Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's Not All Roses


"Our pursuit is joy, not trite, silly, fleeting happiness. Now if happiness comes along with the package, yes and amen. We don’t hate happiness. If that gift has been granted to us, then that is grace upon grace." -Matt Chandler

We Brownies truly have a joy-filled life, but that certainly does not mean our days are filled with skippy-smiley happiness, throwing baskets of daisies along our path as we float through life.  My goal with this blog has been to be honest, whether in regards to waiting for what seemed like forever to get prayers answered, tough times in marriage, or dealing with depression

That being said, along with the fun updates about how well the boys are progressing, I will update any struggles as well.

Travis has made amazing strides in the past 19 months.  I've kept it updated here and on YouTube, but his latest skill is writing his name, Tian's name, and "mom" and "dad."  He also is putting together longer sentences and thoughts, often mixing real signs with made-up "babble" so that he will look like he's signing as fluently as an adult.  It's precious!  

Along with these unbelievable improvements, we are still dealing with major gaps.   He's a four and a half year-old with only 19 months of language learning, so the gap is totally understood. As "right" as this gap is, it can still be a source of serious stress at times.

Regarding language development, Travis is still unable to tell us certain things in complete detail.  He can describe things he wants (the red Cars cup, to sit next to Dad, to watch Power Rangers Samurai, etc). He can tell us if he’s hurting or sad, where it hurts, and even a very general description of what happened, such as, "Tian pushed me” or "I fell."  Beyond that, we have trouble getting detailed information.  The lack of ability to communicate what happened leads either to indifference or, more often, a huge fit. (More on fits later.)

More often than not, Travis’ first reaction to anything unpleasant is to whine. (Isn't that true of many toddlers?)  Within a matter of seconds, though, the whine escalates to a fit.  The fits always involve kicking (his signature move) and refusal to look me in the eye.  Often there is yelling and coughing/gagging.  If he's really mad, there will be drooling/spitting and growling cry.


This is a short example from the other night.  When he has a fit, I sit him on the floor so he won't hurt himself by falling off our bistro chairs or knocking into something that could harm him.  It also serves as a time out and gives me a chance to step back and take a breath.





What causes these outbursts?  He wants his milk poured 1/4-inch higher in his cup.  His sock isn't exactly straight.  His pants aren't falling to the exact spot on his ankles that he expects.  A particular item he wants right then isn't available.  He will go instantly from a happy kid eating breakfast or getting dressed to this.  

Travis will sit in time out for other typical toddler behaviors: not sharing, shoving a sibling, not obeying Mom or Dad.  In those instances, he will sit in time out without much of a fuss, if any at all.  One thing about Travis is he is a rule-follower.  We still can’t convince him he is allowed to get out of bed and go to the restroom by himself after we’ve put him to bed.  He will sit screaming on the edge of his bed, wiggling and holding himself because he has to potty so urgently.  But he will not get up because that is a rule so engrained in him, he just can’t bring himself to break that rule.

But I digress...his fits don't come so much when he is being corrected, but when something isn't just the way he wants it.  I believe it's about control and lack of ability to fully express himself yet.  But I'm just guessing.

After this particular fit, I swept him up and took him to his bed.  I laid down with him, letting him cry for a few moments.  I began caressing his hair, showing him I was concerned and telling him I loved him.  He wasted no time before snuggling up with me, hugging my neck and kissing me.  This is common.  He never stays mad after his fits and the fits rarely last much longer than a few minutes.  Those minutes can feel very intense, though.  The situations escalate depending on the time of day, where we are, and if we are trying to get somewhere.

While Travis will be quick to soften, to give and accept physical affection, there is no real resolution in my mind. At this point, I don't know how much he understands about “next time.”  There is no back-and-forth discussion of what just happened and why it was not good.  I can only briefly show him what he did, tell him it was wrong, then show him how to respond in the future.  Travis will appear to pay attention.  He will parrot back an apology. Progress is slow, but at least present.

What I've learned:
  • My hearing kids probably never understood nor cared about my lectures about "next time" either.  Since they can hear, I could fool myself into believing they were listening.  Travis does show improvement in the area of his reactions, so he is understanding something.  Because his eyes have to be on me or else I'm talking to a brick wall, I keep my correction very short and to-the-point.  I probably should have done this with all of kids.
  • The fit will end more quickly if I stay calm.  It reminds me of Cesar Milan's phrase "Calm, assertive leadership."  If I freak out, Travis reads that and will react accordingly.
  • I must keep in mind Travis' first three years.  98% of those years are a complete mystery to me.  When he goes berserk because I've brought him his tennis shoes when he wants his boots (and all he has to do is ask for his "boots, please") I have to consider what's been engrained in the formative years of his life.  "You have to make lots of lots of noise to get what you want." If I show a positive reaction, shaking my head yes and signing back to him what I know he wants, I'll most often snap him out of the path to a fit.  At that moment, I can remind him, "What do you say?" and he will put on the biggest fake smile (still whining under his breath....haven't figured out how to teach him to not do that.) and say, "Boots, please."
  • I'm just like him.  How often do I not get my way and throw a little fit.  My fits may not involve kicking and spitting.  My fits may come out as an outburst toward my kids, but most often, my fits stay in my head.  It's easy to be quick to complain to myself when things don't go my way.  God is always patient with my unending petitions and, yes, whines.  Yet, God has told me I just need to ask. The answer isn't always what I want, but it's always good. 
Ken and I keep our eyes on the fact that there is amazing progress.  We just can't become lazy or forgetful about the work we have to do or the pasts these boys have. Travis brings us abundant joy every single day.  He's making me a better person and a more patient, understanding parent.  I know he's going to do amazing things in his lifetime.  I imagine he will look back at this blog with me one day and laugh at his fits.  It's all a part of the story of who he is. He's exactly who God intended him to be. 
Travis is showing a talent for drawing & writing.

