Friday, December 30, 2011

Let's Talk About Tian

Most of my posts about language development have centered on Travis, who is deaf.  His language progress has intrigued me because 1: he's my first deaf child 2: he came to us having been exposed to no formal language.

Tian, however, has made amazing language strides in his own right!  When we first read his file, we assumed he was at least hard-of-hearing, if not deaf.  As we read more about microtia and atresia and got more information on Tian, we quickly realized we needed to keep an open mind because he most probably could hear.  Now that he's been home with us almost 6 months, we can tell that he not only can hear, but seems to have keen hearing in many circumstances.  Just this morning, he heard the faint sound of a faraway helicopter outside, perked up and signed, "helicopter!"  Other times, it seems he doesn't hear some things, but that may just be his age.

Obviously, he doesn't have complete hearing in his right ear.  That's evidenced in the fact that the canal is closed and in how he turns a complete 360 degrees to look for a sound coming from his right.

When we first met Tian, he was two day away from his second birthday.  He would say about three things in Mandarin that sounded to us like "way-uh" "doe-uh" and "nye."  We were told that he was just babbling, but that one phrase meant "go" and another meant "here we are" or "we are here."  Other than that, he wasn't talking.  Reports given to us by his foster family and welfare institute also said he wasn't speaking.  I've showed him photos of his foster mom, who I'm told was referred to as "nie nie" (grandmother), but have never gotten him to say it verbally.  We've also had Chinese friends, both in China and here at home, count to ten to try to get him to repeat the words, but he never would.

In the almost six months we've had him, Tian's language has grown exponentially in both ASL and spoken English.  For the first two months home, Tian would speak and gesture very generically.  He couldn't form the "I love you" hand-shape among others, but would try to sign as best he could with his limited fine-motor skills.  Over the past couple of months, he's been able to form the "I love you" hand-shape and a lot more!  It's been fun to see his ASL vocabulary grow.  He's speaking less and signing more, which doesn't concern us in the least.  He overhears plenty of spoken language and does verbalize quite a bit, so if signing is his preference right now, we know that won't harm him in the least.  (I can't wait until he grows up so we can prove this fact.)

When he wakes from a nap, the first thing he does is ask (signing),"Where's Travis?"
He says/signs "better!"  For example, yesterday, the batteries in his airplane were drained. He brought the airplane to me, signing, "broken."  I told him we needed to put in new batteries. (He also signs "batteries.")  After the batteries were replaced, he ran into his room, tested it out, then ran back in to me signing/saying "better!"
He says "Potty" and "pew peewww."  The way he signs "poop" is too cute.  He signs is correctly but upside-down.
Another cute word he says and signs is "hot toto!" (cocoa)  He signs "HOT CHOCOLATE."

He corrects his brother, which drives Travis crazy.  The other day, Travis was sitting on the couch, unhappy about whatever was happening, kicking his feet.  Tian walked over to Travis, pushed down on his ankles, attempted to "flick" Travis' leg, then signed, "NO NO! UNDERSTAND?"

Here are a few pictures and videos of Tian. Enjoy!

Balancing the Bios

Although they make rare appearances here, we DO have three older kids.  However you want to say it: birth kids, original 3, biological children, fruit of our loins, made in America.  Some of those are politically incorrect and one is just gross, but they are all terms that could be/have been used to describe the oldest three Brownies.
Could you just die?  December 2006

Five years later, they would NEVER agree to do this pose! They love their brother, but would no longer be willing to smooch him on the cheek and have it saved as a framable photo forever.  Ah, the sweet, younger years.

The three oldest kids have had quite a 2011!  They moved from a kids' dream house and neighborhood into an apartment half the size of the house. They went from having their own room to sharing a room.  They left the street that held some of their dearest friends.  They happily, and without a second thought, gave up a spring cruise on the Disney Dream, were content with a very humble holidays,  and heard lots of, "No, we can't afford to do that right now" statements from their parents.

If you asked any of them if they regretted one sacrifice, they would say no, then talk about how having their brothers is more than worth any of those things.  Do they sometimes miss those things?  Certainly!  But there is no comparison.

The Brownies are far from perfect kids.  They are imperfect, just like their parents.  They are sometimes selfish, whiney, lazy, and ornery, also like their parents.  But, they are also selfless, considerate, open-minded, willing, passionate and giving.  That has all been evidenced over this past year.

