Tuesday, February 08, 2011


We had a snow day/Daddy's home day today.  It ended with Dominick sitting on the couch, looking at me, and saying sincerely "I could never, ever do what you do every day.  This is fun, but really hard work."  I have had a hard time adjusting on some levels.  Here I am, home all day, and still I find myself behind on laundry, still things don't get picked up the way I wish they would, still the projects I have in other areas of my life keep getting put off until the last minute.  I can't quite understand why I am so wiped out by the end of the day, and having Dominick around sometimes helps me put it into perspective.

Today he made lunch, he got laundry done, he made sure the trash was taken out, the dishes put away, all the little things done that I try to cram in around working with the kids.  What a nice treat all of that was!  The kids just love having him home and it feels like a special day having him around when we are doing school. 

I have gradually been figuring things out with Kenny and Olesya, discovering that some of their deficits are really far more challenging than I realized.  We have been working with a software program for Kenny the past couple of months called "Earobics".  It is designed to work on auditory processing issues, and man, has it been revealing to stand back and watch Kenny struggle with this.  The program is not all that expensive at $70, and they have a elementary version, and a teenager/adult version.  It is designed as a series of games played on different levels, that gradually have you work up to progressively harder listening tasks.  There is an entire beginner level, which Kenny is on, and it has 6 games I think that each have 12+ levels to them.  Beyond that there is an intermediate level, and na advanced level.

This poor kid...when I think of the frustration over the past 3+ years...it makes me want to cry.  SO much of what we have struggled with has related around his memory and inability to process what we say to him.  The hard thing with a kid like Kenny is that there is so much wrapped up in one kiddo, that it makes it hard to isolate specific issues and determine exactly what is wrong and what corrective measures are best for him.  You have speech issues magnified by the cleft lip and still unrepaired palate, plus the fact that his repairs began years later then they would have had we given birth to him.  Then there is developmental and emotional delays due to institutionalization and lack of early stimulation.  Then there is language learning issues because of changing languages at 8 years old.  Top that off with true learning disabilities like auditory processing and memory issues, and you have a real mixed bag of tricks.

Watching Kenny work with this software has broken my heart.  He loves doing it, so motivation is not a problem at all.  But this morning, when I mentioned he had a little time to work on it before we started something else he turned to me and hung his head saying "Mommy, I am not doing good at it at all.  Some parts are so hard I don't think I will ever be able to do it...and I know that even Joshie could do it very easily."  I explained to him that this was a postiive thing, that finally we had pinpointed where at least some of his challenges were and that working with this would eventually help him a lot.  The truth is, he may be at this a very, very long time before we see improvement.  For example, one of the games he is having the most trouble with says 3 or 4 words out loud, then shows you a set of pictures and you are supposed to click on the pictures in order than you hear them.  About 75% of the time he can not correctly click on 2 in a row.  Seriously.  He can't remember 3 or 4 objects but maybe one out of 4 times.  There is another section where you have to identify different consontant blends, and he gets ir wrong almost every single time.  Another game asks you to break sounds into syllables, and he can't hear syllables to save his life.  Every time he manages to get a point, he loses it instantly the next question. 

And I wonder why the poor kid can't remember 12 months of the year in order.  It explains so much, why he can't remember spelling words he spells right many times, then all of a sudden it is gone in a flash and it is like a new word to him.  Another thing I have discovered is that songs don't work for him either.  He can't ever, ever get the lyrics right!  He can't remember them even if he has heard them a hundred times!  Believe, me, I have been "Mama Mia'd" to death, and I still can't figure out what in the world Kenny is actually singing :-)   It is discouraging to see right in front of us, as clear as can be, just how poorly his brain is functioning in these areas.

Then there is Olesya and her mental road blocks with math and spatial stuff.  I really had my eyes opened yesterday when we had our first go at tangrams with her.  For those of you who might not know what tangrams are,  basically, a large square is cut into 7 other shapes, then you take those shapes to try and recreate other patterns.  On a whim, I had Olesya take her shapes, mix them up, and asked her to look at the initial basic square and recreate it with her shapes.  Super easy.  Here is the pattern:

Guess how long it took her to recreat this, trying as hard as she could.  9 1/2 minutes.  I asked Matt and Josh to do it later, just for comparison so I could get a read on it better.  Matt did it in 11 seconds, Joshie in 1 minute 6 seconds.  Olesya's brain simply does not work the way most people's does, and I have yet to really come up with an accurate picture orf solutions yet.  It is frustrating as all get out, knowing there is something just not clicking but not knowing how to deal with it or how to best teach a brain that functions differently.  9 1/2 minutes....sheesh...what do I do with that????  Any ideas out there for working with this sort of problem??  I am all ears.

