Saturday, January 21, 2012

Schooling Aaron

He came to us as a blank slate.

When you could get him to talk at the institute, which was rare and guarded, his speaking vocabulary had deteriorated down to simple discussions about machines and airplanes.  The two things he could see and hear while sitting in the empty shed day after day.  

He knew nothing.


All he had retained from his past life was a gorgeous smile and a God-given ability to find joy in the hardest of circumstances.

But whatever he had learned at the baby house was completely lost.  Wiped clean.

For our first six months with Aaron we focused on helping him feel safe and secure.  He wasn't ready to learn about colors and numbers and letters.  His learning centered around knowing that Mama and Papa were not going to leave him.  His focus was on what he was doing each day and where we were going and when we were going to go back home.  His mind could not comprehend past the deep need for the security of always knowing where we were and if he would be with us. 

Colors. Numbers. Letters.  They were of absolutely no concern to our shell-shocked little boy. 

Though he was six and was desperately behind, school was not what Aaron needed.

We treated him as we did our boys when they very very young.  We read hundreds of books, played games, surrounded him with creative toys, showed him his colors, his numbers and counted things over and over and over again.

Aaron had no trouble playing with toys, his creativity is endless.  He has a great attention span and he loves reading books.   He was happy.

In the language area he struggled.  We saw him learn s.l.o.w.l.y.  After several months he retained the color word red.  A few months later he started remembering yellow.  But it was slow.  It was discouraging.  We wondered if he would ever learn.

He could build ever challenging puzzles, he tried to meticulously color inside the lines despite his handicaps, he could figure out any mechanical device handed to him, he could navigate all around the computer, he could tell you how to get home from any point on the map but...

It took a year for him to learn to say the numbers to 10.  A year.  Despite our counting to him every day, a thousand times a day.   It took him a year to remember the words for four colors.  Four.

He just couldn't remember the words.  He couldn't keep them in his head.  Anything that didn't involve language was easily grasped and easily understood.  But remembering those pesky words.... He was again and again defeated.  It was hard to understand why.  Our theory centered around the loss of his native language at the institute.  A year where he received nothing.  The blankness of the walls and rooms.  The total lack of anything stimulating.  He lost everything he knew.  We weren't working with a six year old child who needed to go from his language to a new language.  We were working with a six year old child who LOST his language.  We were working with a child who was equal to a newborn babe in terms of what he knew.

We had nothing with which to compare.  There aren't too many studies of children who were in Aaron's shoes.  A cognitively normal child, treated as a severely mentally disabled child from birth and then at age five exiled to a mental institute out in the middle of nowhere.  How in the world??

We knew we needed help beyond what we could give him.  Speech. Therapy.  Adaptive services.
But we wanted him home with us.  We wanted to teach him and watch him grow.  We felt torn and frustrated.

We decided to get him tested through the school system.    The dreaded IEP.  We wanted to see what they said about our little guy.

Of course they fell in love with him as soon as he walked into the building.  You can't help but love Aaron.

His tests indicated that he or course desperately needed Speech, OT and PT.  They also indicated that he was way behind mentally.  This didn't surprise us.  But they did not want to label him as mentally disabled.  Everyone around the table believed after spending time with him that despite his struggle with language, Aaron is a very bright little boy.

We were so relieved.  We did not want him labeled either.  We know that he is extremely bright.  We believe with all of our hearts that if he had been born into our family that he would be at the top of his class, not at the bottom.

After testing and after much discussion, we decided on a rather strange but workable plan.

We are going to continue to home school him.  But he will also attend public school part-time.  He will receive OT, PT, Speech and will be attending Kindergarten 2 mornings a week during their math and circle time.  He will also go out to recess with his class 2 days a week and will do art, music and library.

By doing it this way we get the best of both worlds....

If we had chosen to home school Aaron full-time he would have only received speech from the school.
If we had chosen to put him in school full time he would have been placed in 1st grade and would have been completely lost in the classroom, but he would have received all the services the school had to offer.

By home schooling him part-time, he gets to go to kindergarten instead of 1st grade which is a much better match for him.  He also gets ALL the services the school has to offer.  He also gets to continue to learn his math and reading from us.

Those who tested Aaron all agreed that this was the best workable plan because he would be getting the one-on-one help he needed from those who love him best, but we would get some help in areas where we felt weak.

This past week was Aaron's first time in the classroom.

He loved it.

The children loved him.

We think for now this is going to work.


  1. Oh my goodness! AND HE ALREADY HAS A GIRLFRIEND!!!!!!

    So so proud of him having his first day of school! I think it sounds like a great team effort in coming up with the best solution for him!


