Today, Nasko has been home for four months. As I reflect on the time that has gone by, I actually feel like he has been home for longer. I think that I feel that way because of the TREMENDOUS progress we've seen from him. That quiet (and tired) little boy at the airport is not the same boy who is currently napping in his bedroom (with his favorite stuffed chicken... because every child needs one of those!)
Here's an update on Nasko's progress - It's huge!
Nasko had four weeks of summer school through the month of June. He did quite well for this session, and I'd attribute that to multiple things:
- Summer school was in the morning. Nasko still requires a daily nap. He was better able to learn and retain new information since he was attending in the mornings. During the school year, he was in the afternoon class, and much of his time was spent trying to keep himself awake (by being ornery!!)
- The summer school staff all knew sign langauge. I loved Nasko's PreK teacher and aides for the school year, but they weren't always sure of what he was trying to tell them! They tried so hard to remember to ask me or to have him demonstrate what he was thinking. This summer though, Nasko could just sign and be understood! He always communicates more when it's easier.
- Nasko's aide carried mini marshmallows as rewards. Nasko LOVES marshmallows - this technique was perfect for him. When Nasko would sit properly (criss cross applesauce, spoons in his bowl) for a designated amount of time, he would be rewarded with marshmallows. He was also rewarded for doing "hard work" like puzzles or looking through a book.
- Nasko's personal aide and classroom aides were males. Nasko responds well to males.
- Nasko knows more of the English language. He was not completely lost during every lesson this summer. He was only half-way lost! :–)
Because of skills practiced at school (and at home) Nasko can identify five basic shapes (square, circle, triangle, star, and heart). He is able to verbally label them, but not with 100% consistency.
He also knows more of his colors. Again, he is not 100% consistent, but he is doing very well. The other day, I purchased tootsie roll pops for him, and he pulled out the blue one and labeled it correctly. We've also started practicing by identifying the colors of M&Ms. Candy is such a great motivator!
Nasko can count to five independently. We were really able to practice this skill when he had an ear infection this month and had to receive five wax-softening drops per ear twice daily! Thankfully Nasko loves all things health-related or medical, and he would actually remind me when it was time for his ear drops!
I mentioned this in a previous post, but we are working hard on having Nasko identify the letters in his name. He cannot verablly label any of them yet, but he is able to identify N and O.
It is INCREDIBLE how much Nasko understands after only four months at home. The other day, Chance and I were discussing what we were having for dinner. I mentioned the chicken that was marinading at home, and Nasko perked up and started bawk-bawking. He ran to the location where his stuffed chicken is kept and brought it to us. Then he began signing and saying "eat." I believe that Nasko was concerned that we were going to be eating his beloved stuffed chicken for supper!
We continue to practice two-step directions with Nasko. He struggles to actually make it to the second step because, inevitably, something will catch his eye while he is en route. After every meal, we have him carry his plate to the sink and then go to his bathroom to wash his hands and mouth. In Nasko's world, the path from the kitchen to his bathroom is lined with toys that require touching or a dog that requires petting. The problem is, he can't seem to return to that initial task!
Nasko is repeating EVERYTHING. One of Chance's favorite games is to have Nasko repeat nonsensical sentences or sounds. ("Whica-say-wha?" comes to mind.)
Nasko's expressive vocabulary is well over 200 words at this point. He rarely ever talks without the intent of communicating, so the game becomes, "What on earth is Nasko trying to say?!"
It's as if Nasko's language is in the toddler stage. He shortens words and makes up variants to get his point across. And just like a two-year-old, Chance and I typically understand, but an outsider would have no idea. For example, if Nasko says "Amy how. Side." he is actually trying to communicate that he was to go to our friend Amy's house and that he wants to go inside. He needs his own dictionary with translations in order to communicate with others!
Chance and I marvel at the fact that four months ago, this was a little boy who only spoke about five words in his native language. Today, he can't go thirty seconds without saying at least five words. Also, he regularly asks questions or brings up ideas that would not be possible without the communication skills that he's gained. (For example, today while taking his shower, he said "Bus?" to see if he would be riding the bus to school. I said, "No, school is all done for the summer. No bus." Nasko replied by signing, "Tomorrow?" I again said, "No, school is all done." He then said, "Church? Sing songs?" I said, "Yes, we will go to church, but not today. Tomorrow." Nasko said, "Taty's truck?" I replied with, "Yes, we can go to church in Taty's truck.") Four months ago, the only conversations Nasko would have been a part of would have stopped with answering Yes and No Questions.