Love that face!


6 comments:

  1. Hey there, I've been following since you posted "car talk" a while back!
    I'm not sure if it's any consolation or help at all, but your description sounds almost identical to our 3.5 (almost 4 year old). She's a MAJOR rule follower, but if something isn't EXACTLY how she expects it to be then she flies into a fit that she has a hard time calming herself down from. There's a lot more to the story (colic, migraines since she was 6 months old, food intolerances, never napping-even as an infant etc) but we ended up working with a behavioral therapist and have seen many improvements- none of the visits have really involved our daughter but rather the therapist working with us and giving us tools to help teacher her self-calming skills and learning to react in a calmer manner when something doesn't fit her expectation. Anyway, something to think about...also, that even those of us who have kids from birth deal with VERY similar...fits :)
    God Bless and please keep posting- the video of Tian talking about China just made my day!

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  2. I have a son who is 11yo and HOH (mild to moderate, Connexin 26). At this point he still has occasionally meltdowns also, but it is due to a language disorder he has. Over time, as your son's language gap closes so should the meltdowns. You are doing a wonderful job with him and remember that it will get easier!
    ---Lee

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  3. Hi, Sarah.. new to your page and loving what I've seen so far. I have been perusing and watching the videos of the boys and family and I have fallen in love with your two little ones, they are absolutely adorable. Then I happen across this entry and something REALLY struck me.

    Just a little "build up" so you know where I'm coming from. I am not deaf, I have not adopted any children, let alone any deaf children... however, for two years, I worked in the local elementary school with a young man who was adopted from Peru, and who is deaf. His parents found him there when he was MAYBE 7 or 8 (no one kept records, so there is no way to know exactly how old he is or the exact day of his birth--sad). He had been in two different orphanages in Peru from the time he was 3 or 4 (again, no one really knew) and before that, he had been abandoned. A woman in the town found him on her doorstep. I won't go into his story too much, I'm not sure his parents would want me to breech privacy like that.. but I do want to illustrate that due to all this, the young man, whom I have come to LOVE DEARLY (He's like my best friend now, more on that later) suffers from something that is common among adopted kids, especially those who have been abandoned. It is called Reactive Attachment Disorder. Perhaps it is something that you might want to check into. There are websites out there that can really give you a lot of information.

    Anyway, I started working at the local school as an Interpreter and paraprofessional. Mind you, I'm not certified in sign or interpreting, I had used it as my foreign language requirement in college and hadn't used it in YEARS. I moved from Ohio to Florida and began applying for jobs, saw this job for an interpreter at the local school and didn't really think I would get it, seeing as how that had not been my focus in school, or in the job hunt.. but felt it would be worth it to apply, just to play the odds. (if you throw a hundred darts at a dartboard, you have a higher chance of one sticking than if you only throw 90).

    My little buddy, when I first met him did NOT like me. I didn't take it TOO personal, he didn't like anyone. He was literally fresh off the plane. Mom and Dad had had him in several schools and he had actually been kicked out of the Deaf school because of his outbursts and behavior. It was a challenge to keep him from getting himself into trouble here at this school... and it wasn't my job to see to it that he DID keep himself out of trouble, but I fell for the boy immediately and started doing what I could to divert trouble before it started, or diffuse it as quickly as I could once it had started.

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  4. As I said, he didn't like me. If I touched his shoulder to get his attention, he would "wipe it off". If I tapped his desk to show him something in particular, he would wipe that off too. And if I handed him a pencil or piece of paper, so that he could get to work.. he would wipe those off before he started using them. He had some other quirks that are explained by the RAD such as picking his own hair off his body (this is mistakenly dx as autism due to the similarity of stimming, but thankfully he had a great therapist that recognized it for what it was) and if he couldn't get access to his own hairs, he would start picking mine.

    Over the first school year that I worked with him, we started to get close. Just a little background on ME personally, I've been a martial arts instructor for over 25 years and I have a level of discipline that I adhere to and can sometimes use it to intimidate the small ones. There were days I went home with bruises, scratches, covered in spit, missing some hairs on my arm or my head and most of the time, with a broken heart. I got discouraged a lot in the beginning and when he would act up, I felt that somehow I had failed him. This was before I knew about the RAD.

