Monday, August 22, 2011

School - Sigh

Ben went back to school today at the local Community College.

I guess that means I have to start dragging Elijah out of bed so he too can start school.

I'm so not ready for school.

To be perfectly honest, we have struggled with what to do with Aaron.  In the learning department we have reached the point where we are scratching our heads on how best to move him from point A to point B.  In some areas he is exceptionally bright.  His understanding of all things mechanical, his directional abilities and his ability to grasp cause and effect is uncanny.  Watching him figure out how to put a puzzle together or work a new game on the computer or manipulate a mechanical device reassures us that our son is as cognitively normal as they come.  But in other areas he really struggles.  His greatest struggle is in the area of language.  He understands everything we say to him.  He can communicate well his needs and wants. But he has a hard time retaining and recalling words in his short term memory.   This is having a profound effect on teaching him basic pre-school/kindergarten material.  It takes an enormous amount of time to get him to retain and recall simple words including color words, numbers, letters and more.  He understands the concepts behind the words but can't recall the words even if they are said to him seconds before.  Only when he is able to log the words into his long term memory is he retaining them. 

Part of his issue is motivation.  Aaron doesn't honestly see the need to remember or retain the color words or the numbers or the letters.  They mean nothing.  So he tends to resist our attempts to get him to remember the word.  Those words that interest him - he remembers without any trouble.  He learned the words left and right without anyone telling him.  He cares about directions so he learned those words.  Not only did he learn those words but he knows which is left and which is right.  No one in this house remembers teaching him those concepts.  But the color words - that's another story.  He can match the colors but can't name the colors.  (He is NOT color blind) From his perspective - it is useless information that has no meaning in his world.  The English language is hard to grasp and he is choosing to focus on what matters to him.  Colors don't matter.  He knows them.  He doesn't need to name them.

The other part of his issue is emotional.  Aaron used language as a way to control his world at the mental institute.  While he was there, in his deep hurt, he refused to talk to the caretakers except on his terms.  For their part, they did not consider him intelligent enough to carry on a conversation and they were far too busy to engage him even if they did consider him worthy of talk.  So for a year he lived in a world of moans, groans and occasional discussions about the only thing that the boys could see or hear - vehicles, planes and birds.  Because of this, he lost a lot of his own language.  By the time we got him, his vocabulary was extremely limited. He spoke only of what he cared about - machines and airplanes.  He would not use words to indicate need or desire.  He instead used motions and staring at objects as a means to communicate with us what he wanted.  He still tries to use signs as a means to communicate but we push him to express himself.  Telling us this weekend that he hates his cast was huge.  It was the first time he ever used a negative word to describe how he was feeling.

Finally, we have yet to figure out if there is a true learning disability going on that is preventing him from retaining the words.  It is here where we are left scratching our heads.  I have worked with and taught numerous children over the years but none with the same history and issues as Aaron.  In many ways, in the learning department, we have felt that we are just muddling through.  Is it a learning disability or does it stem from the emotional trauma he experience for a solid year?  To be completely honest, I lean towards his issues as having a more emotional root but right now it is manifesting itself as a learning disability.  Either way it needs to be addressed.

We have agonized over what to do.   It has been cause for much prayer and discussion.  At this point, because of the contraption on his right arm, we are sticking with what we have been doing all along - immersing him in the language as best as we can, working with him on his basic concepts, exposing him to music, computer games and videos that are focused on the same concepts and muddling through.  We will be getting him evaluated at our local public school to get him qualified for services.  In Virginia, he is eligible for services, even if we homeschool him.  So this week we will begin the process of getting him tested.  I have no doubt that speech and Occupational Therapy will be at the top of their lists. 

Knowing where Aaron has come from, we usually are able to stay calm about where he is in regards to his academic level.  Some days we panic (especially me) when we consider how much he needs to do to catch up with his peers.   It is in those days where I have to keep reminding myself of how far he has come (miles).  We also need only watch him put a puzzle together or figure out how to play a complicated game on the ipad within minutes of getting it started that we are able to take a deep breath and know that in the end, Aaron is going to be fine.

P.S. See this absolutely beautiful quilt???

It was handmade by an Aaron admirer. 

It hasn't exactly made it on his bed yet.  He needs it for his cars and trains.

One happy boy!

