I just finished a long email to Kenny's teachers back home. The longer we are working with him here, the more apparent it is that he is challenged by more than English as a Second Language issues. I am going to begin searching quite seriously for answers, as we need to get to the bottom of this so we can begin to come up with solutions. In an effort to see if anyone reading this blog has experienced these sorts of issues with their children adopted as older post-institutionalized kids I am going to quote a large portion of my email to the teachers involved. I know there are many processing issues that older kids often face due to the deprivation of their early life but I am in not very knowledgeable about them and am hoping someone out there might be able to steer us in the right direction or see something familiar in Kenny's issues that might ring a bell with you. Here is some of what I wrote:
What we are seeing is hard to describe, but it is as if he can not internalize information and recall it later. Sometimes he seems unable to apply learned information to newly presented material...he can't "connect the dots" and take what he has learned in one place and apply it to build on in another. This does NOT happen all the time, and sometimes it is disconcerting to see it happen here and there and see no pattern to it. But the biggest and most concerning issue is his recall.
Let me give you an example, and this is what I have been saying for a year and a half now. Last night we were reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Farmer Boy". It contains a large amount of new vocabulary for both he and the other boys. Because of this I stop frequently and ask if they know a word I assume is new, then I define it for them and try and use it in another context as well, making sure they all understand the word. We had two words last night..."preserves" and "stock" (as in livestock) that came up. I stopped, asked what they meant and Kenny and Josh didn't know what they were so I defined it well. 5 minutes later I am come across one of the words again in a sentence and turn to ask Kenny to explain to me what it means and he is clueless what it means...as if he never heard it. He can't pull it out of his head.
Guys, I returned to those same two words 5 times each over the course of an hour...he was listening attentively as you know he always loves being read to...they were used in context, they were each explained very clearly 5 times each AND he could explain it in his own words each time...no kidding and no exaggerating...and the 5th time he still couldn't pull it out of his brain...all in 1 hour. It wasn't as if there was a break and we returned to it the next day and he forgot...a couple of times I used it within 5 minutes of the last time and he couldn't recall it...a total blank. This is what we have continued to see for a long time at home...this is not an ELL kid who needs to hear a word many times to retain it when it is used in conversation or reading over the course of a few weeks, this is a child who can not recall 10 minutes later a word that he understood when initially explained and it was well defined for him AND he could explain its definition in his own words. And 20 minutes later we hit the word again and it is like a totally new word, as if he never heard it.
Another thing in terms of "connecting the dots"...I explained what the word "preserve" means, not just that "preserves" are jams, jellies, vegetables, etc. that are canned but that preserve means to put aside or save something. We talked about it from all directions, but 10 minutes later he could not connect that preserving...the definition of saving something...had been turned into a noun and "preserves" were canned items saved for eating later. No connection for him at all, he can't seem to tie learned information together the way other kids can and this hinders him from using learning as building blocks to deeper understanding.
With reading this is slowing him down a lot...he can be told 10 times...literally...what a word is when it appears in a book and the next time he comes across it, it is as if it is a totally new word for him, even if he read it 5 times on the previous 2 pages...he has to stop and sound it out, and even then he stumbles in blending it together even though he has seen the word and been helped to sound it out correctly 5 previous times in the past 10 minutes. It isn't "clicking". I have seen him sound out a main character's name every single time he reads it in the book...over and over and over again and by the end of the book STILL can not glance at it and know what the word is.
He can explain what is going on in a story well, despite his inability to understand certain words...this is not a comprehension issue at all really. It is not even really a vocabulary issue.
He can not anticipate what a word is when reading...he can not use the context to fill in the blanks as he reads to move forward well. He has a good spoken vocabulary, surprisingly even better than some kids his own age despite his being here only 2 1/2 years. But when he is reading a sentence and he comes across a word that he doesn't recognize, he doesn't have the ability to deduce what it might be even though he can sound out the beginning of the word or may have even used the word often himself in conversation.
I don't know if anyone reading this blog can relate to the above and maybe has dealt with some of the same issues with their own children, or maybe can throw out ideas about what might be going on. This is frustrating all of us as Kenny is a really bright kid and doesn't present at first glance as anything other than an engaged and intelligent ESL child...but you are my experts and you all know what institutionalization can do to the brain. Our school has never worked with a child like Kenny before and it is new for all of us. If anyone out there finds that what is described above rings a bell, can you comment and let me know what we might be looking for or at? I need a starting place and look to those of you who are experienced to maybe help us out.
In other news, Matthew and I have come down with a nasty cold. Kenny had it but it seemed to mostly affect his eyes this past week with a little bit of cold symptoms but he said he felt basically fine. Within 12 hours I went to feeling quite well to feeling really bad. Fortunately we have antibiotic with us and I needed it already, as it is obvious I am developing a sinus infection along with it. This stuff always hits me so fast and SO hard! I had hoped to avoid it while here, but no dice. Now I just hope it doesn't move into my lungs or I will be in real trouble. Even Irina said you do not want to see a doctor here unless you have no other option, that even people who live here prefer to be treated elsewhere if at all possible as medical care here is sub-par, to say the least. Matthew doesn't have a fever but is the kind of kid who just gets really quite and tired when he is catching something...and he has laid around all day and went back to sleep after waking up this morning complaining of a headache. Hope we all kick it before we head for Astana!
