Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Couple of Helpful Ideas for Older Adoptees With Learning Issues

I know there are many who read the blog for whom this will not be a post of interest, but for the very few who need it, I hope this is helpful!!

We have been incredibly blessed to find Kenny in the hands of a super terrific speech therapist this year, who has extensive experience in brain function, early childhood deprivation, and auditory processing disorder.  For the first time, ever really, I feel we have someone working with Kenny who has a deep understanding of what might be going on for him, and what might help.  She has verified, unofficially, that Kenny definitely does have auditory processing issues and is working with us in that area regardless of a diagnosis or not because he so clearly is severely hindered by it.  There are other brain processing issues as well, and she recommended this book to us:

I just received it from Amazon and will be using it to work with Kenny.  She felt this might be very helpful as Kenny's issues mimic mild traumatic brain injury, despite the fact he probably has never had a brain injury. Of course, we don't know that to be true either, but as she explained it this might help in working with the areas of Kenny's brain that are not fully developed due to early lack of stimulation, something many older adoptees from orphanage settings struggle with.  When you read blogs or forum posts written by parents of kids adopted at older ages, it becomes clear that there is a common thread that runs through many of the experiences we have with our children.  Processing and sensory disorders are so common that it is almost a given that a child will have certain issues.  

Another program that she will be using with Kenny once we figure out the logistics of us taking it home with us is something called The Listening Program, found here:  The Listening Program .  It is a program I had looked into last year, which is fairly expensive but is not always effective for everyone. While we thought there was some merit in trying it, we thought we would hold off awhile and see if something else would come along with a more concrete proven success rate before spending the money.  I am super happy we will have the chance to give it a shot and see if it will have any effect on Kenny.  We did discover immediately upon him putting on the headphones in an in office trial that he takes in information much more clearly in his right ear versus his left.  This is important information for me to keep in mind when working with him.

Another program I mentioned in a long ago past was Fast Forward:  Fast ForWord which is to address reading and auditory processing issues.  It is VERY expensive, but has far more data proving it works, sometimes amazingly well. I was surprised when the therapist told me that this was the program she would recommend most for him, because it was evidence based to be effective and she feels Kenny's auditory processing issues could be helped a lot with it.  We are going to look at it carefully based upon her recommendation.

I can't begin to tell you how great it is to talk to someone who understands what our daily life is like with Kenny, who believes us and knows how very hard it is to cope sometimes.  I hadn't even realized how hard the past several years had been until we stumbled upon her and discovered someone who looks at me the minute Kenny does something that is clearly auditory or processing related and says "There it is again."  She was with him 15 kidding...the first session when she knew.  She saw him grabbing for words he can't come up with and replacing them with other descriptive words, she saw his puzzled expressions over phrases he should have easily understood, she heard him repeat information back and have it totally wrong, she saw he can't recall his address or phone number...or have her spell things more than one letter at a time.

We are more hopeful than we have ever been that maybe, just maybe, we will see some real progress for Kenny.  She has given us activities to do with him, which seem simple for most people but are hard for him.  For example, we are taking a deck of cards with all the face cards removed, and having him call out the color as we flash the card.  He is supposed to do all 36 cards in 35 seconds.  Then you add in the number and color in 35 seconds, then suit, number and color in 45 seconds.  Sounds easy?  Well, for the standard brain doing all 3 can be a little difficult until you get into the groove, then you can do it.   For Kenny, he could do colors OK, struggled with colors and numbers together but has gradually gotten faster at it.  Doing all 3?  Nope, we will be working on that along time to get it in the time frame.  More interesting, with even just color, if he gets it wrong his brain hiccups totally, and he can waste 15 seconds trying to "restart" his brain and get it working again. That is where you see the real difference between he and the other kids, he can't get his brain back to processing once he hits a glitch.

She has also instructed us to have him walk in a figure 8 pattern while looking directly at me the entire time, and then doing the same thing with the cards.  He can't do it.  Not at all, not even numbers or colors only.

What has been even more interesting is seeing her as she is getting to know Kenny.  She spent time trying to explain the workings of the inner ear, and  Kenny explained all of it quite clearly before she could get too far into her explanation.  When she drew a diagram about the way sounds are made at the front, middle and back of the throat and how all of our mouth parts work together, he also jumped in with observations that made it clear he knew way more than she thought he would.  After our last session she told me "I can totally see why you are fighting so hard for him.  He is incredibly bright, and has come way further than anyone might ever expect a kid to come with the kinds of big challenges he has.  I have never really seen a student like him before with such intelligence that is clearly there and yet so hard to access or work with."  Kenny and his brain are, indeed, an enigma,but maybe we now have someone working with us who can help him get to the next level.  She made certain we knew you can't really "fix" this, but that we can find coping strategies and make improvement in many areas even if all of it still exists.  The big thing is there is a lot of hope for significant improvement and very real ways we can help Kenny learn to work with all that he does have, and we are very grateful for that.

Now, as an aside, I want to say something here which has nothing to do with the above...and perhaps everything to do with the above.  I have received a couple of judgmental, negative comments lately about things I write on the blog.  Though I don't normally remove such things, thinking that people have the right to their opinion, I have removed these.  I suspect they are from the same person, one who has a problem with the way we parent, and the things I share here.

The anonymity of the internet is a peculiar thing.  It protects us from the reactions of others upon hearing the nasty things we say, it allows us the opportunity to say things we would likely never have the courage to say face to face, and yet find no problem writing on a blog or forum post.  In many ways, it has lead us to an era of unprecedented incivility, and created in us an insensitivity that sometimes blows my mind.  

I was told that I have ongoing insecurity about our kids and their inability to achieve certain things in life, and that I should tell the kids it is OK to "blow their own horns".  What you fail to realize is that maybe...just maybe...there are lots of families out there like ours whose kids deal daily with being years behind their peers, who may never catch up or who fear they won't, kids who do not need the pressure or ideal of success that our society measures everyone by.  Other families need to know that they are not alone in their struggles, and I repeat certain things over and over because I receive anguished email after anguished email sharing that their kids are not "normal" and both parents and children feel awful about themselves because of perceived failings.  They need to know they are not alone, they need to know there is another way of viewing "success"and they can give themselves permission to throw away the old model and create a new one. 

You know why I chose to repeat it?  Because our culture doesn' ridicules them, tells them they are failures, bullies them, chews them up and spits them out.  I want parents of kids like ours to see that A) They can often succeed if kids are given free reign to follow their passion, but it very well may not be in areas that are traditionally rewarded or recognized and B)  You can be intentional about looking for success in other (and in my estimation, more important) areas.  Parents of kids like ours, be they adopted or not, hear negative messages daily about our kids, we hear how our kids are rejected for treatments because of low IQ's, we see the panic in our children's eyes when schools force them up to 7th grade because of rules and regulations despite the fact that they are working in 4th grade grammar and writing books, we see how our kids don't make the school sports teams, or how they can't tolerate normal situations the way "normal" kids sounds that disturb them, like instructions they can't take in, or like logic that doesn't quite kick in.  Daily parents of kids like ours battle for services, boost our kids as best we can, and try to help them feel they are as worthwhile as the next kid even if test scores, writing samples, or athletic prowess don't reflect that to others.  It is not just a one time occurrence, we and our children deal with this every single day of our lives for years and years. 