  2. What an incredible blessing to be able to work out the perfect situation that fits all of his needs! So happy that the school was able to make everything come together. I'll bet he loves his two days with the kids! :)

  3. What a GREAT solution! I'm so glad he likes it! Might I just say, he is such a handsome kid! I think that every time I see his pics. :)

  4. That's wonderful! He will probably greatly benefit from the socialization of the kids his own age, also. How could they not love that sweet face? Way to go Aaron!!!

  5. It's so good to see Aaron holding a pencil(? or is it a felt-tip??) and playing the xylophone! I expect he must feel so satisfied at being able to use simple, everyday things which used to be far from simple and everyday for him.

    I think you've made a wise choice - the classroom-homeschool combo. appears to be an ideal fit for Aaron, with lots of interesting things going on at school, and engaged (and engaging! No, not that kind...;-)) children who are becoming newfound friends.

    Susan in Ky
    Cousin to 2 from EE

  6. Isaac has been home with us 7 yrs. He will be 11 next week. I am a homeschool mom, but Isaac goes to school. Like Aaron, he gets OT, PT, and speech and has a full time aide. He goes full time right now, spending most of his time in the Special Ed room. Although I am sad to not have him home
    during the day, I have not given up hope to one day bring him home for good. God has blessed us with great teachers who love Isaac! And they also listen to me!!! Everything I say gets written down and discussed. They respect my point of view and I'm grateful for the feedback I get from his teachers. He is happy and loves to go. So for right now this is the best plan. School can be ok. But I really am looking forward to him being home for good one day! I am glad you found a happy medium for Aaron! Sue

  7. It looks like Aaron really enjoyed the beginnings of his school experience! Way to go Aaron!

  8. I think that's wonderful that he's going to school! We homeschool our kids, but do send Darya to school, especially so she can receive her speech therapy.

  9. Julia,

    He looks like he is going to thrive in that environment. I didn't realize Aaron's prior history - that one could detiorate so quickly after going from the baby house to the institute. How devastating. Now I understand why you post so eloquently about Heath and the others left behind.

    Sue H.

  10. How can they not love him. He is adorable. He just oozes off your blog. Sounds like a fabulous schedule that works for him. YAY for that IEP team! Can't wait to hear an update in a few months on how he is doing. My sneaking suspicion is he will be equal or ahead of his peers.!

  11. Katya loves her kindergarten too now that she understands she is not going to be left there forever by us. Since she has NO SPEECH AT ALL at age 7 I can relate to some of your frustrations . . . we don't know if she will ever speak but we too know she is a bright little gal locked in a wounded body . . . GO Aaron!!! And go Katya who is the firset of our 5 kids to ever attend a formal school (all others have been homeschooled--and hopefully Katya will be some day as well!)

  12. Looks like this handsome fellow had a great first day of school! You can see the pure joy right in his eyes! I think you made a spectacular choice for him! We do the same with the triplets-part school and part home-school.

  13. I'm glad you are dealing with a reasonable IEP team. That's not always or often the case.

    One of my sons has a language processing disorder, similar to what you're describing for Aaron, although without the complications of a second language or being institutionalized. I think that with therapy, time with peers and love, Aaron will catch up.

  14. So wonderful that the school will work with you for Aaron's best interest. Yay - looking forward to see him growing and learning more.

  15. Fun! Aaron will be fine! What a great solution, sending him part time!
    My bio son, without having institutional and language issues was a late bloomer when it came to reading, math, just about everything. He could organize his cars and spend hours pretending. I was seriously worried... Now he is in 8th grade reading and writing at a 12th grade and beyond level. Math is still not his favorite but its not difficult for him.
    Aaron reminds me alot of Isaac at that age! Aaron is more extroverted though ;-)
    Oh, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance? I have been picking the brains of my husbands co-workers and they have offered some activity ideas for your friends in R*ssia. To start there are a couple of easy things they can do that we can help with from here. My email address is Thanks Sheri

  16. He is such a miracle! Everytime I read your blog I cry:)

  17. This post makes me happy. God led me to do something similar with my son who I adopted at age 9. I kept him home full time for almost two years, but just a few weeks ago he started going 3 hours a day to our local public school. It is the perfect fit: 3 hours a day, all services, and home before lunchtime to spend the rest of the day with us. And he has totally charmed his teachers, too.

  18. Wow...I have a gazillion questions for you! This is awesome!!

  19. :) sounds like a good plan

  20. Sounds like a perfect plan!! I can't wait to see how he flourishes. He needed time, the wounds were so deep. But it sounds like you know exactly what he needs :).

  21. I think he has a girlfriend :-) He is doing wonderful!!!!!! I look at our blog everyday!


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