Despite these very specific things, these kids ARE smart!!!  Others might not see it, but we do in so many ways.  They are both very intelligent children who have some serious areas of concern, but they are far from stupid.   My biggest job, aside from trying to come up with strategies to work with these deficits, is to convince THEM that they are not stupid.  We are making progress in this area, very slow progress, but daily I really focus on their areas of strength and point it out over and over again.  But I think this week I realized we have a much higher mountain to climb with both of them than I ever really imagined.  That's OK, I have a couple of sherpas to help me out with the retired teachers we have surrounding us and holding us up :-)

Often I am asked what I think caused this in the kids, and there are so many possible factors there is no way we could ever know.  In reality, knowing the "why" doesn't help at all anyway, as the end result is still the same and that is what we have to deal with.

But we refuse to see this as "bad", and instead of decided to view it as a puzzle, a  challenge of sorts  On the days when it doesn't have me wanting to bust out in tears of great sadness at their obvious distress, I try to step back and look at it as a great mystery to solve!  I also know that this is NOT going to stop either of these kids from having happy, productive lives...we'll figure it all out somehow, we'll guide them in directions that make sense.  And in the meantime, the homeschooling years will never be boring for good ol' mom as I'll always have a puzzle or two to figure out! Hahaha!


4texans said...

Yes, there are so many things to factor. You are doing a great job helping them in the areas where they are weak.

Was Kenny diagnosed with Auditory Processing disorder? Did you post about this before? I'm wondering if this might be something we are dealing with in Nicholas. The IA doctor we went to suggested it. BTW, I love his updated picture!

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Cindy! I think I've said before that all of our last four from Guatemala needed extra help in math, and the girls coming at 10yrs and 11yrs of course have needed extra reading help. Come to think of it, so did the boys. The boys, both home at 4yrs both had a lot of trouble with memorizing. I got so frustrated that they couldn't memorize a simple Bible verse for Adventure Club, even when I rephrased in easier words and broke it down into smaller parts to memorize. I really worried. And this is not to say that you have the same situation, but I hope and pray that some of Kenny's struggles will improve as he matures and has all that experience that you are giving him.

I still say the math thing, and maybe the puzzle thing too, is for lack of manipulatives in our kids' early childhoods. I don't know hw it works in the brain, but I do think that handling objects, moving them through space, rearranging them, etc...all has something to do with how the brain can later learn the concepts of math.

Here's the thing. You are giving your kids the wonderful gift of time...all the time it takes for them to learn what they will learn. Public school hurries kids along. And your love and patience (I know it's there most days!) gives them the freedom they need to step out in courage to keep trying. They have such support. You both believe in their greatness!

And to encourage you, remember that people learn to compensate for their difficulties. Three cousins next door really struggle with reading, having disabilities on both sides in that area. They are all very bright, and they have learned to compensate by listening very well. My husband and his brother (dad to these good listeners) also learned to listen. College was about taking notes and not about reading. I know those two things are a struggle for Kenny, but you are making new pathways in his bright young brain, as you continue to encourage him to discover how to compensate for his difficulties.

There are so many tools in our high tech world, Kenny will learn to use those things to remind him of the things he has trouble with. How many times do any of us recite the months of the year? But we have cell phones with built in calendars to visualize them when needed. We have computers with spell check..and a whole lot of other things I'm not even up on. I'm not expressing this very well, but I hope you take heart in knowing that slowly but surely, you and Dominik can and will teach all of your kids to use all the tools available to them and to have compassion on others who might need an extra "leg up" in the world.

Again, hang in there. I know it's scary to look into the future and at how long somethings are takin to sink in. Keep focused on today. Some days the learning might be just that love looks at the heart and believes in us, no matter what!

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Those of us who have the privilege of knowing your delightful, energetic children are graced with their humor, life, and intelligence. I think our society too narrowly defines "smart" and teaches toward that definition.

I remember a few years ago there was a book that talked about different kinds of intelligence--intelligence that spread out in many directions from the core definition of "smart". I have no crystal ball for the future of any of the kids, but I see you and Dominick giving them tools to develop to their full potential, opportunities to expand, and unlimited expectations that do not narrow their expansion.

Keep up the excellent work you are doing. Expect the unexpected. Delight in the progress you are giving them the opportunity to make--the opportunity they never would have had in any orphanage. They have surprised us and will continue to delight and surprise us with their gifts, their laughter, their love.


Anonymous said...

I gotta say on Olesya and the tangrams... I posted a comment before on her trouble with arithmetic, and how I have the same problem. When I saw that tangram that you posted, I felt actual shock and horror at the thought of trying to put those pieces back into a square. Yet I have a BS in physics and MA in education with certification to teach high school math and physics. Olesya will be ok.