    As I said, he and I grew closer and closer. I began offering free karate classes in the park and his Mom started bringing him to them. Since I could sign, he didn't need an interpreter to attend the class I was a kind of "one stop shopping" for his Saturday mornings. He quickly became one of my best students. Because he had to focus on me to understand, he didn't have a lot of times that he "wandered off in his brain".

    Then, due to personal issues, I had to stop the classes... Summer came and Mom and Dad were told he would have to attend Summer School... there are no interpreters for this program, oddly enough so Mom and Dad petitioned the school and the school allowed me to work with him as his one on one interpreter during summer school. (During the regular school year, I had another little boy that I interpreted for at the same time).

    As we neared the end of the Summer School session, Mom asked if I might be available to babysit during the day since there was no one who could control him like me. (He didn't hate me anymore, in fact, he would hold my arm everywhere we went and no more wiping things off, more infrequent picking of the fur, fewer outbursts.. but he did still have a few violent outbursts and when he did, they knew that I could handle it) I agreed and kept him over the remainder of summer, during the days. Though school was out.. school wasn't OUT. We worked on reading, and we worked on math and we worked on thinking... he just didn't know it because it was hidden in fun activities. We had a scavenger hunt that ended at McDonald's, his FAVORITE place in the world. And he had to read (in English) all the little clues. It took me two days to prepare for it because we drove all over town to find the clues that my son and I had placed the day before we pulled this off. There were clues in the library, clues at the park, clues in the neighbor's yard, up the street.. you get the idea. But he read them. And the clues weren't easy.. "Go to the Library". They were clues that made him think. "You will find your next clue where you can find any book you want."

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  5. Another day, we made cookies.. and he had to read the recipe to me and THEN he had to do math because we decided we were going to double the batch and how can we do that? He figured it out. And then there were times that we would just sit and read books.

    Anyway... The next school year started and Mom and Dad asked if I would be willing to get him off the bus and keep him for the two hours after school before Mom and Dad got home. How could I say "no". His grades had improved markedly, he was having fewer and fewer outbursts, his interpersonal skills were improving, socially he was coming out of his cocoon and starting to interact with other students in a nonviolent way. Then the middle of the school year, due to a financial issue, I had to quit my job. I talked with the administrators at the school and was told that if I quit, they would hire me back as a substitute to work at my same position until they could find a replacement. During that time, I could REAPPLY for my position and be hired back permanent. After winter break, I waited for the call that subs wait for.. and it never came. They decided to reneg on their word. They did not call me back to work in my same position. They DID call me occasionally to work at other schools or in other classrooms, but they had other plans for the deaf program.

    My boy's grades started to slump, his behaviors started to get works, he became increasingly violent and was even suspended several times. When I worked with him, I was able to tolerate a little more than his new interpreter (hired from a service and who said, "I'm just an interpreter I don't handle behaviors") and I would steer him clear of trouble as I predicted it coming on. His Mom and Dad were not sure what to do, but the end of school was coming up so they tried to ride it out in the hopes that they would be able to work it out with the school. I was still getting him off the bus and he and I would have long talks over coke and homework. I would express my disappointment with his behavior and finally the end of school came.

    When the new year started, they moved him to a different school because they shut the deaf program completely down. His grades are ok now, his behaviors are a work in progress, but he's also a little older and a little more mature.

    When I met him, he had been in the country less than 9 months. I am so thankful to his parents for allowing me the time I have had to work with him and I view them as truly wonderful people who have given this young man a real shot at a good life. In Peru, at this age (we guess his real age to be 15 or so, but on paper he just turned 12), his body would be ripe for organ harvesting. And while that sounds like a HORRIBLE thing to say, it is a reality that poor Peruvian boys and girls face... especially those without families, and especially those who do not have the means to protect themselves.. such as being deaf and not having good communication.

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  6. Some other things to know about my boy.. when he first got here, Spanish sign was all he knew (and very little of that). The very small amount of hearing that he has in one ear, all he heard was Spanish being spoken. So he has had a LOT to overcome. He is learning English AND Sign at the same time.. and he is learning ASL, PSE and SEE in one shot. Or.. at least he was when he was at the old school and had THE BEST deaf ed teachers I've ever met. Both of them quite young to be doing what they do, the first was a young man who was offered a little better position at the Deaf school and took it part of the way through the first year, though he had worked with my boy during his first couple months in this school (which was the last couple months of the previous school year) and then his replacement, a young woman who is REMARKABLE and who I worried would not be able to fill the shoes of her predecessor, but she did and more.

    When they shut the program down, she lost her job, and I lost mine, there were 20 some kids in the whole district who were deaf and who this teacher visited once a week and then skyped with once a week. In our school there were five deaf students, all of which have since been mainstreamed.

    Long story.. a Novel really. All to tell you that perhaps RAD is something you want to ask about for your boys. Also, due to teaching martial arts to a boy who is deaf, I was able to create a whole style of martial arts that mixes the hand shapes of ASL and the techniques of karate. We call it "DEAF"-ense and it is being taught in Ohio at my old school. I'm looking to start a school here, but it is not easy.

    Thank you for what you did and what you continue to do with these two extraordinary young men. They are in good hands, I'm sure.

    Karen

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