Story # 47: Raising Alexandru, Part 3
As I wrote about in my previous “Raising Alexandru” posts, Part 1 and Part 2, mothering a multiple-challenged child comes with a multitude of hurdles, sometimes with a simultaneous moment of humor. There were also times of breakthrough worthy of celebration. Here are a few more of each.
Cows are cool! Puppies, not so much.
Sometimes Alexandru seemed to charge right into dangerous situations, and cringe and pull back from harmless ones. For example, when Alexandru was 9 years old we visited my nephew’s Arkansas farm. We were walking in the pasture, admiring a herd of cattle standing nearby. Suddenly Alexandru ran right into the middle of the herd, a very tiny boy among huge giant cows! My nephew, instantly concerned, said the cows wouldn’t hurt him on purpose but could easily step on him by accident. With his deafness I couldn’t just yell “Get back here!” So I had to go among the giant cattle myself and drag him back, all the while telling him to stay away from the cows.
Later that same day my nephew was showing us a litter of puppies that had recently been born and were just old enough to start opening their eyes. The puppies were simply darling. Alexandru, fearless of the huge cows, was terrified of the tiny puppies. He pulled back and wanted to stay far away from them. What a contrast!
We learned there was really no pattern to predict what he would run towards in joy or flee from in terror. For example, if you thought perhaps the fear difference between cows and puppies was related to their size, explain the following picture — and no, this had nothing to do with Spiderman, whom he hadn’t yet heard of at the time of this photo.
“Encouraging” the Givers
We attended church service with a Deaf congregation. This church provided Alexandru great exposure to lots of signing adults. The pastor even gave his sermons in ASL. One Sunday 9 year old Alexandru was pleased and honored when the pastor asked him to pass the offering plate down one aisle of the church. I was sitting near the back, watching him start up front, working his way from person to person, holding the plate in front of each one. After each person made a contribution to the plate I was horrified to see him patiently explaining to the contributor to “look in their pocket” or “look in their purse” because he was “sure there is more in there” that could be put in the plate. By the time I managed to work my way up to the front, he had already hit up several folks, who, thank goodness, were being very patient with him. I had to teach him, in front of everyone, how to hold the plate and say “thank you” no matter how much — or even nothing — was put into the plate.
Baby Sign Language Resolved!
In Blog Post #46: Raising Alexandru, Part 2, I explained how I learned to talk to him using baby sign language — meaning sentences of one word, since he only gave me time to sign one word before he looked away. I promised the story of how that was resolved and when he finally started giving me enough eye contact that I was able to sign to him using complete sentences. Here’s how it happened.
In Alexandru’s elementary school there were hundreds of hearing children, and only about 30 deaf children. The deaf students had their own classes, with signing teachers and teacher aides. So it was really good he was immersed in sign language when in class with his deaf classmates. However on the playground, school bus, lunch room, halls, and assemblies, all the school students, hearing or deaf, were together. During these times, more often than not when Alexandru did happen to glance up at someone for a second of eye contact, he didn’t see any signing, just meaningless moving lips.
When Alexandru graduated from elementary school, we decided the best place for his middle school was the Virginia School for Deaf and Blind (VSDB). This was a residential school located about three hours away. The school’s transportation arrangements required us to drive him to a shopping area a few miles from our home where students were picked up by bus on Sunday afternoons. They were then brought back on Friday afternoons.
We had chosen VSDB for many reasons, but particularly Alexandru’s continuing need to build his communication skills. It paid off immediately! That first week he was gone to residential school, I cried every day missing him. Finally Friday afternoon came and I picked him up from the bus stop. His communication progress was amazing and thrilling! I had to run a lot of errands. The whole time he was signing to me practically non-stop! The whole 2 hours! He would comment on scenery or cars we were passing by. He would say something about school, class, a teacher or his dorm room. And he was giving me eye contact and watching me, long enough for me to sign a complete sentence, to see what I would say to him!
I never cried again about him being away at school. There were still those times when he would go into his own world and be oblivious to me and his surroundings. But so many other times we were able to have real conversations! It was a miracle.
LESSON LEARNED: Life will force you out of your comfort zone. I did things I would never have done on my own, such as charging into a herd of cattle, or walking in front of everyone in the middle of church service to instruct about using an offering plate.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t beat yourself up if you are doing the best you can under difficult circumstances. While at first I was frustrated to only be able to use baby sign language with Alexandru, it filled the need until he was ready for more complex communications.
LESSON LEARNED: Total immersion among fluent communicators, 24 hours a day, is the most effective way to learn a language.
LESSON LEARNED: Being afraid isn’t necessarily bad. Fear can be healthy, keeping you safe and warning you from danger. So the key to healthy versus unhealthy fear is not whether you are afraid, but when.
Interested in learning ASL? See my “ASL Word Of The Day” at:
Interested in learning Cued Speech? See my “Cued Speech Word Of The Day” at:
Have a good week!
— Donna Gateley