How can we begin to say THANK YOU to all the people who continue to love on our little guy from afar.  It totally blows us away. 

Of course these pictures were taken PRE-Surgery. 

Aaron's not convinced right now that he can play with his cars and trains as long as he has the cast on his arm.  He's actually not convinced he can do ANYTHING as long as he has the cast on his arm.  We are hoping he will soon change his mind because keeping him entertained all day is becoming a full-time job!!


  1. It is so hard to know all the answers. One things I have seen you do brilliantly is let him be a boy first - and that is incredibly important.

    As you know, were in VA, so if you need help with the school stuff, let me know.


  2. Hmmm, what are you using as a curriculum to teach him to read? I think he needs some sort of multisensory curriculum, even if his ROM in his arms isn't good. It's the best way to teach kids who have memory issues. I know a LOT of adopted kids (international) who have learned using this method. If you want to chat about it, just drop me a line.

  3. I feel your pain! We have been trudging through with home education for 7 plus years with our girls. Homeschooling the guys was much different.

    We have had to deal with emotional trauma which causes limited learning. They cannot do as much as they SHOULD be able to do.
    We also have FASD and Drug Exposure added to the list.
    One of our girls had finally memorized all her times tables by the end of last year. 2 full years behind what her sisters had done..... we were so PROUD..... we started school last week, after taking a 1 month break, and she has forgotten most of them. ugh!

    So, back to the trenches.
    Our newest daughter spent her first 2 years here going from adoptive home to adoptive home and we are her 3rd home.... if you add respite care, we are her 5th home..... she learned English after learning limited Russian 2 years prior....before that, she spoke a native dialect similar to Bulgarian.
    Emotional trauma took its toll and we spent from March to June doing a LOT of art. :)
    We are ready for this year, and her reading struggles have taken us back to ROD and Staff first grade. She is 11! But if we don't get the basics down, she'll continue to struggle.
    Foundation First!
    The good news is she is willing. She covered 4 lessons today. :) She is learning to understand the vowel sounds and why they are long or short.
    She can't seem to get the E.
    She didn't know the names of some of the consonants. This is a child who attended Private and Public school, and then a special school, over the last 2 years.

    Yes, I do feel like I'm trudging....which I don't like I need to change my heart and just get working. :)
    I am praying for a successful and productive year. :)

  4. Knowing he has the ipad, check out a group of games called Teacher's Paradise. They are free and are color words, letter tracing, etc. This won't address the "why" in terms of him learning/retaining, but it might give him a different way to learn.

  5. Hi Julia! I wouldn't stress so much about Aaron's learning capabilities just yet. It seems that you have a very good grasp on what he knows and why he knows it. Honestly, I would just keep doing what you are doing and allow him to learn at his own pace. Does he enjoy having picture books read to him? If so, I would highly recommend the "Five In A Row" curriculum. There's enough repetition and I know there's at least ONE book about "machinas." It's a very gentle curriculum and you'd be surprised at what he retains from it!

  6. My kids really like the "Preschool Prep" videos. They are very simple... honestly really boring for adults. All they do is say the number/shape/letter/word (whatever that video is about) on the screen and it might dance around or something funny. But, my kids know their shapes, colors, most letters and most numbers and I think it's because they watched those videos so many times. We got them at our library, but you can also order them online. Reed has an exceptional memory, but oddly enough, he often just doesn't care enough to remember something, even in the short term. I can tell him something and a minute later, ask him what it was and he'll have no idea. But, today, I told him once the order of birthdays in our family and he repeated it back to Aaron several hours later. He really only learns on his terms, which is not always so good.