Before you feel too sorry for all they've given up, understand what they've gained.  Above all, brothers.  That's priceless.  They also enjoyed a month in China, traveling to 5 different provinces and cities.  Thanks to another's kindness, they were able to fly first class both to and from China.  They got to  witness 14 sets of parents welcome their baby to the family for the first time.  They rode a ski lift up to the Great Wall, walked this one of the Seven Wonders of the World, then toboggan-slid back down!   While they have sacrificed much this year, they've also had a year of adventure.

The kids have grown up a lot this year; not only due to becoming big brother and sisters to two toddlers, but also because they've had to live among some difficult people and situations.  They've been bullied, teased and ridiculed really for the first time in their lives.  Other kids have attacked the Brownies personally, as well as our family.  They've taken shots at the fact that they have a Deaf dad, a signing family, adopted brothers, a big family in a small home, and a close-knit family.  Some of these instances have made them cry (and made ME flaming mad) and some have made us all laugh.  The kids were most recently teased because they like to spend time with their family.  We have fun together.  The kids tell us just about everything, including telling on themselves when they are less-than-perfect.  Some other kids can't seem to handle it.  They don't understand it, so they ridicule my kids for it.  Thankfully, that is one insult that just makes our kids feel very sorry for the ones teasing them.

Being a close family is something Ken and I are strategic about and unapologetic for.  We WANT the kids to feel like they have the most fun when we are together.  We know as they get older, they'll have more and more fun with their friends and not always with us.  That's a good thing!  But we want many of our times together to be fun-filled and memorable.

We spend a LOT of time inside these four walls doing pretty mundane activities: school, chores, cooking meals, chores, cleaning up after the boys, school and more chores.  We also don't believe kids need to be entertained every moment (or even a majority of the moments) of the day.  We don't have cable, extensive gaming systems nor a TV in every room.  But...

But we do want to provide ways for us to have fun and have fun together or at least here around the house.  In our family, that could be board games such as UNO or Yahtzee, watching endless episodes of iCarly or The Cosby Show, Wii games such as Harry Potter Lego or Just Dance, and this year, lots and lots of wheels!  Skateboards, scooters, bikes, Striders, Ripstiks, and a ramp to add an element of excitement.  Boy, that ramp has drawn a fairly large crowd of kids to our driveway this past week!

Ken's and my anniversary is next week.  We'll be celebrating 15 years of marriage!  What a blessing!  Instead of a fancy dinner out that would be over in 2 hours, we decided for the first time ever to get season passes to our local amusement park.  We surprised the kids tonight and they're already anticipating our first visit of 2012.   Now Ken and I have our date nights set and paid for the entire year!! (We are rollercoaster-lovers.)  We also can take the older three kids on special one-on-one dates, or have one of us take all three of them once every few weeks.   We can take the littles, too.  Tian is free until July and Travis' ticket will be fairly cheap.  But with so much focused on their two new brothers, Ken and I wanted to do something special just for the older three.
Just Dance!
Ken and I are both so thankful for our oldest three kids.  They have been our training ground.  They've grown us.  They've humbled us, tested us, and worn us out at times.  They also swell our hearts with pride and love.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keeping the Boys' Pasts

One of the many things I took away from the various adoption blogs I read and on Beth O'Malley's newsletters about creating lifebooks, was this:

Don't forget that your adopted child had a life before they came into your family.

It seems many adoptive parents have made the mistake of telling the child's life story beginning at "gotcha" day or the day the parents first saw their file.

This came to mind this Christmas as we were decorating the tree.  Each of my birth kids were given an ornament to commemorate their first, second and third Christmases.  

I considered how to commemorate the boys' first Christmases.  Without previous consideration, I may have called this year their "first Christmas," but it wasn't!  Before we met them, Travis lived through 3 Christmases and Tian, 2.  So I began a search for ornaments for the boys.  My first thought was to search eBay for year-appropriate ornaments similar to their older siblings'.  But as I looked, I thought we should find a way to keep their Chinese heritage in the equation.

A search for "Chinese Christmas ornaments" turned up some interesting ideas.  But my affection and wallet landed on these sweet ornaments:

They are pretty small, so I used a fine-point permanent marker to write the year and Christmas number on the bead.  I'm happy with the results!  I hope they will cherish these through the years and be able to reflect on their first two and three years in China.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dinnertime Chatting

Last night, as we were finishing up dinner, I noticed Ken and Travis visiting about some of the China photos they were viewing.

This map, along with another map showing us flying east to China, was one of the photos they were looking at.  I started recording the video when Ken was explaining who flew TO China, then who all flew back to the USA.