If I can, by repetition, help even one more parent of a child with challenges let go of societal norms for success and grab hold of the special, wonderful, unique ways in which their kids can excel then it is worth your ridicule and scorn, Miss or Mister Commentor.  You may perceive it as being about insecurity, and you are entitled to do your opinion.  There are others who view it as encouragement and learning to live life from a place of measuring success in very different ways.  

As for telling our kids they should learn to "blow their own horns", well, as I try to respond to that, I simply can't.  You and I are way too far apart in our beliefs to even begin to address it.  Blowing your own horn does not equate to real confidence, in fact usually it is the surest sign of someone who is in need of more self-confidence.  I prefer the quiet sort of confidence I see growing daily in our kids, the kind of confidence that comes from allowing them to test their character muscles in situations like the one Angela handled with courage and grace last week, another area in which I failed miserably according to you, because I allowed our daughter to speak her voice as she had asked me how to handle it on her own rather than have me step in and deal with it myself.

I am sorry that this blog is not to your liking, that you feel there are things wrong enough in our family that you felt the need to voice them unkindly.  I have no idea who you are, if we've ever met in person, or what your life is like.  If you don't care for what you find here, I invite you to close the browser window and elect not to return, just like you'd do if MTV were on and you hated rap music.  If you continue to post rude comments, I will delete them, so please don't waste your time typing if all you have to say is negative things thoughtlessly expressed.  You are indeed entitled to your opinion, just as I am entitled to ignore it.

To the rest of you folks who visit us here online, sorry for the above paragraphs.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

IPad School

This is my iPad.  We have folders organized on each of the iPads with the homeschool apps we use.
This is just one of my folders.

I have had several requests to share what apps we are using for school and for Kenny, so I thought I'd write a quick post and share what e have found thus far.  With over 250,000 apps, it can be a challenge to find appropriate apps that are worthwhile.

There are some huge advantages for a family with multiple kids.  For one thing, you purchase apps one time (if you purchase them at all) and you can load them on every device attached to your account.  In other words, we pay once and it can be put on every other iPad we own.  The truth is though, most of the apps we have are free or are less than $2 each.  There are a couple we bought that were more than that, like Apple's word processing app for the iPad, Pages, but at $10 for all the iPads it is so much less expensive than MS Word that its cost is almost insignificant when compared.  Also, when using the Kindle app for books from Amazon, you can purchase books once and load them on all your devices as well.  So when we are reading a book as a group and I have bought 4 or 5 copies of it for us to read together, that can add up quickly to a huge savings.

We have several organizing apps, which for kids like Kenny are imperative.  He NEEDS the ability to organize all his information in one place, and to develop habits of relying on it because of his huge memory deficits.  We are trying to begin early to establish this routine of looking at his organizers and lists all the time for help.  The other day, I was super pleased to have him pull out his iPad, open his Note app, and ask me to list things in order that he had to do to accomplish a task outside.  We can not pretend he will be able to "fix" the memory issues, so we have moved to "coping mode", and thus far it seems to be helping a lot!  Many, many international adoptees struggle with memory issues, or with organizational/planning/structuring skills.  These apps help them break things down from a whole into its parts.

So  I will list the apps we have discovered below:

1.  Chore Pad - This is the app we are using to organize Kenny's day for him and to remind him of all his daily tasks.  We also use it to track work in each of our subjects.

We have this linked to Google Calendar, so we can retrieve information on our laptops or on our iPads.

2.  PI Pro - This is a personal organizer, calendar and To Do app.  All the kids are using it to keep track of their schedules, store phone numbers, have a check list of things to do, etc.

This is a screen shot of the notebooks organizational structure for Quick Note. Clean and simple to use.

3.  Quick Note - This is a simplified note taker app, which allows the kids to type or handwrite notes and store them in different notebooks within the apps, so they can make a notebook for each subject.

This is a screen shot of "Pages".

4.  Pages - This is a word processing app, simple, easiest thing to use ever, we all like it way more than Word, although it is a little limited versus Word if you're looking for a feature rich word processor.  However, it does have a nice selection of feature for our needs.

5. USA Today - We are using this app each morning to read at current events.  Each of the kids reads it for about 10 minutes, finds a news story to share with our group, then summarizes it while everyone else looks it up on their iPad on an atlas to see where the event occurred.

6.  National Geographic World Atlas - Free app with a totally cool atlas that shows maps in several different modes.

7.  Kindle - We are using this for reading books, some of which are free.  Right now Matt and I are reading Call of the Wild n it, the book was free!  It is WONDERFUL for language learners, because anywhere in your text you can tap on a word, and an instant dictionary definition pops up.  You also can highlight  text or take notes anywhere within the text.

Wikipanion/Wikipedia is like having the entire world of information in your hands.

8.  Wikipanion - This is Wikipedia's app which gives you instant access to the world's best encyclopedia.

9.  Timeline Eons -  This is an amazing timeline app which is interactive.  You just have to see it to believe it.

These are super helpful for breaking down studied material.

10.  Tools 4 Students - This is an app which has dill in the blank worksheets which help the kids, and Kenny in particular, work with literature and concepts.  It has graphic organizers for cause and effect,     Sequencing, making predictions, word definitions, comparing and contrasting, characterization sheets, etc.  The student can fill it out on their iPad for any story, then they can email it directly to me.

11.  ReadNRespond - Another app from the same company, this one provides tons of ideas for responses to reading the kids do in many different categories, which they can type in.  It helps break reading down, makes them analyze it, etc.

12. - The best.  We use it  We look up definitions, we use it for synonyms with the built in thesaurus.  They all keep it next to them with the app open during literature work, and they will look up words they don't know when they would never have broken out a hardbound dictionary to look things up.  "Instant" works, taking 4 or 5 minutes to look up one word doesn't.

13.  Word Dynamo - Provided by, it is a vocabulary building quiz game, and is leveled for elementary, middle school, high school, or college level which means we can work on lower level words and build up to higher level.

14.  Art Authority - I have yet to use this yet, but it provides access to thousands of original pieces of art and is categorized by style, artist, medium, etc. This will come in super handy for our studies later this year when we explore various artists for history.

Here are two screen shots from the Grammar Apps, which appear to be made by the same folks but have different topics.

15.  GCorrectness and FreeGrammar - This app is really helping both Kenny and Matt with grammar, something each struggles with.  Each is similar and between them has over 2000 questions and examples of punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, etc.  For kids with special needs, this provides interesting repetition and example after example so they can "get it".

16.  Punctuate HD - Another app to help work with punctuation.

17.  Idea Sketch - This is an app for Mind Mapping, which helps a student create webs or maps of ideas and turns them into outlines.

A picture is worth a thousand words...this has helped enormously!

