Released September 1, 2021
The Early Days
We always knew that Duda would be different. Duda had an ultrasound when we were 3 months pregnant; it showed abnormalities and although the amniocentesis test was inconclusive, our doctor told us that Duda had a syndrome. She was sure about that.
From then on, we had ultrasounds every month to monitor her heart, brain, and kidney development.
Duda was born at full-term and had a team of doctors waiting for her. The first batch of exams showed that she had a UTI and her heart exams confirmed that she needed an aorta coarctation, so she had an open-heart surgery when she was only 3 days old.
After one long month in the ICU, she came home.
The early years were the hardest ones. Not only did Duda have hundreds of UTIs when she was little, she also had a couple of seizures before she was 4 years old, but the hardest part for us during the first 2-3 years was comparing her to other children.
It is very hard not to compare your child to all the other “typical kids” who are developing and reaching their milestones when your child is not. All of the unknowns make us question our ability as parents: Am I doing enough? Am I choosing the right PT? Should she start SLP now? Which doctor should I see? Will she talk? Will she walk? Will she be happy?
Once we focused on her happiness and accepted that she was Duda and would only be Duda, we started to accept and enjoy our journey together.
As we didn’t have a diagnosis (back then, Mowat Wilson was still not recognized as a syndrome for girls), we learned to treat things as they came and prioritize them: first was her heart, second the UTIs, and so on.
Duda was getting better, she had 2 surgeries that fixed her ureters and ended the UTIs; her seizures were controlled, and I was learning to understand her timing and celebrate her milestones, whenever they came.
She crawled when she was 3 and learned to walk when she was around 6. She held a cup by herself when she was 17. And we were proud of all of these accomplishments!
Duda is very healthy! We had some scares and more hospital visits than I can count when she was little, but thanks to God, she doesn’t even catch a cold now!
She had all the therapies that you can think of as she was growing up, PT, OT, SLP, horseback riding, swimming; she learned some things, and others she did not, no matter how hard we (she) tried. For example, she still can’t stand from the floor by herself or go up and down stairs without assistance. She needs a hand to walk outside our home because she doesn’t feel stable. And she has had PT since she was 9 months old.
She loves her school; she is very sociable and loves to be around her friends. Duda is very funny and knows it. She likes to make people laugh and watch comedy shows on tv, like Mr. Beans and The 3 Stooges.
“How many times should I try this? As many as needed!”
With Duda, it’s not try once and she will learn, it’s more like “keep trying until you are about to give up and she will reward you (or not).”
Everything takes patience and I am not patient at all! Unless I am with Duda, because she simply doesn’t care about my impatience, she has her own timing:
-Brushing teeth: we started with 1 second per day. Literally. Today she let me brush them all for as long as I need, if I give her breaks and most important, she let the dentist clean them without any problems. It took 10 years to let me properly brush her teeth.
-Toileting: we are on a schedule. She comes to me now and says “UHHH” and I have about 30 seconds to get her to the bathroom. She still wears diapers, but normally doesn’t have accidents. It took 7 years.
-Eating independently: we are still not there. She holds the fork and brings to her mouth and gives it back to me. She doesn’t yet understand why she needs the fork when she can use her hands. I can’t blame her logic.
-Getting in the car by herself: this took 3 months of practice and was finally able to get into the car by herself when she was 15 years old.
Duda is nonverbal, but as she always comes up with sounds, we started to give them meaning, so now she has lots of them, for example: “dzdz” means music or tv, “nomnom” she uses for food or drink, “Bibi” (her sister’s nickname) she uses for anything that she loves.
Recently she added “LouLou” for Pavarotti (short for Luciano), her new favourite artist!
Communication has always been our focus. Her IEP at school is built around it. Duda is very sociable and it’s important for us that she can go out in the world and show off her amazing personality. I don’t care if she learns to write her name, if she learns numbers or to sort colors, I want Duda to be able to choose what she wants to wear, what she wants to eat, what she wants to do, and to share with me what she is thinking.
So, we give her tools to help her express herself to the best of her abilities! She is not consistent with any method. She plays with PEC’s cards and throws them or only chooses the same one; she doesn’t wait for the iPad to “say” what she wants; and sometimes, she stops saying a word that she was using for a whole month… but she always uses her signs…”Duda’s signs”, so her SLP made a dictionary with them, for example:
- Knock 3 times (anywhere, using hand, elbow, or foot): means “more”
- Hand on her waist: teenager attitude, means “Really?”
- Slapping her buttocks: means “You are busted!” or “You caught me!”
- Pointing to herself: means “Duda”
- Pointing her straight arm towards you and opening and closing her hand: means “want”
- Kissing her hand: means “Thank you”
This is how it works:
Duda points to herself, then opens and closes her hands. I repeat: “I want”. She nods “Yes” I ask “What?” She says: dzdz, nomnom or if it’s something else, she will stand up to show me or point to my phone to use the app and we go from there.
We moved to Canada when Duda was 3, and it has been a very interesting experience! It is hard not to have family and a support system. It doesn’t matter that we have been here for almost 16 years, it’s still not home. And we must plan for the future because I can’t put that all on Gabbi’s (her sister) shoulders.
Now that Duda is 18, we have started getting on every possible waitlist for day programs for when she turns 21. But I am sure everything will work out fine! We have 3 years to adapt to the new reality and as long as Duda stays happy and healthy, I can deal with anything that comes my way!
Last year I joined the MWS Community Advisory Board. It’s my way to help new families who are starting this journey and are feeling scared, anxious, and unsupported; just like I did. I remember when I found out that Duda had MWS, and when I saw all the pictures of other children, my first thought was, “I am home”. I want to help others feel the same: You found your family, we will support you along your journey.
Duda’s favorite things:
- Mickey Mouse
- Sunday Respite Day Camp
- Strawberry Milkshake
Duda’s Least favorite things:
- Cooked fish