In the first segment of the video, Travis is mimicking everything Ken signs which, in this case, is each of our names.  Hearing kids do this same type of mimicking when they learn to converse. (At this point, Travis knows all of our names and can identify each of us by name.  He can also identify a number of other people by name or title.)

After scrolling through a few more photos, then returning to the map again, Travis points at the map and happily states, "Travis!" Travis was on this flight!  Ken corrects him.  I love the look on his face.  You can tell he totally thought he was stating a fact.  So he tentatively asks, "Tian?"  Was Tian on this flight?
Ken answers, "No," then shows Travis the photo of flight home from China, explaining, "Travis and Tian were on THIS flight home."

In the second segment, the were looking at a picture from several years ago, so Ken tells him it's an "old picture."  "Picture" is a new sign for Travis, so Ken helps him express it correctly.  Compared to parents with hearing kids, this is just like helping them correctly pronounce a difficult word.  (You'll also see TJ in this clip! He was telling us that Tian had to potty and so I told Tian to "run!" to the bathroom. :)  I removed the sound, because in a family of 7, there's a lot of noise!)

In the third segment, Ken and Travis are looking at photos Ken took that day while he was on the tarmac in the airplane.  They're looking at the planes waiting at the gates.  Ken was showing him which plane was small and which one was big.  Right now, Travis can sign these words, but doesn't grasp the concept 100% yet.  By watching this conversation though, I can tell he's very close to the light bulb moment of understanding "big" and "small."  I can also tell he knows that they are opposite, because when he names the plane "big" and Ken tells him no, he corrects himself, signing "small."  (I love these insights into his brain process!  We wouldn't have these without ASL.  We'd be stuck gesturing, mouthing words that look like nonsense to Travis; and we'd have one very frustrated little boy.)

I love the last clip.  This is a conversation Travis knows well and understands without thinking about it. We've been asking him since China if he wants more to eat.  He knows when he doesn't want any more food, he answers "no."  Here, he even adds, "Finished."  Now that he knows those concepts, Ken adds one more word that means the same thing as "No, I'm finished eating."  "FULL."  Then Ken tells Travis he's getting up to get coffee (another item Travis is fully familiar with in this family)!

I'm going to purpose to record more conversations.  Travis is ready to work on learning to identify numbers, so I'll try to get some of that learning on video.  We know he's ready because he can count to 10 and when he looks at a number on a page, he will begin signing random numbers, although not the correct number.  He does the same thing with letters.  When he sees a letter, he begins signing "B."

It's been a while since I taught preschoolers, but it's time again!  Thanks for sticking with me through this explanation.  The acquisition of language fascinates me, plus I happen to adore these two guys in the video, so you'll be seeing more of this!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Everything Visual

A while back, I blogged about the differences in rearing a Deaf child compared to a hearing child.  Something else came to mind this week as we were playing and being silly with the boys.

In the past, when my kids were toddlers and were upset about something, I could often soothe them by singing a song with their name in it.  Other times, when we were dancing or being silly, I would have them follow me while I marched and chanted their name.  They would always look a little stunned, then grin from ear-to-ear and even get a little shy at the sound of their name expressed in such a fun way.

Not long after getting back to the states with the boys, we were marching around the couch, playing follow-the-leader.  The kids and I started chanting Tian's name over and over again while clapping in unison and he loved it!  He reacted just like my older kids had when they were little.  I thought about Travis and wondered for a moment how I could duplicate this event so he could enjoy it, too.  I quickly realized it's as easy as making whatever we are doing visual. So, I let the older kids in on my plan and we started marching in unison while signing in rhythm, alternating hands: "Travis!..Travis!..TravisTravisTravis!"  When Travis saw what we were doing, guess what he did?!  The exact same thing my hearing kids had all done!!  He looked a little stunned, grinned from ear-to-ear, laughed, and gave us a shy look since he was obviously getting all the attention!  He loved it!  Making this auditory tradition into a visual event was easy and everyone enjoyed it equally.

Another event occurred last week.  It had been raining outside for two days and the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider" came to my mind.  I was in the bedroom with Tian, getting him ready for a nap.  I began to sing the song, doing the hand-movements right along with it.  Tian was curious, but not totally intrigued by the song.  I thought about how I would do that song with Travis, who was sleeping in the other room.  The hand movements look nothing like real signed language, so I figured I should change it for Tian as well.