Recently, we've been spending a lot of time swimming (thanks to our very generous friends/neighbors!) Nasko was petrified of large pools when he first came home. We would take him to the open-swim session at PORTA pool and he would cling to us so hard that I was developing bruises. Despite the fact that he was wearing water wings, Nasko would refuse to float at all independently.
Now, however, Nasko is becoming a little more brave. He still prefers to be held, and he isn't swimming by himself, but he will kick his feet while holding my hands. He can also blow bubbles in the water. Just yesterday, he climbed on our friends' deck and repeated ran and jumped into the pool. Every time he did that, his taty had to be close! He'd allow his face would go underwater, but not for too long! Nasko had very little fear of this activity!
Nasko's summer school teacher, Miss Isaak, has previously given swimming lessons to large groups of children and she had also given one-on-one lessons to kids with special needs. During a field trip last week, I mentioned Nasko's uneasiness about water and my dilemma of enrolling him in swimming lessons where the class might have 5-10 other children. She has graciously offered to teach him one-on-one in her father-in-law's pool for the rest of the summer. Hurray! We started those lessons today. She showed me lots of tricks and techniques, so we are anxious to try them out.
My child hates to write and draw. And I'm coming to terms with it.
Many of Nasko's really undesirable behaviors show up when his teachers (or his mother) force him to sit in a seat at a table with a pen and paper. Or a marker and paper. Or chalk and the sidewalk, really.
At this time, Nasko would really rather not sit still and hold a writing utensil in his hand.
This was very hard for me to admit. And I just admitted it last week. So, we haven't made much progress in the fine motor department. Because I am finally admitting that Nasko won't be writing his ABCs by next week, I am changing my approach. We're going to be taking the easel outside with the giant paint brushes (think wall-painting brushes). We're going to be using shaving cream and our index fingers to draw lines and shapes. We're going to strengthen his finger muscles using play-doh and other squishy, yucky stuff, but I'm going to put away the writing utensils for now. We'll get there, but not on Mama's timetable - on Nasko's!
Nasko is really showing genuine attachment to Chance and I. He becomes sad when we have to leave for work. He asks for us when we are away (like during church.) He regulates himself better when the three of us spend time together - no matter how overwhelming the situation might be. He starting to trust us more and realize that we aren't going to harm him or leave him. He's beginning to lose some of his fight-or-flight responses and behaviors.
Nasko is also starting to understand that people have names. This may sound silly, but until just a few weeks ago, Nasko thought "Mama-sit" was how you told someone to sit next to you. He didn't realize that "Mama" was my name and "sit" was the command. He sometimes still says it out of habit, but he is now correcting himself by saying "Taty/Baba/Diado/etc. sit" He is actually beginning to call Chance and I "Mama" and "Taty" without prompting. He is identifying friends and family members in pictures as well.
It seems that in the orphanage, change occured too fast and too frequently, so Nasko didn't try to keep up. If he didn't know a caregiver or friend's name, he called them "Da-da." He still uses this phrase a lot, but he is learning to replace it with the person's name occasionally. For example, the other day, our friend's 12-year-old daughter was visiting, and Nasko needed to take a nap. I said, "Nasko take a nap." He responded with, "No! Xin-li nap!" He evidently thought Xin-li could take a nap for him!
Nasko thinks he is more independent than he actually is! He tries to get his own food and pour his own grape juice (sticky!) on a regular basis. We are teaching him to hang up his own pajamas, help clear the dinner table, and strip his bed sheets. Those sound safer than pouring his own drinks at this point!
Nasko has started showing preferences in the snacks that he packs (for school or church) and the clothes that he wears. We're allowing him the freedom of choice in these areas as long as they are appropriate. One week for school, he ate rice krispie treats and wore
wife beaters undershirts daily. He was happy!
We're praying the next month is as developmentally productive as last month. I get all emotional when I think about how far he has come. Thank you, God, for our blessing of a little man!