  7. I'm not an educator -- just a parent.
    To me, it sounds like Aaron is completely normal. Every child accels in certain areas and struggles in others.
    I was homeschooled before homeschooling was mainstream (and thus, we didn't have the curriculums that are available today. We had to wing it), so I have a very unique view on education.
    To me, it sounds like you need to *make* colors, letters, etc. matter to Aaron by implementing some sort of reward system and/or game. (e.g. buy him a new little matchbox car. Pull it out at random points during the day and ask him to name the color. Do this for a few days, until he does it consistently, and at the end, he gets a new toy car! You could do it with candy too or whatever else interests him.) I would play to his natural interests, and I would make it a game with a reward at the end. When there's something "in it for him", it will give him motivation to recall and learn the color, letter, etc.
    I wouldn't do this with everything, but I would definitely use this method to teach him the fundamentals and basics (because really, you can't move forward until he's firm on the basics.)
    With the language recall, I totally understand this. My grandparents speak a different language. I understand Greek. I speak it too. But during the summers, my grandparents go to Greece for a few months. I don't get a chance to use Greek during this time period, and by the time they return, I find that I have a difficult time recalling words (though I understand it when it's spoken to me.)
    I've found that the only way to overcome this is to start speaking Greek again. It's difficult at first, but it always improves within a few days.
    So my recommendation would be to get him speaking more. Say a word and then elicit an answer that requires him to say the same term -- it will still be fresh in his head.
    I don't pretend to know how you should go about this, but I can tell you that forcing yourself to use the language helps immensely.

    All the best to you and sweet little Aaron! I hope his arm is healing well!

    When you get a moment, could you tell us more about the nature of the operation and its purpose?

    -Madi G.

  8. I'm a big fan of letting little kids be kids...enjoy their childhood and learn by doing. I don't have any adopted children (yet), but have 9 homeschooled children (5 of them boys). Aaron is still a little guy. He's been through a lot. You're doing a great job letting him be a child. Sadly, he has to learn how to do that. The rest, he'll catch up with eventually. His words will come.

  9. Julia- I so understand how hard it is to figure out what to do with educating our kids from hard places. Tessa is older- but much of what you write about Aaron is similar to her story. The repetition necessary to get her to remember something is very frustrating. She suffers from memory issues, auditory processing issues, attitude issues, and apathy toward education at times. But, I'm pretty sure she has plenty of LD's stemming from her past that are the root of much of this :( Unfortunately, most thoughts would lead us torward giving it time, letting her learn more English and heal her heart. So, now we have an almost 13 yr old girl, home 3 yrs, who can only read at mid-2nd grade level and speaks English like a 4-5 yr old. I wish we would have been able to help her earlier, got her tested before she was old enough to realize how poorly she was doing. I think it's a good idea to go through the testing with the school....whether you use their services or not, the results could be very helpful to you in what direction you take to help him at home. Getting our boys tested (and Robyn 3 yrs ago) helped us identify each child's gaps better then we could by ourselves. Robyn (home @ 2.5 yrs ) had an especially hard time with colors...she could match them, but not identify them by name. I think it took 2.5 years of school (preschool, preK, halfway through K) before she could name her colors with any reliability!! She does know them now though :) Counting was hard for her she is pretty good at it.

    Prayers for wisdom and endurance as you figure out how to tackle all this!!! Blessings, Jennifer

  10. I agree with Sabrina. He's young and it will come. I wouldn't push it with the things that don't interest him, but go to the library and stock up on books that DO interest him. Of course, while reading books about cars and airplanes, you could also point out the color of the cars on the page. Reading, reading and more reading is the best way to learn the language.
    But you shouldn't worry about it. Give him another year or two and then look back and see how far he's come.

  11. We have a daughter in a similar situation. This year we finally received an answer of sorts. It seems that she never had a true grasp of any language due to the environment she lived in as a baby and toddler.

    The language around her was a tribal Guatemalan language, but she never grasped it because she had been left alone most of the time. Then she was transferred to a Spanish speaking home. She was just grasping that language when she came home to our English speaking home. She missed some critical milestones in language acquisition.

    The result is, she does not have basic language skills. Sometimes if she hears a word, like you said, "it means nothing.". There is nothing in her brain to put this word "against" to help her recall what it is. The basic foundation is not there. It's a complicated issue.

    We battle to help her remember the most basic facts. She also continues to struggle with language. We correct her and she will repeat the word back incorrectly shortly after. She does not retain it. We have been working on the alphabet and numbers for 4 years now (she is 8). She is finally beginning to master some of them. We work and work and work. I see progress, but the truth is, it is incredibly slow. 1 baby step forward, 3 giant steps back. :)

    Patience and repetition. Don't lose hope but realize it is a long, slow road. The good thing is, the joy of seeing them finally grasp something and remember it is priceless!

