For The Love Of Melissa

For The Love Of Melissa

by Rhonda Ellen Shlanger

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Overview

Melissa was diagnosed with Autism as a young child. Autism affects social and communication skills, and also involves unusual repetitive behaviours. This is a true story that is not simply about the struggles of a child with Autism. This book captures the resilience, unconditional love and endless perseverence of Melissa and her family. It is rare to read a story told with such beautiful honesty. As Melissa's former community worker and her current friend, I would like to express my admiration for her journey. I have had the opportunity to watch her blossom from a child who was fearful and in her own world to a young adult pursuing social relationships with enthusiasm, empathy, and curiosity. Not to mention that she is now an entrepreneur! Melissa truly is a remarkable woman. And this story about her life reaches out to touch your heart and open your mind. Jennifer Janes Community Helper of Individuals with Autism and current friend of Melissa

Rhonda was able to make a difference in Melissa's life against all odds. When the medical profession and the school system gave Rhonda little hope that Melissa could have a normal life, she never accepted this dire prediction. When there was no help, she tried strategies that she felt would make a difference for Melissa. She sought out every treatment that was then available to help Melissa. What Rhonda had done is nothing short to a miracle-a miracle that was created through Perseverence and fueled by a mother's love. This is a "must-read book" for all to remind us that we can make a difference in the life of a child. It is a true story with a happy ending. Arlene Smith Retired Principal and Former Special Education Principal.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781449059965
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 03/15/2010
Pages: 148
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

For The Love of Melissa


By Rhonda Ellen Shlanger

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2010 Rhonda Ellen Shlanger
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-5996-5


Chapter One

In the Beginning

They called her the Cabbage Patch Doll. I remember the day Melissa was born, as clearly as every other mother can. It was cold and snowy, on Tuesday, February 21, 1984. My husband, Art, and I were hoping that this would be our last trip to the hospital. For eight weeks, I was admitted at least three or four times because of contractions. I could have walked through the case room with my eyes closed! Finally the time came, and after five and a half hours of labour, our little princess was born.

We remember seeing this small, hairy being coming out into the world. Art swore she looked like his mother. As he left to call friends and family, there was pandemonium in the delivery room. Staff members surrounding the baby. One doctor was smacking her bottom. She wasn't making a sound and oxygen was being administered. Fear set in as I looked helplessly on. There was no reaction from my obstetrician, who calmly continued his work. He made no effort to give me eye contact. Eventually, a paediatrician arrived and told me my baby would be fine, even though the staff had to clear a lot of mucus in her. We relaxed and were thrilled. Jeff, at the age of two, had a sister.

Melissa was actually our third child. We lost our first while I was in the sixth month of pregnancy in 1980. This particular pregnancy was rocky from the start. I bled constantly and could not work. Finally, after haemorrhaging, this baby girl decided to come into our world too soon. She was considered stillborn. Both Art and I were determined to keep trying until we had another child. Actually, both Jeff and Melissa's pregnancies were also tough. I had to be monitored constantly, since bleeding was a huge problem of mine. Both Jeff and Melissa were considered our miracle children. Jeff was very special since he was my first surviving baby. Art and I adored him and gave him all our attention until his baby sister Melissa appeared. Little did we know how much of a miracle Melissa would be.

Melissa was not a small baby. At 8 lbs, 2 oz, she ate well and by seven weeks old she was sleeping through the night.

Art and I noticed that Melissa did not seem as content as Jeff did at the same age. She appeared to cry often. This did not stop us from taking her out. We thought it was just her. Why should we worry? After all, she did laugh and smile; she wasn't always a crab. We decided to plant a tree on our front lawn and made certain it was a crab tree, in honour of our little crab.

We gave both Jeff and Melissa lots of love. Having two children two years apart was far from easy. Jeff was a loving brother, but very jealous. At times he would pull her hair or try to hit her. I had to give him a lot of attention. I would put on puppet shows, colour with him, read to him, and take him to various programs. Both were in diapers and in cribs at the same time. Life was quite a juggling act. Taking them out anywhere involved packing an endless amount of toys, clothing, and treats.