18.  Speech Tutor - Wow, this one is AWESOME for speech, and we use it several times a week.  It shows the actual structure of the mouth, lip and tongue placement, etc. for all of the phonemes.  It has been extremely helpful to allow Kenny to actually see inside the mouth to understand where he is making errors in speech...something he could never figure out before.  It records his own voice and then you can compare it to the pre-recorded example.

19.  Lexico Cognition - This is a cognitive development app which we have begun using.  It is one you'll just have to see to understand it, but it works on basic cognitive skills.  I am looking for more apps that will work on cognitive skills.

20.  Word Wizard - This is a speaking phonics program with a movable alphabet.  Kenny can use it to help him sound out words, as it blends sounds for him, and after moving letters in place it will read the word out loud, helping him figure out if he has spelled it right or not.  We use this app a lot with him.

21.  Dragon Dictation - We use this to help develop Kenny's awareness of his own speech.  We will work on specific words with sounds in it that give him trouble, and he will say words that are recorded by the app, then see what it types out.  He has been so surprised to see just how unclear his speech is to other people.  When the app types out something completely different than what he has said, he can better understand why he is asked to repeat himself so often.

22.  Word Seek - A timed Boggle sort of game.

23.  SLP Minimal Pairs - This was just recommended to us by our speech therapist, who will be recommending others which I will share over time as well.  This is for speech as well as auditory processing work.  

24.  Frog Dissection - For Josh.  Of course. :-)

25.  Tangram Free - Helps with spatial relationship and brain development.

26.  Visual Anatomy - Again, for Josh.

27.  Articulation Station - For Kenny for speech, would be even better for younger kids.  Speech tutor works better for his needs as he is old enough and self-aware enough to be able to really work with it.  This app IS good, however.

28.  Wordventure - A sort of "MadLibs" for the iPad.  Helps cement parts of speech.

We are also using Brain Pop which is animated content with tests, Today's Doc which features a different historical document every day, National Geographic Today which is great for geography with beautiful photos in locations you can look up.

We have truthfully barely begun to scratch the surface of what is available.  There are a few other apps for auditory work, some of which are a little expensive, but I will be looking at those soon.  I haven't looked well for cognitive and memory apps yet, as we are working a lot with the ones we currently have and I am taking it one step at a time, making sure we learn how to use the ones we already have before adding more in.  For Kenny, first we needed to establish this as his "go to" tool, which it appears we have finally done...he carries it with him most places.  The other kids quickly adapted to using it with their school work, and have already printed out notes and reports with it, and are using it for immediate results research throughout our day.  I can't begin to tell you just how often they have Googled things we are talking about, even though we have barely had them 2 or 3 weeks.

I also will be attending an iPad Summit in two weeks, which will hopefully provide me with even more information about how to integrate the iPads into our regular days.  This is a free seminar which someone from our homeschool program shared with me, and if you check out the web page at you will find information and links to other sources for using iTouchs and iPads for educational purposes.

You know, we were SO SO SO blessed to have an iPad provided for Kenny a few months ago, and at the time I only had an inkling that it might be a helpful tool for him.  However, I had no real idea exactly what ways we might find to use it with him, I just knew that there was potential there and wanting to leave no stone unturned we wanted to give it a try.  We never could have afforded it on our own, and once we had it in our hands we realized even more just what a powerful thing it would be for him.

Later, when we were again blessed beyond measure to be selected to have loaner pads for the kids, Dominick and I had to sit down and really think it through. Do we want this sort of technology in the hands of our kids at such young ages?  How do we keep from raising kids who are tuned out to the world around them and plugged in to headphones all the time?  What will this look like for us?  Are we opening a Pandora's box of sorts, which once pried open can never be shut again?  I know for many parents these things would never be an issue, for we see tons of kids their ages and far, far younger walking around with cell phones, Facebook accounts, iPads, etc. and yet we were very, very concerned.  We are trying hard to keep human contact at a maximum, and technology in its rightful place.  We don't need our kids so plugged in that we don't connect as a family.  I hate to say it, but we find many teens today completely lacking in the ability to recognize that it is inappropriate and downright rude to text constantly while attempting to have a conversation with someone else, or who "check out" from family life and isolate themselves. We have seen enough kids at restaurants sitting at silent supper tables with headphones in and bored or disdainful looks on their faces at being interrupted because mom or dad wish to have a real conversation with them.  I know not all teens are like that, but we all have seen enough to know this is true.  I don't blame the kids, the fact is that many adults have yet to figure out what are polite boundaries around the use of technology!!

Yet...yet...yet...we grew up on technology, our world today requires intimate and constant use of it on jobs, and a child who is not tech savvy is instantly at a disadvantage, even in middle school.  Public and private schools across the nation are exploring the use of iPads in classrooms to personalize curriculum.  So, we were faced with a we throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, or do we look at ways to use technology effectively and reasonably while safeguarding our kids from the issues we are concerned about?

You know what did it for me?  We had a conversation around the lunch table one afternoon right as we were in the middle of all of this, and all the kids were laughing about how "When mom says no, she MEANS it!"    It was an epiphany for me, and Dominick and I came to the conclusion that we should no more fear this than we do any other school textbook.  We would establish rules, and stick with them,  period, and our kids have already proven to us that they respect our wishes, so why would they be different with this?  As we talked it over, we tried to anticipate future issues even if we are not facing them now or won't for awhile.  We feel that letting everyone know right up front what our expectations are will help to head off issues in the future.   I have had questions about this, too, from people we know, some of them less techie parents themselves who know little about the use of some of these things and who are fearful themselves about what their kids can get into. I was just asked this week by an acquaintance if I weren't afraid that the girls might get involved in a relationship with an older man online, because she didn't understand the ways in which you can limit things. We sat the kids down, and here was the result of our Family Technology Conference. :

1)  We are the bosses over the technology in our home, and will remain so until you are grown.

2)  As such, we will establish all rules surrounding the use of any technology, and you will respect those rules at all times.

3)  No child will own a cell phone until such a time as we feel it is necessary, not desired.  We may eventually purchase a cell phone for group use to be handed out when we are separated from each other for temporary one time use as the occasion arises.  It will be a simple flip phone, and will be handed back to us when the event is over with.  Otherwise, no cell phone until you are regularly alone and away from us, and safety is a concern on an ongoing basis.  And no cell phone until you can afford to purchase it and pay for the monthly service with your own earnings.  This was actually an easy one as the kids all think it is utterly ridiculous for kids to have cell phones and spend that kind of money every month. This was met with comments like "I'd rather save that money every month for a car or college." and "Lots of times kids want cell phones to hide things from their parents, and that isn't good anyway."

4)  You will NOT use any internet device alone in your room. The only exception to this is Matthew using his laptop for his Rosetta Stone German class, which he uses where he can practice alone with the microphone.  If we ever catch anyone using the internet on any device where we can not wander by and see what is on your screen, you lose all privileges for months.  All internet surfing or work will be done in full view of Mom or Dad, or where we can easily see it if we wish to.

5)  You will not delete the history on your browser, and we will always have the right to check your browser at any time. And yes, this applies to any device you may buy yourself, until you are a full adult.

