Sunday, September 27, 2015

Living in the Future

Callum and I were talking about the Singularity a couple of weeks ago - the idea that the world a few years from now may be virtually unrecognizable to us, that there is a future we literally can't imagine coming our way quite soon. I love talking about this kind of stuff with him, because he's always up for the discussion. I think that conversation grew from talking about the new "magic" growing rods that were implanted in his spine in June. We had been prepared for Cal to go through serious spinal surgery every June for the rest of his youth, since his severe scoliosis required these titanium rods be attached to his spine, and then lengthened every year as he grew. But sometime in the past year, a new technology went from being experimental to commonplace: growing rods that could be adjusted magnetically from outside the body, in an outpatient procedure rather than an insanely expensive and risky full surgery. And so this Summer's spinal surgery was not a lengthening (or "distraction" as they call it), but an actual replacement. Callum now has the Magic Rods, and he won't need another surgery for at least three years. His first outpatient extension procedure will happen in mid-October. This experience - seeing a new approach become the standard within months of our even hearing of its existence - is something that's going to stay with us. Because it's a concrete example of how things can actually change for the better in an arena where so recently there was so little hope for things to even be just okay. Our times may often seem like the most insane, fraught, uncertain times in the history of the world, but the pace of change and innovation is also cause for hope. There are plenty of reasons to ask yourself why you'd bring a child into a world as crazy as this, but there are also a lot of reasons I can say I'm glad these are the times Callum was born into. 2015 has had plenty more little every day stories, more commonplace changes. Cal is too big to fit into the bath now, so he has to have showers in his bath chair ... he started the Youth Digital "Minecraft Mod" class this Summer (but seems to have lost patience with it - I haven't seen him on there in a while) ... 4th Grade has begun, with all the little challenges of adjusting to a new school year ... we redecorated his room in many shades of green (his choice) ... he's started referring to himself as "a Gamer," part of "the Gaming Community" ... he has friends on Steam who live in Bulgaria and South Korea. Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddie's has supplanted Minecraft as his main gaming obsession, but these things do come and go, so we have to just roll with it. Callum is such a great storyteller at the moment. Many mornings he'll say "I had the craziest dream!" and then out comes an endlessly developing narrative that couldn't possibly be contained in a week of constant dreaming, often with invitations to participate ("do you want to do a little voice-acting in this story?"). Unfortunately it has so far proven impossible to convince him to write any of this down. Same goes for his inventions: robotic valets, leg-massagers, and power-chair maintenance robots among many others. Plans he will never ever commit to paper or computer file, mostly I think because Dragon Dictation still doesn't understand how to accurately translate his speech into text, and Sketchbook Express just doesn't seem to appeal. We went to see the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's John Williams Tribute concert this Summer - JW is always a big favorite for Cal musically, he was pretty psyched to see the music happening in real time in front of him on that giant scale ... disappointed that the Star Wars Imperial March wasn't in the program though. But he got fist bumps from the Storm Trooper and other Star Wars characters they had milling around the symphony hall, so that sort of balanced it out. Pilot to Gunner is his favorite band, any band of mine has to settle for second place, always under threat from Killing Joke in close third (as long as we're talking about the more evil or high-energy side of KJ - no time for dubs or major-key anthems). Sure a lot of this is environmental, but we'll embrace it against a horrible but no less possible future filled with gangsta rap. He is getting so big - last time he was weighed, before his surgery, he was 51 pounds. I'm sure he's gained some since then. I don't like to think about lifting 100-pound Callum ... but that's for the future - hopefully that falls under the Singularity as well (hoverchairs anyone?). Sincerely grateful as always to anyone who tunes in to this blog, and with apologies as always for not making it a more regular thing.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year!

Of course these too-infrequent blog entries must always begin with a little self-laceration, because it kills me when I see how long it's been between updates, so let's just get that part over with, shall we? Deeply felt thanks and apologies to anyone who has been thinking of Callum and checking in here hoping for news ... I think last year I made a resolution to keep this more frequently updated. Guess I'll re-resolve that one for 2015. 2014 was overall a good year for Cal. His surgery and recovery went so much better than it did in 2013, and the first half of third grade has been generally really good - great new homeroom teacher, wonderful new one-on-one helper (hello Marlena), continued commitment, flexibility, and excellence from the teachers and staff we already knew at Chatsworth, lots of sunshine and open space in the classroom (it matters!), great grades and academic progress, without too much in the way of serious illness (and we've been able to avoid hospitalizations and deal with it at home when Cal has been sick). Knocking on wood as always. It took my breath away a little to see him start this school year with a real surge of confidence. I guess it's an age thing, but at the end of last year he seemed subdued and somewhat ambivalent about school, whereas this year he has been on fire since day one. An exciting difference and one that I guess no single factor can really explain. Last year he ended up appointing himself school safety patrol, a self-conferred authority role which put him more in league with grownups around him and meant that he was constantly reminding other kids not to run in the hall, etc ... cool in some ways, but also a little worrying for a parent - at times he was quite a little narc! - this year he has been treating his peers much more like peers, which is encouraging. He's also been impressively forthright in his encounters with people who don't know how to approach him because of his obvious differences. We are so proud of him, in all things of course but especially in this. We were also lucky to find, through our REM caseworker, a great new PT who accepts our insurance and will work with Cal at the house. Since the surgery in June, the biggest news is that in July we went to Kennedy Krieger to look at a new power chair for Cal, as he's really outgrown the one he currently uses. It takes an age for all the red tape to clear, so we're still waiting for it to arrive 6 months later, but we're all really excited about it. The new chair is a Permobil M300, which will add vertical movement into the mix, so Cal can move up and down to be at eye level with his peers (in his current chair he is always a little bit above and apart, which is not ideal). Cal will also be in total control of this one: speeds, incline, even on and off - all of which are parent controls, not accessible to him on his current chair. Now all we have to do is actually GET the thing.
Other highlights from 2014 included trips out to Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maryland Science Center, Fort McHenry, and the inauguration of what we hope will be a family tradition: a Fall camping trip to Cape Henlopen DE.
A lot of Callum's time is spent on his computer (Minecraft, with all its many mods, has been the main obsession for months, but he is generally game-crazy as any kid his age ... OK, probably more game-crazy). Janet and I have been following some SMA support groups and people are always comparing notes about assistive tech, and all the challenges of access to regular kid stuff that the able-bodied take for granted ... like many, we had high hopes for the iPad, but in the end a desktop Mac mini has been his best resource, with a switch interface for clicking, and a Kensington trackball mouse. The wireless Mac keyboard has a light enough response that he can use it, and he's become really adept at reconfiguring game controls to the keys that are easily within his reach. We finally got Dragon Dictation installed on his Mac so he can do homework assignments by voice rather than hunt-and-peck on the onscreen keyboard, or with one of us transcribing for him. He gets annoyed at Dragon pretty quickly when it transcribes incorrectly, but we've been making progress and it's wild to see Dragon "learning" Cal as he gets more comfortable with it. He's also been doing a little drawing with Sketchbook Express. We can also get e-Books from the school library and the Baltimore County public library ... but it's a hard slog to get any 8-year-old to read from his computer screen when he could be using that computer to launch rockets in Kerbal Space Program instead. Cal turns 9 in a couple of weeks. And we go onward into 2015, thankful for every day.