Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Wish They Could See....

Three years ago we sat in an office across the ocean to accept a referral for a little boy with arthrogryposis.   When his file was opened we were informed that he was both severely physically disabled AND severely mentally disabled.  Because of this he been placed in a Level 4 mental institute for severely mentally and physically disabled boys.
I can't put into words how we felt as our facilitator translated.  No amount of mental preparation can steel your hearts for the hopelessness those words convey.  Even though we KNEW he was physically and possibly mentally disabled -  we still felt punched in the gut. It isn't something you can easily brush away and it most definitely isn't something that you will ever forget.
When we arrived in Aaron's village and met with the director we were again told under no uncertain terms that he was both severely physically and severely mentally disabled. 
He belonged in a Level 4 mental institute based on everyone's diagnosis.
When they first brought him into the room, we wondered ourselves if they weren't correct in their assessment.  He wanted nothing to do with us and sat stiff and terrified on the lap of the caretaker.  He refused to make eye contact and had a blank indifferent look on his face.  Only when he saw out the window the boys from his groupa heading for the eating shed did he come alive.  He started pointing that he wanted out.  We followed him out and entered into his world.  We were surrounded by boys with every type of physical and mental disability.  Many of them the same size or bigger than Elijah.  It was scary.  We were uncomfortable.  We felt vulnerable.  We wondered if we hadn't made a massively huge mistake.
After snack we followed him back behind the buildings along with his groupa.  It was awkward.  Three Americans trying to make some kind of connection with this child we had crossed the ocean to find while being stared at by the caretakers and all the boys. 
When Rob picked him up it was obvious that he had never ever been held. 
We gave him cars to play with but he couldn't take them into his hands.  We had to tuck them under his arms. 
 It was awkward.
Again we wondered.
Had we made a huge mistake?
And then...
And then...

And then he laughed.
And for us.. from that point onward... none of the diagnoses mattered.
We no longer cared.
His laughter.  His joy. 
In that world.
He was our son no matter what. 
Mentally disabled. 
Physically disabled. 
He was our son.
We no longer cared about the labels.
We brought him home. 
He had a working vocabulary in his own language of maybe about 20 words but he rarely used even those 20 words.
Most of his communication was in the form of pointing, gestures and looks.
He was a pro at getting us to do what he wanted just by moving his eyes.
From day one, learning the English language was hard.  He understood everything we said, but talking, using words, was a huge mountain for him to climb.  Every word he gained was difficult.  He resisted using his voice.  He preferred being non-verbal.  We had to press and push him to use  words.  Over and over again we pushed him to use words.
He could parrot words but retaining words was a constant uphill battle. 
We tried getting him to learn the names of the colors.  After several months of practice and practice and practice he retained red and yellow and that was all.  Over and over and over again for months and into two years we did the colors.  He couldn't remember the color names to save his life. 
We tried teaching him to count.  Every.single.day.  We counted. And counted.  And counted.  Finally, after counting for a solid year.... he was finally counting to 10... most of the time.... with help.  He understood the process of counting but remembering the number words.... it was agonizing for him.
We worked on increasing his vocabulary.  Slowly.  Painstakingly it increased.  Every new word a victory.  But even so, a year after being home he still was unable to barely string more than two words together.  And when he did talk, most of his conversations centered around the weather, cars, trucks and trains.   It was all he wanted to talk about.  Cars. Trucks.  Trains.  The Weather.
Nice. Safe.  Aaron subjects.
 Two years home and he still struggled to express himself.   Pointing and gestures were still his favorite form of communication.  He still focused on his favorite subjects but he was finally finally starting to branch out. 
 But despite his struggle with language, despite his struggle to retain words, despite his struggle to express himself, despite all of this - he began to figure out how to READ the language.
It came as a surprise.
He couldn't NAME the letters but that didn't stop him from learning their sounds.  He couldn't tell you what the words meant but that didn't stop him from sounding them out.  Aaron understood phonics.  It made sense to him.  He RETAINED the rules.  Once he learned a new phonics rule - he remembered it.  He grasped the concept of sounding out a word.  The mechanics of phonics was understood by his little mechanically gifted mind.  
Last year - two years home - after spending five years stuck in two rooms in a babyhouse with little to no mental stimulation - after spending a solid year at a mental institute - last year - Aaron began to read. 
And he began to read well.  Remarkably well for a child with his story.  He doesn't always GET what he reads but he reads! 
Aaron reads.


He is thriving in school.  He is in First grade this year and YES he is behind but we are seeing him slowly but surely catching up with his age.  He knew NOTHING when we came out of those gates.  He literally knew nothing.  He was like a newborn baby experiencing the world for the first time.  He has had to pass through all the stages a newborn baby passes through in terms of learning and growing.  

He's been home for three years and he has gone from knowing nothing to being right on the level of the other first graders in his class.  That is HUGE.  

What he accomplished last year in Kindergarten shocked the socks off everyone who worked with him.   He started last year in First grade and was completely lost so he was moved back to Kindergarten.  And in Kindergarten he thrived.  He was much older than the children but emotionally on their level.  They loved him and he loved them.  He soaked up every lesson given to him.  He came home and bubbled over with enthusiasm with all the things he learned in his school.  He loved all 'his peoples'.   He went with joy each morning and came home utterly exhausted each afternoon.  It was like all of his light bulbs turned on at once and everything we had been trying for two years to teach him began to finally make sense in his mind. 