6)  We are going to be very strict with these rules because the internet is like having the entire world in your hands.  We used the analogy that we would never consider dropping the kids off in the middle of Times Square and leaving them alone, so why would we essentially do the exact same thing electronically?  They totally got that, and that image had a great impact on them.  We explained that they simply couldn't know some of the ways they could get into trouble online, and we needed to keep them safe until they were capable of handling things in an adult way when they were older...just like one day they would be safe to wander Times Square when they were older.

7)  No Facebook.  Not now, not for a very long time.  If we decide to allow Facebook at sometime in the distant future, and they are not legal adults, they will only be allowed to participate in that community if under age if we are "Friended".  However, it will be in their late teens before we allow this.  And yea, I know that is odd and many of their friends are already on there and were on there even before the Facebook allowable 13 years old (One of Josh's 9 year old classmates is on it!), but we feel there is time enough eventually for this and there is no need for it right now.  Also, considering I get friend requests from strangers weekly, we don't need the hassle of screening 5 kids' accounts every week.

8)  We don't care if you bought it.  If you break the rules, it becomes ours.  Permanently.  And don't forget what you already know to be true...Mom means it when she says it.  If you want to lose a tech item you worked hard to purchase, then respect the rules or Mom just got a new tech toy.  And yea, I totally mean it.

9)  You must ask to play on anything.  You will not spend all day long or all night long in front of a screen.  Yes, there are times when we will allow you more time to play, but most nights it will be one  to one and a half hours, which counts for TV, computer, iPad or whatever, and will only be used later in the evening or if we are not talking or playing together as a family.  We watch no TV at all during the day unless for school purposes, and it doesn't go on until mid-evening except for weekends when we allow a little more time.

10)  Group games using technology are encouraged, but not online ones with strangers.  We have discovered that many of our board games are available as apps to play together!  NO MORE LOST PIECES!!!!  Hurray!  If there is conversation, laughter and fun being had together, then we are all for it. Many folks don't understand that whether it be a cardboard game board or a screen in front of your family members, there are still wonderful ways to share time together and we don't want to disregard the possibilities of shared game time just because it is on a screen.  I mean, when you can download apps for group play for Monopoly, Scrabble, Blokus, Uno or other great games...go for it and laugh up a storm!  It's just as interactive, and less expensive than the board games or replacing parts! Haha!

11)  No email until we determine there is a need.  However, I have established email addresses through Google so that each child has their own ability to save their most used educational web sites on Chrome, can set up their own calendar in the "cloud", etc.  However, they do not really understand how all that works or that they actually have Gmail addresses, it is more on my end for setting up customization and "cloud" back up/access of data for them.  Any email needs for the foreseeable future come through Mom's email address, and will be screened.  You are free to send email to friends (mostly adult friends) through Mom's email address, but be aware that I have access to reading anything you send or receive at my address. If you don't want Mom to see it, you shouldn't be sending it.

12)  No technology EVER EVER EVER used when having a conversation with someone. It is rude, inconsiderate, and we want you to grow up having well honed social skills.  Never text while talking to someone (of course, a moot point right now but trying to establish rules early), turn your phone off or ignore incoming calls when in conversation with others or at events, and never allow yourself to miss out on real human contact because you are involved in a "virtual" world.

13)  Use it all like the tool it is, powerful, amazing, and it puts the world in the palm of your hand! Explore, create, read, and learn with it.  Turn to it for your research needs, ask questions and seek out answers, and use it as your dictionary, encyclopedia, library, shopping mall, trip planner, scheduler, master list maker, music machine, media player.  Just don't forget about the real world!

Seems lengthy, I know, but the kids even helped us come up with guidelines, because they have seen how kids their age "check out", and we are all aware of how easy that could happen if we are not aware and intentional about using it.  Also, we know that if we start now in establishing expectations, it will be perfectly clear and we will all know what our family goals are for such things.

I hope this super long post helps those of you who have been contacting me asking for info. I will continue to share the names of apps as we stumble upon them, which I am sure will be often.  I will also share what I learn at the seminar, if there is something new there.  This has been a huge learning curve for me and I wanted to get up to speed quickly, so I have spent hours and hours researching iPads and education. Funny thing is though, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know and want to know!!  I can't imagine what this all will be like in another 2 or 3 years, as even then there will be new ways technology is being used that will blow our minds, I am sure.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall is Time for ...

Fall is time for...Raking leaves, the crisp crackling and crunching underfoot, the brilliant gold and red hues that make you realize there isn't a single crayon in an entire mega box of Crayolas that can ever come close.

Fall is time for...snuggly cable knit sweaters, the Land's End catalog, LL Bean waiting for you in your mail box.

Fall is time for winterizing and mulching, putting final touches on summer projects left undone.  Vegetable gardens are harvested and turned over, perhaps covered in a blanket of straw, awaiting the hush that will fall over the land when the snow arrives.

Fall is time for large, bright orange pumpkins, scraggly scarecrows, and winding corn mazes.

Fall is time for hot chocolate, first fires in wood burning stoves, and slowing down for time with friends.

Fall is time for gratitude, for reflection, for wonder and peace.

Gratitude for the cornucopia of blessings in our lives, gratitude for food on the table and a warm bed at night, gratitude for those who surround us with love, gratitude...surprisingly...for the things we have wished for that never materialized.

The first day of fall this year was spent on narrow mountain passes, catching eye popping views of marvelous Colorado fall colors.  The conversation was comforting, and the world could not have been a more beautiful place for just that few hours.  A short hike alongside a lazy creek, soon to be frozen silent as it sleeps for the winter.  A rickety foot bridge causing giggles from a couple of women who were feeling freed from care, if only for a brief afternoon respite.

Fall is time for love, for mellowing, and in today's world it is for preparing hearts for the terrible onslaught of commercialism that still catches us off guard every year with twinkling lights and promises of complete joy attained by receiving the "perfect" gift...and the guilt for never quite being able to meet that unexpressed expectation.

May this fall bring hearts that are warmed with all the things God intends to be "the good things" in life.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Two blog posts in one day, might just be a record for me!  However, I just couldn't let this go by without recording it here.

As I have previously written about, the kids are playing volleyball this year in a homeschool league.  We were so happy with the coaching and emphasis on character last year that we were quite excited to start again this year, especially with Matthew and Olesya joining Angela and Kenny in the league.  Matt, Olesya and Kenny are all on one team, and Angela moved up to the next team.  That's what you get for having 4 kids a year and four months apart in age :-)   That can be a curse or a blessing, depending upon what side of the net you are on...hahaha!  A blessing for us because it means there is not yet another game and set of practices to accommodate, a curse because loading a team with LaJoy's does not necessarily mean you will have a very competitive team.