I decided to STOP singing and just sign it.  As I did this, there were a few things I did or kept in mind:

1. I signed the story in a way that made sense. 
 If I just signed:
SPIDER-CRAWLING-UP, WATER, PIPE, RAIN, SPIDER, OUT, SUN-up, DRY, ALL, RAIN...etc, that makes absolutely NO sense to a deaf child or hard-of-hearing child who is learning ASL.

2. I signed the story rhythmically. 
The rhythm didn't match the original song, but who cares?!

3. I signed with super-expression.
This helps match the silliness and catchiness of the song.

4. I set up the song by telling a story first, then later gave them context.
When I first introduced this song, I told it like a story.  I set up a house with gutters, the rainy day, etc.  I spent time telling it like a story.  I also took the opportunity next time it rained to show the boys the rain coming down the gutter.  Right there in the middle of the rain, I signed the song so that they could have context to link to the entire thing.

After writing up this blog, I googled and found this excellent rendition by Terrylene at Clerc's Children.

Mine was not nearly as succinct, but the boys loved it!  It looked a little like this:

One last note: You may wonder why I would take the time to teach the kids a nursery rhyme.  I do it just because it's fun and will give them some cultural information they may use later.  My husband is completely oblivious to most nursery rhymes or even Christmas songs, yet he's happy and very successful.  I don't bank my boys' future on little things like these nursery rhymes, but I want to sing, sign, and play with them, so I figure why not use these things to build their vocabulary and cultural knowledge?  Hearing parents, don't settle for believing that your deaf child can't enjoy nursery rhymes and songs.  Just imagine being in their shoes, getting the information visually, and break away from how it's "always been done."  Then have fun with your kid!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Family Photos

We had a great time getting our family photos done a few weeks ago. Check out Veronica Skeldon Photography if you're in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

This was our first time to do a "real life" shoot instead of sitting in a studio. I really liked the feel that came from these photos.  I'm having a tough time picking favorites, though!  This shoot reminded me of the one we did a year ago with the picture frame.  I remember dreaming about what it might be like to have the boys with us.  It's still surreal at times that we DO have them.  When I'm putting them to bed at night and gaze on their sweet, sleeping faces, I have to pinch myself.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Language Milestones

Tonight at dinner, we caught a video of Travis (age 3 1/2 in years, but only 4 1/2 months in language), "babbling."

It reminds me of this viral video of a hearing girl babbling.  Babbling is normally something kids do beginning at a very young age, then as they get closer to one year, their babbling begins to sound more like words, even though they are still unintelligible.  Just like the hearing parents respond to this girl by talking to her normally, as if they know what she's saying, we respond to Travis as if we are comprehending every word he's signing.

What's interesting about Travis, being 3 years old, but only 4 months old in language development.  He matches many of his 3-year milestones, but is also behind some of them.  All the while, he's hitting milestones for 12-24 months.

His most recent advances in communication:

  • He clearly and consistently tell us "yes" when he wants something and "no" when he doesn't.  For "no," he uses both the proper sign for the word, and will sometimes appropriately wave his hand gesturally and shake his head.  It's SO cute and such an improvement from the fussing, head-turning, and pushing away that he did in the past.
  • He is beginning to ask for a specific color of something.  Right now, he seems to just know blue and red, but I know from my other kids, that means the other colors will quickly follow.
  • He's understanding turn-taking in conversation.  At church, a friend came up to visit with us. When she stopped talking and looked at him, he started signing, "Airplane, helicopter, car, truck."  It was just a string of his favorite things, but he understood that he was "visiting" with this gal. He is also beginning to "chat" with his little brother.
  • He (obviously if you watch the video) knows that people communicate with their mouths as well. He will mimic speech, and even "talk" on the phone to grandparents.
  • He is getting better at paying attention while we get out a short, but complete thought to him.
  • He loves to tell his siblings, "No!"  I must get this on video, because it's too adorable.
  • He's using language to joke around.  He's pointed to something, then signed the wrong thing, laughing, knowing he's being funny.  He will also "tease" his siblings by telling them "No!" then smiling and giggling about it.
  • He will sign, "WHERE, ______, WHERE?" Then shrug his shoulders or sign, "SEARCH."  He uses appropriate non-manual markers.  This would be equivalent to a hearing child saying, with all the right inflection "Where is my jet? I'm looking for it."
  • He copies every...single...thing...we sign.  Whether we're asking him something or telling him something, he mimics everything right back to us, often sign-by-sign.  We love this because it's another normal, on-track language milestone.

Overall, we are still astounded at the rate he's soaking up language.  I need to try to capture more of his signing on video.  I hope parents with young deaf children will see these videos and be encouraged to sign with their kids!