The gains he made last year were so significant that he won an ACADEMIC scholarship from the school.

The criteria for the scholarship included work ethic, Christian testimony and citizenship.

Every teacher in Aaron's school voted for him.

They voted for him.

Aaron has effectively stolen the hearts of every teacher and administrator at that school. 

Somedays I wish I could cross the ocean and show them what my severely mentally and physically disabled child can do.
Somedays I really want to show them how badly they messed up.

I want them to see him working in his classroom.  I want them to see his diligence.  I want them to see how carefully he does every single one of his papers.  Despite his disabilities, without any props, he does all of his papers just like the other children.  I want them to see him soaking up knowledge. I want them to see how the other children relate to him - love him.  I want them to see the impact he has had on every person who knows him in that school. 

I want to show them the article in the newspaper where he won the scholarship.

He was judged mentally disabled based on his physical disability.

He was written off and deemed unfit for society.

He was not taught anything.  Anything. 

He was destined to spend his entire life sitting on a bench inside a shed.

I want them to see him. 
I wish they could see him.  I wish with all my heart that I could show them just how amazing and smart and full of life and love our little boy has become. 
I think he would most definitely shock their socks right off their feet!


  1. What in inspiration your son is. Please tell Aaron we think he reads beautifully. :)

  2. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. It's amazing how far he has come! And, I wish 'they' could see it too, maybe they could learn that all children have potential when they receive the love and care that all human beings deserve. Brooke K.

  3. I *love* seeing him read. The Lord is using him to His glory already! Praises!

  4. Very inspiring, thank you for posting it!

  5. That is awesome , it brought tears to my eyes.

  6. This is what God and a family can do! Can you send a copy of the video with someone traveling to the same region? If only all the directors of all the institutions could see this.

  7. Big crocodile tears of happiness here!!!! Thank you Aaron!!!!!!

  8. Aaron. you rock! And Julia and Rob, You and your family rock! What love will do. In the eyes of the institution, Aaron possesses a disability but in our eyes, Aaron possesses a different ability. He is an active little boy and will continue to live up to his God-given potential in your loving family.

  9. that's just beautiful. Good for Aaron. Good for you!

  10. Great job Aaron ! What an inspiration ! I love your blog and Aaron is one terrific kid !

  11. Oh what miracles happens when love is given. It takes someone special to do this type of ministry. May God Bless you and Aaron on his adventure of life with people who care.

  12. You are right - he has captured all of our hearts. We LOVE being his "peoples!" Your son has an amazing determination that has taught every child in my class is that there is NO such thing as "I can't." It isn't in our vocabulary at all and all because we look at Aaron - who KNOWS that there is nothing that he cannot do - and we learn from him EVERY DAY! I am so proud of your boy! He is AMAZING and DETERMINED. I thank God for you and your family for trusting God and bringing him into your home - and into our lives as well. <3 Melissa Holyfield

  13. I am in tears! So amazing!

  14. One of my young cousins who is also from Aaron's birth country was similarly labeled, because of CP, before they and their sibling joined our family about seven years ago.

    I spoke with my cousin (now 16) last night - and was told, "I love books - I just read, read, read all the time!" "Pride and Prejudice" and "Jane Eyre" are current favorites.

    I am so proud of both of my young cousins, and also of Aaron - such a joyous sense of achievement shines in his face on this video!

    Thank goodness for those who see through those labels to the children beneath them. And thank goodness for those children's tenacity, determination and endurance. Well done, Aaron! The love of books is a lifelong treasure.

    Susan in KY
    Cousin to 2 from EE

  15. But our God sees, and that is what truly matters! Praise Him!

    Rejoicing with you over Aaron's achievements!

  16. This has been the theme of the week. I wonder what God is trying to show me. All week long, I've seen kids, including my own daughter, who would have been completely lost... alone... left in that world where everyone just knew that they were mentally impaired, physically beyond help, and just plain hopeless.... Until God connected them with the family that He had chosen for them. I'm so blessed that He brought my little girl into my life, and I love watching Aaron's progress since he is so similar and has been with you two years longer than she has been with me. Keep up the blogs!

  17. I'm in tears! Listening to his beautiful voice is amazing.

  18. Now that is some fabulous reading! Great work Aaron! :)

  19. What a wonderful story! I think that Aaron is a very special little boy---how blessed you all are. Thank you for sharing and inspiring us!

  20. Oh my goodness!! Is he not the cutest thing ever?!? Who knew that the word "angry" could sound so stinking cute!! I just want to steal him. (just kidding...don't worry.)

  21. Well Done Aaron! Congrats on your scholarship! Next stop University scholarship!!
    Is there a way to let them know how well he is doing? Maybe a newspaper over there would run a story! Everyone needs to know how much their locked away children can achieve.

  22. WOW!! Way to go Aaron!!! You're an excellent reader and so smart!!!

    I hope some day after we bring our little boy home, we can get together and he can meet you. :)

  23. I love, love, love the giant smile Aaron gives you when he is finished the first page.

    ON, Canada

  24. Wonderful!!!!!!!! I am watching over and over!

  25. Andrew says that Aaron is a very good reader. Andrew and I are reading Romeo and Juliet. He says it is a very good story and Aaron should read it next. I suggest waiting a few years. My daughters recommend Curious George and stories by Bill Peet or anything with a Princess.

  26. I say, we raise the monies so you and Rob can take him back there so they can see for themselves...their mortal mistakes!


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!