Truth is, at this stage, Team LaJoy needs a loooot of work in the lower ranks.  We all joke about it, and after only 2 games Matthew is serving quite well, as is Olesya, and when Olesya gets a little more control over the direction of the ball she will be quite good.  Kenny, who really will likely be the world's best cheerleader is also showing significant improvement...we all (him included) consider it a huge success that he doesn't squeal and turn away from the ball anymore, and tonight he even got it over the net a couple of times.  But to give you a true idea of the real competitive nature of the LaJoy offspring, when I was trying to get them into the spirit in the car before the game, I said "So, whose going to WIN tonight?? Are you going to DO IT?" and it was so hilarious when the response from all of the kids wearing uniforms grinning at me in the rear view mirror was a less-than-hearty "Maybe" and "I don't know".  We all got the joke and laughed so hard over it, saying their coaches probably wouldn't appreciate that lukewarm confidence.

Angela, who was initially a super competitive kid coming into our family, has changed dramatically over the past two years.  I have no problem with having a healthy spirit of competition, and quite honestly I was pretty darned competitive in my younger years, especially with my brother who was an amazing athlete at every sport he ever tried.  Angela commented upon her change of heart herself recently, saying out of the blue, "You know, Mom, I used to care so much about winning because that was all there was for me in Kazakhstan.  If you were good at sports, you might get lucky and move to Taraz and play there as an adult...and you wouldn't have to live on the streets.  So it was really important to me.  I don't know why, but since coming to America, I don't care about winning much at all.  In fact, it all seems kind of silly to get so upset over a kid's game."  I asked her what she thought the reason might be, why she had a change of heart.  She thought about it a moment and then said, "I think because now I see there are so many things to learn, and so many things I can be when I grow up.  It's like now I can explore things and be something besides a sports girl when I am an adult."

Sometimes I forget that adoption does changes futures, it changes trajectory, it changes simply everything.

So there is a situation on Angela's team that she brought to my attention, where a young man is not getting any playing time.  I mean literally not ANY playing time.  He has a sister on the team who has been on the court a little more but not as much as would be fair, but he has played almost zero, even after traveling out of town for a game.  After the second game when this happened, Angela asked me what I thought was going on.  I told her that maybe something was going on behind the scenes that we were not aware of, that perhaps he was being disciplined and made to suit up for games and cheer on his team but not allowed to play.

After a conversation this week with his mom, it became clear that was not the case, and feelings are being deeply hurt.

I shared this with Angela, so that she would understand.  Turns out she is also this young man's "Secret Encourager", a tradition they have on their team of assigning a secret friend who brings a little surprise treat or card or something to each game, and encourages one another.  We talked a lot about how this was affecting him, and Angela was growing more upset by the minute at the unfairness of it.  We talked about ways she could help him feel supported, and actions she could take if she ever felt she wanted to.  There is something quite special about Angela's sense of justice, and I truly see in her someone who will one day act on it in profound ways.

One day came tonight.

Angela is one of two players who never sit out.  Almost never.  One is the coach's child, the other is Angela.  I think she sat out one game for two serves, but otherwise has always played.  Tonight was a tough set of three games, and the competition was fierce.  One game passed, and our little friend had not played at all.  It was so heartbreaking to watch from the sidelines, his eagerness and how he jumped up each time a substitute was put in only to learn it was not him.  The second game started, and still he didn't get put in.  There was a time out, and the team was directly in front of where we were sitting.  I see Angela trying to get her coach's attention as she was blushing and having a hard time saying what she wanted to say.  Then I hear her, "I would like to sit out so others can have a chance to play."  Her coach looked at her in surprise, and might not have caught it as Angela had to repeat herself and she pointed at the young man, and later I learned the coach said "That's nothing for you to worry about."  Eventually, she did pull Angela for 2 plays and put him in, only to immediately pull him out again.

I'll tell you something,  Angela is a good player, actually, she is very good.  While I enjoy watching her play, I don't really take pride in it, because I don't see being blessed with athletic genes as something to be proud of really, it is sheer luck.  It is fun to watch her, but for our family athletics is about getting exercise, learning some new skills, and having fun.  It is not about being the best, winning all the time, or coming out on top.

What am I proud of?  The character and courage she showed tonight, now that's something to be proud of, in my book.  I heard her shaky voice as she gathered the courage to point out a wrong she saw in the world, I saw her willingness to put her own playing time aside to allow time for someone else to shine.   I know that young man went home sad, but feeling supported by at least one team mate.  She made a difference.

We have five very different children.  I know that for many parents, it is extremely important to have "bragging rights" about their children's accomplishments.  They and  their children want them to be the captain of the football team, they want to have the 4.0 GPA, they want  to be the math whiz, the basketball star, the chess champion.  I already know we are totally weird as a family, but what I love most (OK, it is super hard to say "most" about anything with the kids 'cuz I love 'em SO much!) is that not a single one of them has to be a star, they have absolutely no need to be in the spotlight, they don't shove themselves to the forefront.

Matt received another rank advancement last night at Civil Air Patrol.  In all seriousness, this kid really has something to brag about, he has moved up in rank with lightning speed and it is a considerable amount of work for each advancement.  A year and two months in, and he has 6 rank advancements altogether, each requiring testing in three different areas.  We wouldn't have even known he was receiving his advancement if we hadn't asked.  He just quietly got pinned, and didn't even show it off in the car after we picked him up.  Angela could easily be a bit of a show off in sports, for she excels easily there.  She has no desire to even appear better than anyone else, instead she offers cheers every single time for her other team mates, even if they make a mistake she is there supporting them.  Joshie is 9 years old and is working on his black belt this year.  Unless the conversation comes up and someone asks, he never, ever mentions it.  Kenny and Olesya each have their own ways of shining as liturgist, cake decorator, animal lover, etc.

Angela's behavior tonight, her righteous anger at that is something to be proud of.  That reveals the true character within, when someone is willing to do without so another can have a chance. She may suffer for it, despite how kindly she put it.  She may find herself playing less in the future, or on someone's "uncooperative" list.

One day, she just might take bigger risks.

One day, she just might stand up for the abused or oppressed.

One day, she just might rise up and surprise us all.

As we told her tonight as we hugged her close, we couldn't be prouder of her.  She loves Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.  Just this week she asked mt to ask our Pastor for names of more "Jesus-like" people that are alive today so she could learn more about them.  We told her that tonight was a huge first step for her, that Martin Luther King himself started at some point when he was young, seeing injustice and feeling a need to right the wrongs he saw.

Sounds like lofty conversation, doesn't it?

Probably, but somehow it seemed a heck of a lot more important that talking about how she could improve her play at the net.

Besides, we're wouldn't really expect anything "normal" out of us, would you?

Catch All Blog Post

As the kids are doing their schoolwork, I too have catch up work to do today!  Blogging is lagging lately, because we have been so busy I haven't had time or mental space for it.  Between digging into schoolwork with gusto, working outside to get the house in better shape for the coming winter, and church stuff, I am going too many directions!  This will be a sort of catch all blog post.

We finally finished the house, including the little things associated with completing the painting.  Dominick operated the airless while the kids with some help from me did every single thing else.  They  masked and prepped, they cut in, they painted up on the roof areas, they took things like butterflies off and put them back on.  They have spent the past 4 weekends doing nothing but working HARD around the house, and I am stating it boldly that we are super proud of them.  Here are the results:

Much cheerier looking!

