Challenges and Different Abilities
Ever since I first met our son Alexandru, 23 and a half years ago, when he was almost 4 years old, the word “challenges” has become a frequently used word in my vocabulary. I also frequently hear the word “disability” but I prefer to say “different ability”.
As I recounted in Blog Post #22: An Orphanage Story, from the time we found Alexandru (thank you, Jamie Berke’s Deaf Adoption News Service) to the time we brought him home took about a year and 3 weeks. We were told he was deaf, but no other challenges were mentioned in orphanage reports.
One time, while talking with a few future teachers of deaf children, I was asked a very interesting question:
“As a parent, when did you realize that something was affecting your son other than his hearing loss? Was it before or after the school professionals noticed?”
I knew from the first time I met him that he came with challenges. I didn’t care, I loved him and just wanted to bring him home.
As I talked about before in Blog Post # 23: Our Family Is Complete!, I visited him in the orphanage every day for 3-4 weeks while his paperwork was being completed.
As I spent time with him every day in the orphanage his challenges were obvious to me — no eye contact, attention issues, meltdowns when I left for the day, obsession with one thing (umbrellas, flags or window curtains flapping in the wind) to the exclusion of all else around him, and frequently zoned in his own world. He also was very sensitive to being touched, although he loved a firm touch whenever I was holding him.
At that time, I erroneously believed someone on the autism spectrum could not be affectionate. Each day when I arrived at the orphanage he would run and jump into my arms. And when I left for the day, he would have a crying meltdown. So even though I didn’t think of autism because he was so affectionate, I knew he had something neurological going on.
Friends and family would say, maybe he’s got these behaviors because he’s deaf. I knew what was going on with him was not due to his deafness (although the deafness definitely made it easier for him to go into his own world and tune out everything else). And I knew that these issues would challenge him more than his deafness ever would.
Raising him brought us our own challenges, which seemed not so big compared with the great rewards he brought us: hugs, smiles, being such a happy child (a lot of the time), being so tender hearted, and letting me be a mom.
Life got easier for him when a neurologist finally diagnosed him with Autism Spectrum and ADD, and was able to prescribe medication that helped him be able to have better self control. It helped immensely that his communication skills advanced from only knowing “two words” by the age of 4 (see Blog Post #4: A Young Child with a 2 “Word” Vocabulary) to slowly but surely learning to communicate with sign language.
His different abilities grew and he’s proven to be brilliant in selective ways.
One example — he can build anything out of Legos. When he was only five, he saw part of the movie “Titanic” on video. The next day he called us into the bathroom to proudly show us he had built an incredibly accurate 3 foot model of the Titanic and was sailing it in the tub. This would have been impressive from a kit, but he did it with a bunch of random Lego pieces in his room. But what really blew us away is when he recreated the sinking scene — he had somehow hinged the model so it broke in half exactly like in the movie! He would then put it back together so he could recreate the scene in the tub.
A few years later he became obsessed with train fuel tanks. He could draw them in great detail, and tell you the name and capacity of each.
For example, he amazes me with his awesome memory skills for certain things. Just the other day he said, “Mom, remember that time back in 2001 on September 22 when my teacher Jan Pry gave me sad faces for my report?”
His tender heart showed too.
He and his Dad would go butterfly hunting. He collected them in his butterfly net cage. Then after admiring them a few hours, he would open the cage and gently hold his hand to the cage so they could land on his hand, then fly away.
In elementary school, when he played baseball, he played the outfield position. When the ball would come his way he never caught it. He was too focused on creeping in the grass, finding the caterpillars and taking them to the edge of the field so they wouldn’t get stepped on.
When he played basketball in elementary school, if someone jostled another person as they were running up and down the court, he would stop right there in the middle of the court and scold the person, signing “We don’t push people, they could get hurt, need ambulance, go to hospital” as the teams ran back and forth around him.
He is very kind and affectionate. He trusts everyone (which would get him into trouble later in life with scammers, but that’s another story).
LESSON LEARNED: Patience is of prime importance when raising a child with different abilities.
LESSON LEARNED: Learn to adapt. For example, he couldn’t stand my lips touching his skin (he would shudder and pull away). So when I felt a kiss coming on, I learned to give kisses to the top of his head on his hair, so it wasn’t skin on skin.
LESSON LEARNED: Different abilities are just that — different, not debilitating. Alexandru’s hearing may be impaired, but his visual abilities (a Lego Titanic built in detail just from seeing a video) are amazing!
LESSON LEARNED: Whether a priority is good or bad is often simply due to point of view. Although Alexandru’s baseball coach wasn’t happy he missed the ball, no doubt the caterpillars considered him a hero!
Games and YouTube Videos
Here are the links to my signing and cueing YouTube “Word Of The Day” channels. I post a new word every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Check it out and I would love to know what you think of them!
Also, Check out my Adventure Games in the App Stores
Please join me for my new blog posts each Friday. Have fun with your ASL and/or Cued Speech Adventures!