“’And now,” cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’” So begins the adventures of Max, the main character in Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. The Max in our profile was named after the very same wolf-suit wearing “wild thing” because his mom, Maureen says “he IS a wild thing! He’s Max and there isn’t anything we would change about him.”
The Harris family learned a little more than two years ago that a baby boy was born who needed a family. The call came just six months after they had adopted their two daughters Sarah (7) and Abigail (3) through their roles as foster parents. Maxwell entered this world without so much as a name. When Maureen and Aaron came to visit him in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital, the nameplate on his bassinet simply read “Baby.” They brought him home and began to learn as much about him as they could.
“All little babies look the same – sweet and innocent. You don’t know who they are going to be until they start growing and changing, says Maureen. “When we got Max, he was such a mystery. We didn’t know his family, his history, his prenatal care. It was like, ‘Here is this baby – name him.’”
Maureen and Aaron knew that Max was going to have some challenges ahead of him. They were already familiar with Boone County Family Resources through speech therapy services their daughters received, so they knew early intervention is the key. “We got Parents As Teachers involved. We got BCFR involved. We got connected to First Steps. Columbia is a great place for resources so the kids can get what they need.”
Max has a severe communication delay and vestibular condition, so First Steps got him started with speech and language therapy as well as physical therapy. “When First Steps came in, they unlocked him. I’m an educated person. I have a master’s degree. I know kids. But I didn’t know my son. First Steps helped unlock Max for us. In a way they sort of spoke for him and gave him that voice that he didn’t have yet by helping us understand how he thinks and processes things.”
BCFR supplements the therapies provided by First Steps with assistive technology such as sign language DVDs and vibration tools for his mouth to help develop the muscles to move more, and most recently, speech flash cards that are helpful with word production. These at-home resources that the family can use with Max help bridge the gap between therapy visits. Max has also enjoyed therapeutic recreation through Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center. “Horseback riding gave him confidence and it empowered him to use the words he has.”
“Lori, our BCFR Support Coordinator, is very accommodating and helps make everything work,” says Maureen. “She’s very responsive and she’s even met with me while I wait in the lobby at the speech therapist’s office because it was a convenient time for me to meet.”
After Max became part of the family, the Harrises began the process to adopt another son, Isaac, who is now one. With four kids and a busy schedule, Maureen, a former teacher, recently began home schooling the kids. “I am a big proponent of public schools, but we need to spend time together, bonding and learning as a family. When we adopted our daughters, we were the seventh home they had lived in so it is important to us to all be together and learn what it means to be a family.”
Even though Max isn’t quite yet ready for school, he enjoys being doted on by his sisters, who help out at home by practicing their own speech therapy techniques with him. He also loves to swim, play at Flipz gymnastics and make sounds with musical instruments. Lately, he really enjoys watching the big trucks come and go at construction work sites. “It’s great entertainment and free, too,” jokes Maureen.
Although his progress is moving slowly, Maureen is hopeful that with time and services and supports from First Steps and BCFR, Max will be able to express himself. “Progress is very slow – but it is there,” says Maureen. “I’m really hoping that he’s like a sponge right now and taking everything in. He seems to follow directions well and he knows what’s going on. I’m hoping things will just click for him and he’ll find his voice. I hope that with time, we’ll fully unlock Max.”
In the meantime, the Harris’ are grateful for every day with Max. “Max was named after the character from Where the Wild Things Are because he is a ‘wild thing.’ We don’t want him to become simple and quiet,” says Maureen. “We want to help him express himself and who he is. He is Max. His middle name, Seth, means ‘appointed and placed.’ We feel like he was placed with us on purpose – it wasn’t a coincidence. He even looks like us, which to me, is another sign that he was simply meant to be a part of our family.”