Getting rid of the dead or dying shrubs along the driveway made a BIG difference in helping the ol' homestead look much neater.   We had hoped to save them, but alas, it was not to be.

Even close up, you can see they did a super nice job!

Back view.

OK, so there were definitely a couple of "Ooops's".  I am so, so thankful that through the years I have learned to zip my lip and show gratitude despite the mess.  Our kids have developed such a great work ethic, and I have to hope that it has been in part because A)  We didn't expect "perfect" and push them aside to do it "right" and B)  Because we applaud their every success, and then work together to fix whatever didn't go quite as planned.  Then there is C)  We work alongside them, we sing, we laugh, we sweat and groan about how awful a job sometimes is.  But we do it together.  A little spilled paint is not even worth considering even slightly important when I think about the tens of hours of very hard work these kids put in the past few weekends.  

Even better?  Today when I told them that Dominick and I were going to take them out for dinner tonight after volleyball, I got serious incredulous looks from all of them, and I heard not one, not two but all five saying collectively, "Why?  We live here too!  It's our house too and we need to take care of it, not just you guys."  I  just told them that we thought we ALL needed a reward, so watch out Denny's, here we come! Hahaha!  OK, maybe for some that isn't such a great reward, but for us it is a nice night out for a treat.

School is moving along so well!  Since July we have put in about 275 hours of our required 320 for the semester, so I think we have done an outstanding job!!  We are blessed...and I do mean have a retired teacher friend volunteer to work with the kids 2 mornings a week.  She is one of those special once-in-a-lifetime teachers every kid hopefully has the chance to have at least once in their school careers.  Miss Mary has been a longtime family friend and staunch supporter of our kids.  She spent every Thursday evening this summer downtown picking up trash with them to help them earn money for camp.  We love Miss Mary, and she will add so much to our homeschooling!  Not only will the kids benefit from learning from her, but it is providing me some much needed time alone working with Matthew, who often gets the short end of the Mom Stick.  While Miss Mary works with the other kids reading Amos Fortune, Free Man, I will be reading Call of the Wild and eventually Last of the Mohicans with Matthew, then all the kids will be doing various book studies on the books read.  To prep the kids for Amos Fortune, which is the story about a young African boy stolen from his family and taken as a slave to America, Miss Mary brought items from her own African journeys to share:

Miss Mary knows how to bring learning to life!

The real deal...items direct from Zambia.

Even Sunny had to get in on the musical fun!

Olesya loved this little instrument.

Joshua...the Little Drummer Boy

After an extremely frustrating and exhausting IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for Kenny (For special ed), which had me walking out shaking my head in aggravation, it seems someone somewhere finally heard us.  You might wonder what I am striving for with these meetings.  Well, you all know the very well documented and over-tested challenges we have discovered with Kenny.  Our problem is that his IEP covers speech only.  Yea, you read that right...the kid with huge issues is only being offered services for speech despite the loads of documentation I have offered, the outside testing that has been done that verifies every.single.thing. we have pointed out until we are blue in the face, and still they have not wanted to put it as part of his IEP plan. We have been very lucky that our homeschool program staff is so supportive in trying to get us the help we need.  During the meeting, our program staff was awesome and also backed me up, saying, "Well just how many times does this poor mom have to document her concerns?  We think she has gone above and beyond, and the District needs to do something." when the District personnel asked for more testing.  In particular, I was so disturbed by the attitude of the one person in the room who is the only one we have to work with week after week, and she came off as extremely condescending (not just my opinion, the others in the room felt the same way) and I was very, very leery about our first speech appointment last Friday.

God must have heard my prayers, because from the moment we entered the room last Friday, there was a COMPLETE turnaround in her attitude.  She admitted directly to me that she had failed to read any of Kenny's file before going to the IEP meeting because she hadn't had time (It had gotten to he very late), and she very sincerely apologized for her wording on various things at that meeting.  We sat down, and within 10 minutes of working with him, she turned to me and asked, "Why in the world hasn't anyone tested this child for auditory processing disorder?  It is so obvious something is wrong here I just can't believe no one has done anything about it."  She then said, "You are 100% right...he definitely has APD issues."

What came next was only a gift God could have given when she said to me, "Luckily, I am one of the few speech therapists also trained in auditory issues, so to me it is an easy thing to spot.  For those without training, it is not, so I'll excuse them for that.  But what you put in your letters of documentation was enough to signal huge red flags for me.  Now, it takes only a few minutes to see him replicating everything you said."  She told me that independent of speech therapy, whether it was approved or not, she would work with him a good deal of the time on auditory and other processing therapies.  She also said she was going to have a talk with her boss, the very person who was so awful to me on the phone last year insinuating I was a Mom Nut Case, and tell her that she was wrong, that Kenny NEEDS to be tested to be worked with effectively because she needs more information.  She did say that still may not happen since it is all about money and they do have a legal "out" for it, but that she would push for it, AND, most importantly put the first note on his IEP.

Today, we went and I was even more heartened when she had 4 different activities we are to work on at home, each one very clearly targeting the very issues we are struggling with every single day.  We may have just hit the jackpot and found someone who not only hears us, but has a plan how to help us.  I am SO impressed with her responsiveness, and her understanding of the exact problems we are facing. She gave me a hug when we left and said "I know that this has to have been incredibly frustrating for you.  It sounds as if you have fought for years for Kenny.  Thank goodness he has a mom like you, because most moms are too intimidated to go up against the system, or they just give up.  He needs you! And I promise you, I DO understand what is going on with him, and though we won't be able to fix it all, he will show improvement if you continue to work as hard at the things I give you to work on as you have everything else."

Validation is enormous.  More important is the concrete assistance we may have here.  She will likely be Kenny's therapist for the next three years, and I am actually excited to see what Kenny will be like at  the end of that time if she can remain on board and continue to work with him and guide me.

The iPads are huge.  I mean, huge.  For an English as a Second Language child, or for a child with special needs, I can not tell you what a wonderful and helpful tool it is.  We are already using them in all kinds of ways, but let me give you an idea of what we did just today with them...they CAN be toys, but in the hands of the right teachers they can be enriching tools like none other!  Today we:

1)  Used both Google Earth and National Geographic Atlas maps to look up countries in Africa.  We saw the Slave Coast (did you know it is actually labelled that way on older maps?), as well as Zambia, Gambia (Where Kunta Kinte was from in Roots), and Ghana where our story character is.

2)  We used our personal planners to schedule in volleyball games and practices, as well as other events so everyone remembers what we have to do.  Kenny REALLY needs this.

3)  We kept electronic notes of every vocabulary word that was not known while working with Miss Mary, and will create a long vocabulary list of definitions at the end of each chapter.  These will be stored in an ongoing fashion in a notebook app, as well as assignments.  Each of the words is instantly accessed using the app along with the connected thesaurus app...which really helps the girls figure out what a word means if they find they are still struggling with the dictionary definition.

4)  While the other kids were reading with Miss Mary, Matthew and I downloaded our FREE copy of Call of the Wild using our Kindle apps on the iPads, then we started reading it.  We came across several new words even to me (ferine and brumal) and with a touch of our finger, an instant dictionary definition popped up.  We highlighted the words to create our own list for later use.