    My daughter is an amazing, compassionate, kind little girl. She will likely never learn like other kids and might always be "behind". My goal is to love her and accept her for who she IS, not comparing her to others. I see you already doing this with Aaron and it makes me smile. :)

    Keep up the amazing work there mama!! What a blessing you are for this little guy!!!


  12. I feel your frustration and concern. My daughter also seemed to only learn the things that she cared about, but it wasn't because she didn't WANT to or wasn't TRYING. For her, to retain new vocabulary and math terms is STRENUOUS work! In fact, she tried so hard, that she wore herself out to the point of being unable to do the things that came easy for her.
    She had to train herself to stop trying. Now she recognizes when she is at that place. She calls it a "bridge out". Whenever she reaches that place, she/we know we have to try a different way. Usually we try MANY different ways before we find one that gets the information to stick. Sometimes, we never find the way. She is NEVER going to catch up with her peers. She is significantly above average intelligence, but these memory issues hold her back academically. We have had to re-assess her goals. Catching up stopped being one of them by the time she was 8. Our new goals are to help her get as far as she can academically, and to give her the tools to find the answers that her brain just doesn't want to retain. I'm not trying to be critical. It took years of struggle and frustration to come to a place where I could accept that there was no "fix" for my daughter. Once I did, though, everything changed for the better. I'm not saying that this is what will happen for Aaron. I'm praying you find answers and "fixes" for Aaron.( How I wish there were corrective surgeries and braces for language and memory glitches!) If the "fix" doesn't happen, I just want to encourage you that it will be OKAY. You have already recognized and accepted that his body may never "catch up" to that of his peers. You are committed to help him get as much mobility and independence as possible. You are such a wonderful mom to Aaron. God sure knew what He was doing when He picked your family for Aaron. Take heart. Prayers, Alice

  13. We adopted a 5.5 year old boy from Ukraine. It will be 6 years ago this Fall. My son was living with kids 12 to 24 months old due to his physical limitations. Mostly because he needed bathroom help. You can imagine what his language exposure was. Mostly one and two word sentences.

    He has tested normal IQ many times. However he struggles greatly in both language and memory. What prompted me to write to you is that you are describing my son when you talk about Aaron. My son also is incredibly gifted mechanically and spatially. The orphange workers called him "the engineer". The play room volunteers at church called him "magic fingers" because he would fix toys that hadn't worked in years. He remembers directions better than almost all adults I know. In the past I have also chatted with another adoptive Mother with a son similar to mine and sounds like Aaron. Her son also has severe language delays with amazingly strong spatial and mechanical skills. So there are at least two of us out there with sons very similar to Aaron.

    I wish I could list a set of instructions that have cured our son from his issues. It has been a long, hard, expensive struggle. He goes to school but is two grades behind his bio age and still struggles to keep up.

    What I would warn against the most is those therapists and educators who say he will catch up only with time. He will improve in time but severe issues in children usually take a lot of effort just to get improvements, forget about catching up. My son's brain is wired differently than the rest of us. Brains usually don't rewire themselves.

    I can tell you keep up the fight because we have for 6 years and still have a long way to go, however it is so rewarding to see the progress he has made.

    I remember at that age books on tape helping language so much. Dr. Suess on tape. Awesome!


  14. Everyone has such good advice! Aaron is brilliant and will be ever more so. I studied speech and language pathology at university, but went on to academic study rather than practice. I'd be tempted to let Aaron continue signing, as well as speaking. They are both valuable forms of communication for him, I'd consider formal sign as his gestures. Children who learn sign to supplement their communication rely on it less and less as their speech improves.
    As for colours and other things that do not interest him, how about making and painting wooden/junk cars. Or making and icing different coloured cookies.
    Good Luck

  15. He sounds like a right-brained thinker and caters to those who think/learn on the right side. I pray this might help you! It does WONDERS!

  16. It could be both a learning disability AND emotional issues.

    I have a 12 year old son who has a language processing disorder, and who is a very anxious child. When he's struggling in school, it stresses him out, and he gets anxious and shuts down. It's cyclical.

    It took us a while to figure out exactly what all of Joey's issues were, and how to best address it. Now that we've found what works for him, he's made A LOT of progress. He still decodes very slowly when he's reading, but he's capable of reading grade level appropriate material given the appropriate amount of time to do so. He feels like he can succeed now, and is generally happier and more willing to stretch himself to learn.


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