"We are now so educated on how to help him succeed. We’ve come so far, and not just Roman. This is a family center, just like it says."
Roman and his mom are best friends. “He says I’m his favorite girl in the world,” she laughs. But even through her smile, Misha can admit that it hasn’t always been easy.
“His first year was beautiful. He met all his milestones. I thought, ‘We are so lucky. Here is this healthy, beautiful baby boy with this unexpected bright red hair. We are so blessed.’”
When Roman turned two, there were more milestones to hit, only this time a few were missed. Then Roman started pre-K and there were noticeable differences between him and his peers. It was around then that Misha and her husband, Nick, first wondered about Roman’s future.
Roman struggled in every day, stimulating environments like the grocery store, playground or school, and his behavior began to reflect that. “It was hard to understand what he needed, and we wanted so badly to help. We just looked at each other and thought, “What do we do?” He was sensitive to any sensory stimulation and cried during bath time when the water was only lukewarm. Misha didn’t know yet that Roman couldn’t tolerate the sound of the running water. “There were times when we couldn’t use the air conditioning in the car. The sound was too much for Roman. I remember driving and crying, thinking, ‘How can I help him?’”
Roman also struggled with other children. He wanted to engage with his peers, but his big, physical behavior was often misinterpreted. “We knew the feedback we were receiving from his childcare meant Roman needed more support to be successful, we just didn’t know where to go.”
It was hard for Misha and Nick to see Roman so misunderstood by other adults and children. Roman didn’t have a diagnosis, and they hadn’t been given any real explanation for his behavior. They didn’t know where to turn. Still, Misha was able to connect with another mom whose child was enrolled at St. David’s Center. “Her story was similar,” she remembered. “There were other preschools close to our home, but we needed to be where the best fit was for him.”
Roman enrolled in the inclusive early childhood education program last year. From there, he was connected to speech and occupational therapy. Finally, Misha and Nick had a plan. “We saw changes right away,” Misha said. “We knew early intervention would be key to Roman’s success.”
“Roman was really overwhelmed by his sensory environment,” his occupational therapist, Mariel, remembered. Mariel explained that many of Roman’s behaviors were the result of difficulties with sensory processing – his body was just receiving too many mixed messages. His attention seemed limited because he was trying to gain control over his environment by focusing on only one task at a time. He had also lost interest in socializing with his peers because he had not been successful with them. “He was a scared, uncertain little guy who was just trying to make sense of his world,” Mariel said.
“Occupational therapy has been pivotal for us,” said Misha. “Mariel just got Roman, and she just lifted him up.” In his therapy sessions, Mariel supported Roman’s ability to do things like stand in line or sit quietly in circle time. They practiced strategies for self-regulation that were supported in the classroom and at home. “It’s as much the child improving as it is the parent’s understanding of what’s going on and how to support them,” said Mariel. “It’s a very, very hard job, but it’s worth it. The way she understands him has opened up the future for Roman’s confidence and their relationship as a family.”
Now, a year later, Roman has successfully completed therapy and it’s likely that he won’t need services again. He spends half his school day in the Low-Ratio Classroom, a smaller classroom setting where he builds confidence in his kindergarten skills, requiring less support from a paraprofessional down the road – or none at all. When the time comes to leave St. David’s Center, both Mariel and Misha are confident he’ll be able to do everything he wants to do in life. “All I wanted for Roman in coming here was for him to feel good about himself,” said Misha. “I saw his confidence grow when he came here because people just accepted and celebrated him. What more could you want for your child?”
Today, when Roman walks down the hall at school, he is met with smiles and waves from his many friends. “His world just exploded,” said Mariel. “He has a huge imagination and is really interested in his environment.” He loves Lego’s and happily waits in line at Legoland and Disney. He can keep up with the big kids at his brother’s birthday party and make mom and dad laugh with his jokes. “He’s the first one to make friends at the pool,” said Misha. “He blows me away. We are so proud of him.”
Misha and Nick have changed a lot since then, too. “He really knows and trusts that we’ve got his back,” she said. “We have learned from the very best, from his occupational and speech therapists, teachers and paras. We are now so educated on how to help him succeed. We’ve come so far, and not just Roman. This is a family center, just like it says.”