5)  We looked up a news story on USA Today.

6)  Joshua videotaped Miss Mary playing the clay pottery mouth whistle to look at and listen too later.  He took photos of the drum to use in a report later on.

7)  I took speech notes and was instructed on a new app to look at for use with Kenny.

8)  Olesya began looking up the Quakers for a report for Miss Mary that ties in with our book.

9)  They all are logging their hours on their Chore Pad app, which allows me to then quickly look at what work they have accomplished this week and then put it in the official school log.

10)  We had a quick lesson on how to use their note taking app, learning the ins and outs of it.  We will be taking one app per day and learning how to use it, then planning how to integrate it into our learning.  What is stunning is how the kids have so quickly taken to using it, seeing easily how they can put them to good use without me suggesting it.  Also, because of its perfect size, it is NOT like having a bulky laptop that takes up a lot of "real estate" on the study area.  The iPad is like having a magazine or notebook paper on your work space, nothing more awkward than that.  Because of the sheer ease of use, the kids are using them constantly.  Angela just handed me a news article about the election and women voters that she found which had a FAR higher reading level than she can normally handle, but she was able to get the gist of it and told me "You need to read this, Mom, it is SO interesting!" so it might encourage stretching our abilities even more.

And that is how we have used them only in 6 hours of school for one day.

Can you imagine what the real use will be as time goes on?  This is one of the most exciting things I have witnessed in a very long time.

So there you have it, our "Catch All" post.  I need to run as their math time is up and I need to get some social studies in before we head off to volleyball games.  Bye All!

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Am Tired

We are all tired tonight because we spent the weekend working together to paint the entire exterior of our house, including our detached garage and an old shed out back.  It took all 7 of us 2 1/2 full days from start to finish, but it looks beautiful.  I didn't get photos of it yet, but will tomorrow.  It doesn't look much different, just a brighter, fresher shade of yellow.  But I loved it when Josh and I ran to the store and he turned and looked back over his shoulder at the completed front part of the house, got a big  smile on his face and said, "Now our house looks as happy on the outside as it is on the inside!"

To me, nothing sweeter could have been uttered by a child of mine...that their house is happy inside and out.

Daily we see the boys taking large steps toward manhood, but we really saw it this weekend.  I realized as I watched Matthew up on the roof painting a difficult to access spot that I now had no qualms about him being up high working, and that he is projecting a kind of quiet, self confidence these days that is causing me to view him as more man than boy.  He is so capable that at times Dominick and I are forgetting he is only 13 years old.

Kenny is showing some real growth as well, as for the first time he approached me with iPad in hand and asked, "OK, Mom, can you tell me exactly what I need to do and in what order?  I know I won't remember it  all day, so I thought I would make a note on my iPad and if I get distracted or lost I will come back to it and remind myself."  We went on to make a short list of items, and then he proceeded to get right to work and stayed on task really well.  He and Matthew also worked really, really well together as a team.

Josh primed and painted a good portion of the shed all by himself, sticking with it for 2+ hours at a time working away from the rest of us before taking breaks.  He is at the stage where he can do many things on his own, but not quite as much as he wishes he could do.  9 years old is still quite young, and yet as with Matthew, we sometimes forget.  Josh is very conscientious and diligent in his work...and then goes off to play imaginary super heroes.  Just as he is with his school work though, he is a man on a mission and will complete his task, no matter how challenging!

Angela and Olesya took turns being sick this weekend, with Olesya ending up in bed all day Sunday with a fever and cold.  Angela was on the downhill side of it but still feeling lousy.  However, when we told her to stay inside and just lay around resting, she flat out refused, saying, "I am fine, I don't want it to take longer for all of you guys." and she spent most of the weekend up on a ladder cutting in around the roof.

It was very interesting to watch the kids and how their skills have grown since last year, when we did the rental house.  While Dominick used the airless sprayer, the kids did virtually everything else...masking things off, painting all trim, cutting in everywhere, removing items to get the house ready and prepped.  And they did the job quite well!!  Oh, sure, there is a lot of paint spilled on the concrete (with the biggest blob left by Dominick late this afternoon! Hahah!) because we didn't have any drop clothes and most of the house is surrounded by gravel.  But I'd rather have uncomplaining, hard working kids and NOT undercut their enthusiasm or gripe and complain as they are learning than to have unsplattered concrete.  One is worth far more than the other.

The hard work is over with for the fall...the dead shrubs are pulled and 1 1/2 tons of gravel has been moved.  The exterior is painted, the garage WAS clean before painting and another hour will have it back cleaned as much as it will be.  The closets are emptied, the garden is cleared.  All is good...

Now if my mind could be as cleared as our container garden now is.

I have a lot weighing on my heart these days, things I need God to speak to me about.  The kinds of things that I can't just cover over with a coat of happy yellow paint, but that need to be scraped and primed first.  The scraping is just beginning, I fear, and I might not like what I find below the flaking paint.

The good thing is that with God, all things are like new.  We become whole after being broken, as long as we remain open.  Right now, I am finding that a real challenge.  We all go through phases like this, where we question and doubt, where we ask ourselves what we are really doing in the world and why we are doing it.  Many times we discover we are on the wrong path, and we need to reverse and take the other fork on the road.  Sometimes we decide to keep going to see where it leads us, hoping we have made a wise decision.  And every once in awhile, we just stop and do nothing until we get our bearings once again.

Then again, sometimes we get hit by a big ol' Kenworth as we are sitting idly by.

There is so much to be thankful for in my life, so many wonderful, wonderful things.  Having a daughter who just this evening came to me and asked "Mom, are there any other people alive right now sort of like Jesus in the world?  Ones who teach us new and important things like Martin Luther King did, or like Mother Theresa did?"  With those words, Angela touched my soul, for she is reaching for Big Ideas, and that makes a mom's heart sing.

There is my faithful, devoted, handsome and utterly reliable husband sleeping beside me, after having been on his feet since 4:00 AM and what does he do?  Tonight he rubs MY aching heels.  There is Olesya who finishes cleaning the garage so I can go to Walmart to fill the empty cupboards and not have to get home at 10:00 PM.  There is my beautiful quilted wall hanging staring back at me, speaking to me on a spiritual level of all the twists and turns my own life has taken, and might be taking again.  Lovely denimy blues and happy yellows, as if I had custom ordered it myself.

Life is complicated, difficult and rewarding.  Sometimes though, we focus on the difficult and complicated, and rewarding seems non-existent or so far off in the horizon that it is virtually unattainable.  I am training myself at those times to drop my eyes right to the ground before me, to stop and see what is immediately in my proximity that offers comfort and solace.