At this time in our lives, we really needed two incomes. Art and I agreed that I would be a stay-at-home mom, yet we still needed extra money. I decided to run a daycare out of my home. Melissa was about a year old at the time. A little girl around the same age as Melissa came on a daily basis. Even though I did not want to compare her with Melissa, I soon noticed that she was much different from our daughter.

Something different caught my attention. This child was active and cried if Jeff took away her toys. She had a spark about her. This little girl was aware of the world around her. This child asserted herself. Melissa, on the other hand, at about eight months old, was not very active. She could sit in her high chair indefinitely and was content to stay in her playpen for long periods of time. It was easy to forget that she was in the room. As a toddler, Melissa didn't care if Jeff grabbed her toys. When we asked her to point to the clock, or to Daddy, she could not do it. She appeared oblivious to her surroundings. We just chalked it up to the fact that all children are different and maybe it would take Melissa just a little longer to come around.

One day, as she was sleeping in her playpen (at about the age of one), I had this gut feeling something wasn't right. Something told me to touch her head. She was burning up with fever, and the thermometer read 104 degrees. At the hospital, they took a chest X-ray and she was so frightened of being suspended in the air in some contraption. Her little arms and feet were squirming while she cried. At that moment, I felt like running over to hold her. The X-ray was normal, and we were told that she had a urinary infection. Later, when we brought her to our own doctor, she was still warm and lethargic. Shortly after wards, she broke out into a rash and we concluded she must have had roseola. Eventually she improved.

Looking back at her infancy, I observed that she would become quite ill after her vaccinations. Her fevers were on the high side, and she appeared quite lethargic, but only for short periods. Even today, we do not know what caused Melissa's autism. Could it have been related to the high fevers, or the vaccinations? We do know we have family members with learning disabilities and a grandparent who suffered from severe depression. Experts in the field have discussed these issues as possible factors in this mysterious puzzle.

Chapter Two

The Impenetrable Wall

Looking back from infancy to the end of Melissa's first year, we didn't really notice anything outstanding. She made eye contact, loved tickles, and crawled at the appropriate time. The observation Art and I made was that she appeared to be developing at a slower pace than Jeff had. She didn't walk until she was eighteen months old, and at one year of age, Melissa was not interested in her environment. Except for crying, she expressed no language, only squeaking sounds. We also noticed that she rocked her body constantly while in her crib, but we were not too concerned about this.

At this particular time in her life, I started taking Melissa to play groups. Her first experience was when she was about two years old, when she attended a program called the Lollipop Shop at the Young Men's Hebrew Association. It was at this group that I was able to play with her as well as observe Melissa's behaviours relative to those of other children. While the others clapped to music, Melissa appeared to be three steps behind in her reactions, clapping three to four seconds after the children in her group. When it was play time, she would not take the initiative to walk over to a toy, nor did she know how to play with the toys. The others would take toys away from each other and would independently run to take toys off a shelf. When a child had a toy taken from them, they would react appropriately by crying, but not Melissa. She did not care if anything was grabbed from her. She preferred to be alone and actually feared the other children. I noticed that she was clingy. When I decided to ask the teacher for her feedback, she told me to leave her alone. "She's fine. Don't worry so much," she said.

My beloved father Isaac loved the grandchildren and often took them to the park near their house. One day he said, "Rhonda, I really think you need to get Melissa's ears tested." He told me that as he was pushing her on a swing, he clapped his hands and called her name, but there was no response. It was as if she was deaf. I immediately discussed this with my husband and called the paediatrician. Her paediatrician reassured us that she was probably developing a little slower and not to be concerned. He did, however, send her to the Hospital for Sick Children and ordered an audiogram. For about a year, off and on, she would go for these tests and the results were normal.

During this time, Melissa was becoming very fearful. She barely spoke except to say "Daddy" and "Mommy." It was becoming a game of charades to determine her needs. She cried almost constantly and I knocked myself out in order to determine what she wanted. We also found that she would not flinch when we called her name, clapped our hands, or even banged on a tabletop. I would bend down to her level and hold her gently, trying to talk to her, but she seemed to look right through me.

