weeks has been his vision. A year ago, we were told that the abnormalities in Carter's optic nerves would cause him to lose his vision entirely. As rapidly as he was losing his eyesight, it seemed that this was going to happen sooner rather than later. We gave up on UK and found this rockstar opthalmologist at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute who said that with a few surgeries, he thought he may be able to salvage Carter's eyesight. After just one surgery, Carter's brain is recognizing both of his eyes. The vision loss has all but stopped. The eye patches are history (for now) and we don't even have to go back to Nashville for another 6 months. No braille for this family!
I understand now why Katie's jaw hit the floor, and why she nearly stroked out when Carter shared his beloved Mickey Mouse stuffed animal with Kelly. (By shared, I mean he stomped down the stairs with it, shoved it in Kelly's face, said "Play wif dis", and stomped away.) It's funny how blind to all of this I have been when I'm the one who obsesses over improving Carter's life every second of every day. My sweet boy is making real, tangible improvements. We are always going to struggle with his autism and other physical issues, but now I have hope-real hope-that our future isn't going to be quite so hard.