And it is good.  The rest, well, life will be what it will be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Day for Kenny and Deep Conversations

Today was a big day for Kenny...he finally got his braces off!  Well, at least for now.  He has had them for about 4 years now, I think, and they have done all they can with the top teeth for the time being.  The orthodontist explained to us that: A)  He has a very rotten tooth in front that is blackened and has a huge visible hole in it but we need to keep it if at all possible because its root is at the site of the bone graft and they don't want to keep it there as long as possible. B)  He has an impacted tooth that will have to come out, or will be used to replace a smaller tooth that the dentist might decide to pull.  C)  He will definitely have to have surgery eventually on his lower jaw during which they will break it, remove some bone to shrink its length, and then hold it together with metal plates.  His upper and lower jaws are not aligned properly, which I have been told occurs in 25% of cleft kids, and if we don't attend to this, eventually he may suffer from Temporomandibular Joint Disorder.  However, this can't be done until he reaches full facial maturity which will likely be a couple more years, at the very least.  Until then he will be wearing a retainer 15+ hours a day.  Then, after surgery, he will go back into braces for Phase II.  As the orthodontist explained all of this today I laughed, saying, "Maybe by the time all of this is done we might have it half paid for!"  Total orthodontia cost, for those reading with younger cleft kids and wondering, will be in the neighborhood of $10,000 when all is done.

Tomorrow we have our annual IEP meeting for special education services at the school, and I was reflecting today as I gathered reports to take with us.  It has been such a long road these past five years with Kenny, and yet we have come SO SO far!  As I prepare for the meeting tomorrow I realized that for the first time, I don't have a growing sense of panic about Kenny's future.  That is not to say that all is "fixed", but we have made incredible progress this past year.

Medication for ADD has had a profound impact on Kenny, and has helped him mature in a general way, as well as be able to be far more present.  He still struggles at times with being unable to attend to what is going on around him, but it is NOTHING like it was a year ago.  I am so glad that we tried it on a whim, more to eliminate it as a possibility than anything...and yet it turned out to be a very strong help for him.  Funny, but even with all of Kenny's memory issues, taking his medication is the one thing he remembers to do for certain every single morning.  He said that he remembers because it helps so much, and he is becoming more self-aware so if he feels he is a little "out of whack", he is reminded by that alone to take his pill.  It is something that everyone on the family clearly sees results from, and is well worth the cost.

The Wilson Reading System we have been using for a couple of months has really started to kick in, and we are seeing concrete results unlike anything else we have tried before!!!  If anyone has a struggling reader that is beyond the normal "having a bit of a hard time", I couldn't recommend anything more highly.  It is an arduous, not all that exciting program, but it WORKS.  It also is fairly complex to work with at first, but once you get the hang of it you find it isn't all that hard.  Kenny is finally beginning to apply what he is learning with the System to his free reading, and has broke habits like word guessing, adding in words or leaving words out, etc.  He also is gradually growing more firm with the actual phonics of the letters he really struggles with.  We have a long way to go in that area, I fear, for there are several digraphs and individual sounds that are not sticking, but we do see it is slowly improving.  We expect the program to take us 3 years to complete it, but I think...dare I say it...he will be a fully competent, and perhaps very good reader by then.  It is seriously like magic, but it takes a lot of time and dedication to use this program so it is not for someone who is unwilling to make the commitment to put in the time 3-4 times a week for an hour or more.

Then there is the iPad.  Wow.  I can't even begin to share all the ways in which it has been helpful.  Having only one app on have been enough to make a significant difference for him.  But having the speech apps, the phonics apps, the Chore Pad, and many others we are just beginning to explore is proving to be invaluable.  We are so grateful for the help we received in obtaining one for Kenny.  It may be the single most important long term tool he will ever have.

Kenny and I had a long conversation in the car today, and he told me "Mom, I think I am finally able to see areal future for me.  I don't feel like everything is impossible anymore, and I know that between the two of us I will be able to do just about anything I ever want to do.  It is such a good feeling!  But I know we can't stop now, and that you will have to push me all the way through high school and maybe college if I go to seminary or something."

I told him, "Yea Kenny, I think we have our footing now, and I feel the same way.  You are always going to have deficits, and there will be things that will continue to be hard for you.  But if we keep working as hard as we are now, by the end of high school you will be surprised how far you will have come."

He looked over at me and said, "It's all because of you.  If you hadn't been so sure I was smart, and willing to do so much, I'd never be doing any of the things I can do today even.  Sometimes I feel so lucky to have been adopted by you and Dad.  If I had been adopted into another family, those parents might not have thought I was smart, or even if they did see that I was smart they might not have known what to do. Or maybe they even would have just not wanted to work as hard as you have had to work with me.  We are all really, really lucky."

So are we, Kenny, and I think it every single day of my life.

At tomorrow's meeting I will be able to share our successes.  I will, for the first time, be able to say "We know a lot of what is wrong, and we have found ways to work with it."  Speech is another story, and we have huge mountains to climb, mountains we are standing at the foot of and haven't really even begun to start hiking up.  But one thing at a time, we are checking items off our list:  Attention - Check, Auditory Processing - OK...maybe partial check, Reading - Working on a Check, Spelling - Starting the Check and admitting that may never fully fall into place, Self Esteem - Definite Check, Maturity - partial Check, Surgery - Several Checks with a Few More Waiting.

Becoming Whole - Absolute Check

Interestingly,  Joshie and Angela were in the car alone with me later today, and out of the blue Josh looks up at me and asks, "Mommy, is Kenny disabled?  Is he what they call disabled?"  I don't know what prompted that, and I asked Josh why he was asking.

He said quietly, "Because I don't want him to be."

I sat there for a moment, trying to think of what my response should be.  Finally, I said, "Many people would call Kenny disabled because he does have a lot of things that are hard for him.  He has things wrong with his brain that we will never be able to fix.  But I guess I don't think of Kenny as disabled at all, I just see him as 'Kenny'...who is funny, very deep thinking, and a super sweet son.  Do you think of him as disabled?"

Josh said, "Is it wrong if I say yes, sometimes I do think so?  Like when he can't remember things or he says or does things that don't make any sense.  That doesn't mean I don't love him, but I guess I just worry about his life when he gets older, because so many things are really hard for him."

"I think you are being reasonable, and yet Kenny's problems are not all of who he is.  As long as we all remember that and keep expecting the most out of Kenny, then he will accomplish a lot more than if we don't expect it." I responded.

Angela piped up for the first time saying, "At least he has a family.  Mom, if he were still in the orphanage in Kyrgyzstan, he'd only have a couple years before he was kicked out, and because he grew up there he wouldn't know ANYTHING.  I think he would die, because he would not be able to take care of himself at all...he wouldn't be able to read or write, his mouth would be all messed up.  Of all of us kids, I think Kenny needed our family the most.  And Josh, even if he does grow up and still have problems, he always has us and we'll help him!"  And Josh sagely nodded his head, but then added, "But you're wrong, Angela.  I think I needed our family most.  I think I might have hurt other people because I was so mad all the time.  At least Kenny wouldn't have hurt other people." did a drive from volleyball end up in such a deep conversation?  I don't know why, but it always seems to happen.  I may never really understand what prompts such dialogues, but I can't help but think that it is healthy.

So much healing has occurred throughout our family.  So much yet to happen.  All in all though, it is one  amazing journey even if it isn't easy.