Now, since I am being Downer Debbie today, I was laying in bed this morning having my first real "I wish I were home" moment since getting here, and compiled a mental list of things I am tired of. None are significant, none are all that big of a deal, but they are things I have noticed and wanted to share as we approach the 2 month mark of not sleeping in our own beds:
1) I am tired of not fitted sheets and having the bottom sheet barely able to be tucked in well enough not to be pulled off in every direction through the night.
2) I am tired of each of us falling down while walking on ice. It hurts and we are lucky we have had no broken bones yet.
3) I am tired of stiff clothes from line drying. I love dryer softened clothes and miss them!
4) I am tired of being stared at every single place we go. Everywhere. Every day. Every Moment.
5) I am tired of cracks in ceilings and floors, of shoddy workmanship, of doors in our apartment with no latches so they never fully close and of stepping over door sills on the floor wherever there is a door. I am not graceful, I am klutzy and a trip everywhere we go here. In our apartment alone which is only about 2 years old and nicer than any apartment we have ever been in here we have plaster ceiling falling on us, pretty wallpaper peeling off walls, linoleum lifted off the floor enough to trip us, a toilet that rocks, almost every electrical outlet has pulled out of the wall by our simply removing a plug, a dresser drawer front fell off in my hand, walls are plastered and not painted so everything we accidentally brush up against leaves a white residue on our clothing, our table has had to be turned over twice and the legs tightened on it, and the cabinet facings are peeling off. I feel sorry for people here who pay incredibly hard earned money for low quality goods and services. Very little here is well made, nothing here is very sturdy or stable...it makes me angry for them that even if they had the money to spend they would be hard pressed to find furniture that would last, or clothing that was extremely durable.
6) I am tired of public toilets with no toilet seats.
7) I am tired of feeling like life is in limbo, because it is and we are in some form of strange suspended animation here.
8) I am tired of being tired. I want to sleep a full night through on a comfortable mattress that I can not fold over on itself when flipping it to try and find a more comfortable way of sleeping.
9) I am tired of worrying if the boys actually act like children in public, for here children are seen and not heard much and if the boys even giggle or run around when outside we get even more stares.
10) I am tired of web sites being blocked.
11) I am tired of feeling like I am not being productive, of not having my usual tasks to take care of.
12) I am tired of not driving for myself.
13) I am tired of unidentifiable food in grocery stores.
14) I am tired of a tiny front loader washer that is literally no more than 7" deep and 18" tall. For a family of 5 (Right now) which includes 3 young boys whose clothes can't usually be worn twice because they are filthy, this means a TON of loads.
15) I am tired of not seeing any grass or dirt. Yesterday, for the first time, we were out and saw a patch of dirt and commented on how we had missed it. Dumb, I know, but everything here has been covered in 4 inch sheets of ice or 3 foot high drifts of snow! I miss brown! Even dead grass brown!
And in order to end on a more positive note, here are things I like!!
1) I love having little markets within a 2 minute walk to get milk and eggs or a cold soda instead of being a15 minute drive from Walmart.
2) I love the practicality of one set of toilets for both male and females. 2 or 3 places here there are bathrooms with fully enclosed stalls and it is for use by both men and women. Smart, smart, smart...why in the world do we really need separate bathrooms other than for urinals?
3) I love getting smiles from the people who have come to see us regularly at our little markets, it makes you feel the beginnings of being part of a community
4) I love having currency, both coins and bills, that makes sense...the larger the amount, the larger the size of the coin or bill. Makes sense, doesn't it?
5) I love the metric system. Tell me why the US hasn't adopted it ever? Based on units of 10's...makes so much more sense.
6) I love love love being with my family this much. I love that we all hang out together all day long doing whatever it is that we are doing. I am envious of old farm families who worked together and didn't separate all day long.
7) I love the church bells ringing letting me know it is 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM. They always make us all stop and listen for a moment. Beautiful!
8) I love walking everywhere...or at least would if it were warmer! The ability to get to several places easily because all is central is very nice and super convenient.
9) I love realizing we can easily do without a lot of the junk in our lives as we live a more simplified version here. I can see many things we move around in our house that are unnecessary and take up needless space. I have joked about 3 pans, but we have done just fine with them and I honestly don't miss much from my own over-filled kitchen at home. OK...maybe a decent can opener...
10) I love the children's shoes in the stores here, they have the absolute cutest styles of shoes and hats and I wonder why in America our shoes have to be so plain and ugly.
11) I love seeing beautiful women everywhere...well put together, well dressed, even if I could never be one (or truthfully would ever really want to be one).
12) I love cheap taxis. I wish we could get around our town as inexpensively, I might never own a car! We can get across town(a 20 minute drive in traffic) for 400 Tenge which is $2.70 USD. Astana will be a lot more expensive but it is nice here while we have it!
13) I love the curtains and track system here. Again, smart, smart smart...instead of brackets that's tick out from the side of the wall and can be loosened or bent by pulling a curtain open or closed, there are tracks in the ceiling and the curtains are suspended from there.
14) I love Constitution Avenue. There is nothing much there really, just a main walking thoroughfare through the heart of the city with a few shops and restaurants alongside it. But something about it is special, and I like it...really enjoyed it during the spring when I was here last time and walking it by myself, people watching while everyone was out enjoying the warmth.
15) I love that Alexander is a super super good driver, safest one we have ever had and thankful we have HIM while here at this icy time of the year.
16) I love seeing my children laugh and play together...all 5 of them. It is my greatest joy.
See? I came up with one extra "love" than "tired of" just so it wouldn't appear I was being all that cranky.
And as I end this post the church bells have started ringing and will ring the next 10 minutes. Nice way to end this one!