On her third birthday, Art and I organized a party at home. We had a huge crowd of friends who brought their children. We ordered a Cabbage Patch Doll cake. While the other children were excited and aware of the festivities, Melissa was oblivious to her own party. I became frantic and later discussed with Art the possibility of having her tested psychologically.

"Are you insinuating that Melissa has severe mental problems?" Art asked me, sounding defensive.

"Art, I know you love Melissa just as much as I do. Let's just check it out for her sake. Let's do it for Melissa." My husband's eyes softened and I could tell that he had begun to realize that our focus needed to be on Melissa.

During one of the audiograms at the hospital, I asked the audiologist why she could not respond to us. It was only after I asked her this that she suggested we look into the psychological clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children. Once again I contacted the paediatrician, who said he would book the appointment but still felt there was no need to worry.

Melissa was almost three when certain sounds became unbearable for her. Lawnmowers were torture for her ears, and she would literally crawl on me and pinch me out of fear. Her screams could be heard throughout the house as I calmly tried to reassure her that everything was fine. I can still remember the feeling of her clinging to me. Dogs were another problem. They moved quickly and were unpredictable. Their barks caused Melissa a tremendous amount of anxiety, and as a result she began gritting her teeth and wringing her little hands. It broke our hearts to watch her suffer the way she did. Any party we went to where there were balloons caused hysteria.

Toileting was a real dilemma for her. Melissa was terrified of the sound of toilets flushing. I had to force her to sit on the toilet while her nails were digging into me. I would flush the toilet only after she left the room. Bath time was another upsetting experience for her. Since she would become hysterical at the sound of running water, we were forced to wash her using the water in the bath tub to wash her hair rather than clean water.

It took eight months to finally get an appointment with the Developmental Disabilities Clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children. Melissa, accompanied by a young female doctor, was taken to a small room with toys and given a battery of tests. However, the doctor was unsuccessful at getting Melissa to respond.

"Mrs. Shlanger, I need you to leave the room. I want to see if she improves while you are gone." As I sat in the waiting room, hoping and praying that Melissa would respond to the doctor, I became overwhelmed with doubts. How did this happen? Why Melissa? Why us? It didn't take long for the psychologist to come back holding Melissa by the hand. "I have to see you in my office now. Please come with me." I had this sick feeling inside that something was very wrong. "Mrs. Shlanger, what really concerns me is the fact that this little girl is in her own little world. She wasn't even aware that you had left the room, nor did she respond to my questions, such as her name, and her age. She was not able to relate to me. With your permission, I would like Melissa to be seen by our resident psychiatrist and our senior doctor."

My heart was pounding so hard that I could almost hear it in my head. "What is wrong with our daughter?" I asked.

"Well, she is very slow and this appears quite serious. I will push your daughter to the top of the list, since I feel this problem needs to be addressed as soon as possible. You will get a call within a week."

My hands were trembling as I used a pay phone to call Art at work. He was not in the office, but I desperately needed to talk to someone. Hot, salty tears started dripping down my cheeks. The numbers on the pay phone appeared blurry as I attempted to call my mother-in-law.

"Oh my God, Rhonda, that poor little sweetie. Tell me, is she retarded?" I wasn't ready for that question. Today, they would never use this term. How could a parent ever be ready for that question?

"Look, Mom, I do not have all the answers, but I will talk to you later." As I hung up, I looked down at this petite, angelic child. God she was a beauty. Soft, fair skin, deep blue eyes, blond hair with braids held in by pretty coloured bows. What was she thinking? Why couldn't we reach her?

Melissa squeaked constantly. She would squeak twenty to fifty times and then repeat a phrase that she heard somewhere (such as, "Eat your hamburger") another fifty times, and the grunts and sounds would go on all day long. It was like there was a broken record in her little brain.

Melissa's perseverative behaviours began at about the age of two. She would jump and that would go on most of the day. I would often find her attracted to the pendulum of the clock in our house. She would stare at it for long periods as it swayed back and forth.