Anonymous said...

One thing to remember though, think about how many of the kids you listed actually solved the puzzle - all of them!

One thing I love about my kids school is their approach to subjects like math, for example. They're very into the idea that it's all about the process and how the kids problem-solve to get the answers they need. They realize that every child comes up with their own way of working through a problem and don't get too hung up on things like the time it took or the total amount of work they get done. Those other things come in time, but they focus instead on building the foundation in each child based on how that child works to figure something out. They're guided of course, and results come into play eventually, but in those first stages of learning (which in a way, your daughters are in that stage), they get a great base to work from and will improve over time. You're doing great! Take that step back every now and then to remember all the gains they've made since you met them. From everything you've said in the blog so far, they've all come a long way :-)

Lindsay said...

There is a specific learning disability related to mathematical learning. It is called dyscalculia and is thought to affect 6-7% of children. It can affect a person's ability with number processing, spatial awareness etc. Numbers basically lack meaning for people with dyscalculia, although working with concrete objects to aid addition, subtraction etc. can help. There may also be problems with telling time, calculating change and dealing with money.

There is also a very rare condition called Gerstmann's syndrome which causes difficulty with writing, mathematical skills and left/right identification. The final symptom is called finger agnosia. It is very rare and unlikely to be anything to do with Olesya's problems. :)

I would definitely try to find out if you can have Olesya screened for dyscalculia, and possibly Kenny too.

Christina said...

I do believe that lacking certain things can affect the math or spacial relationships for older kids.. my oldest is 13 this month and he had little to no furniture in his todler years. I feel that this impacts his spacial relationships now.. He never squeezed him self into small spaces to see if he could fit... now he runs into others easily, and is just unaware of how much space his body takes up... He wears clothes that are obviously too small, and doesn't seem to notice (his brother is smaller than he, and he "accidently" puts on his younger brothers clothes, and then doesn't notice, even if he can hardly button the pants or if his arms hang way out the bottom of the sleeves). I don't know how to recreate this for him, just instead model the thinking I think he should have by saying... "If your pants feel so tight that you can't breathe, and if you see that your legs are sticking out the bottom, they are probably not YOUR pants!, or please don't squish up next to others or run into them like that, your body is bigger and they can get hurt".

At any rate, keep doing what you are doing... we wouldn't have 9 1/2 min to wait in public schools... after the 2 min it took most the class, we'd have no choice but to move on, and let the class next door have the manipulatives... Sad but true...

Anonymous said...

Keep doing what you're doing, and also be sure to give your kids opportunities for them to feel like champions in what they excel in. There's nothing worse than struggling with a concept, and not feeling like you're good at anything. Seek out opportunities for them to excel and be on top of the world, no matter what it is.

I would suggest to make an appointment with a specialist that can test for various learning disabilities. Once you know what you're dealing with, you'll be able to put in some effective interventions. It could be that the listening program isn't the right thing for your son.

I commend you for working so hard for your kids!

PS: Your son that plays the violin - check his hand position with the bow. He's gripping the frog with his fist. Best not to start a bad habit!

Anonymous said...

PS: As I was lesson planning for my ESL classes just now, I was thinking about a fun activity that we do, that focuses on listening skills. I often do simple arts-n-crafts projects with my classes, and they have to follow my verbal directions (measure the pipe cleaner 6" long, and cut it with scissors. Then, fold it in half...). It might be a fun way for your kids to practice those aural skills!! :)

Kitty said...

Hi, your writing on your daughter's challenges with math struck a chord with me - my sister has perceptual deficits that make these kinds of puzzles practically impossible for her. However, she recently amazed everyone - including herself - by mastering concepts in algebra, probability and statistics, and some basic number theory while preparing for the GRE.

When my sister was in high school, she'd spent so much time struggling through "simple" and "basic" geometry that she never encountered higher concepts in math, and in college, she had her quantitative requirements waived because of her disability.

Working with concrete objects and visualizations never helped my sister learn, and because she had so much difficulty picking up on the "simple" material, she was not exposed to other, ostensibly more challenging, concepts in mathematics until she was in her mid-twenties.

So, it's possible that mathematical reasoning that is simple, basic and intuitive to most people might be a big challenge for your daughter, while other concepts that are ostensibly more abstract and difficult for most people might be more accessible to her.

The school system did my sister a big disservice by assuming she would be incapable of more "advanced" math because she struggled so much with "easy" problems. I'd suggest continuing to expose your daughter to higher math rather than giving up when she can't do the easy stuff, just in case it might click with her like it did with my sister.