Dinosaur names can be tricky to pronounce. When Emery Litynsky picks up her favourite book, “micropachycephalosaurus” rolls off her tongue.
It’s a small everyday moment, but meaningful to Emery’s parents as she was a micro-preemie, born at just over 24 weeks and weighing only 770 grams in 2015.
“She’s a very early reader,” says Nathan, Emery’s dad, who explains her advanced reading has made her popular in her junior kindergarten class, with kids often gathering around her to hear stories.
Nathan recalls their time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and admits it was a tough start. Born in 2015, Emery had an intraventricular hemorrhage, or IVH, meaning she had bleeding inside the ventricles of her brain. It was a scary time for Nathan and his wife Jaclyn.
Since then, Emery has been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. “It was on our radar as we knew she had some developmental delays,” says Nathan. The family moved from Toronto to Windsor last year to be in the couple’s home town and have extra support from family members.
The family have been using Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and have noticed a substantial improvement in Emery making eye contact and her social interactions. The play-based approach reinforces positive behaviours and has worked really well for the family.
“We were reading ‘The Gruffalo’, and Emery liked the part about his whiskers. She would grab my face and comment about my whiskers, making eye contact the whole time,” says Nathan.
Emery started school this year, which has been smoother than the family imagined. She has supports, including from a school nurse for her feeding tube and an educational assistant in the classroom. Nathan says it can be overwhelming being the parent of a premature child but says there are supports available in the community and in schools. School has been a huge hit with his daughter, who loves going each day and seeing her friends.
“I’m often asked for advice from others who have a premature child who has developmental delays. For me, I need to remind myself that Emery is still a child. You can get caught up in the treatment and appointments, but kids need to do child-like things. When we were travelling recently, we played mini-golf and it was fun to show Emery how to hold the club,” says Nathan.
He also encourages enjoying the everyday moments, like reading a book with your child, even when she may be better at pronouncing the longest dinosaur name than you are.