Art and I were very affectionate with our two children. Although we would kiss and hug our daughter, Melissa would not kiss us back. My husband would spend an amazing length of time encouraging her to kiss him on the cheek. Overwhelmed by sadness, we truly believed that we were losing our little girl to an unknown world, a world we truly couldn't understand. It broke our hearts to see how aloof she could be with her brother, Jeff. I wanted so badly for Melissa to bond with her brother. As I was washing the supper dishes, I would often watch Jeff playing in the back yard by himself and I would cry for him.

"Melissa, why can't you play with your brother?" I would ask. I felt so helpless and alone.

Chapter Three

The Life Sentence

A mother can remember special moments in her children's lives. This is one of those moments. I remember the day as if it were yesterday. The date was Tuesday, September 22, 1987. The sky was a crisp autumn blue, and the sun was just coming through the curtains in my daughter's bedroom. It was fiery red that morning. I stood at my baby's bed, watching her sleep like an angel. She looked so beautiful and delicate. As I watched her breathe softly, I noticed that she was at peace with herself for the moment. I gently patted her hair ever so softly and whispered, "This is the day that your life might change forever, my precious."

Arthur and I met with the resident psychiatrist a week before in order to give her as much history as possible about our daughter. Now Melissa would finally be assessed, and we would get some answers at the Hospital for Sick Children. Her office was quite small, with a desk, a few toys, and some children's books. We took Melissa into the office and were asked to sit in the waiting room while she was being tested. As I said good-bye to her, I found myself looking at our little girl. She was a truly beautiful child, and I had dressed her specially in jean overalls and a brightly coloured striped jersey, and I had put her hair in braids with bows. Pink was her favourite colour, so I put pink clips in her hair. As we said good-bye, Melissa didn't appear upset that we were leaving her with a total stranger. The waiting seemed endless. Supposedly, a senior resident doctor was going to observe Melissa after the resident psychiatrist tested her. After about an hour or so, the doctor came out holding Melissa's hand and asked us to come into her office.

"Mr. and Mrs. Shlanger, did you notice that when you left the room that your daughter appeared unaware?" We had noticed this and confirmed this with the doctor. The resident psychiatrist then told us that the tests indicated that Melissa had two mental handicaps-mild autism and mild developmental delays. Initially, my husband thought he heard her say that Melissa was "artistic" and said, "Oh yes, my father is a commercial artist."

"No Mr. Shlanger, I did not say Melissa was artistic; she is autistic." The doctor began to talk about perseveration, a term I had never heard before. "My senior supervisor confirmed these two handicaps but found that he was able to interact with Melissa. They rolled a ball to one another."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from For The Love of Melissa by Rhonda Ellen Shlanger Copyright © 2010 by Rhonda Ellen Shlanger. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................xvii
Poem by Jeff Shlanger "My Sister"....................xix
Chapter One: In the Beginning....................1
Chapter Two: The Impenetrable Wall....................5
Chapter Three: The Life Sentence....................11
Chapter Four: A Time to Grieve....................15
Chapter Five: One Foot Forward....................19
Chapter Six: Is There a Voice?....................25
Chapter Seven: Is Anyone Listening?....................29
Chapter Eight: A Light at the End of the Tunnel....................33
Chapter Nine: The Nightmare Begins....................49
Chapter Ten: Mommy, It Hurts My Ears!....................59
Chapter Eleven: Turbulent Times Ahead....................67
Chapter Twelve: Melissa's Evolution before Puberty....................71
Chapter Thirteen: Welcome to Epilepsy....................73
Chapter Fourteen: Glamour Girl....................79
Chapter Fifteen: The Mother-Daughter Relationship....................87
Chapter Sixteen: A Father's Perspective, by Arthur Shlanger....................91
Chapter Seventeen: A Brother's Perspective....................99
Chapter Eighteen: Melissa's Insights....................103
Chapter Nineteen: Advice to Parents....................109

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For The Love Of Melissa 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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AllanP More than 1 year ago
A chance to look into the life of a family that is offered one of life's challenges and deals with that challenge in a heartwarming and courageous way. To read how a family sticks together, works together and supports each other is truly inspirational. Melissa grows as she is nurtured by her family and many others. The results offers hope to all of us, especially those families that are blessed with a special needs child who grows up to be very special and as supportive of her family as her family is supportive of her.