I will be the first to tell you, the little boy in that video is not the same child who lives with us. Oh, how he has changed!
The lines on our measuring wall say that Axel has grown 2 1/2 inches and gained 7 lbs since arriving home. Some of his size 6 pants are too short, and others will be packed away soon as well. He's now wearing a 7 slim. He is still a very little guy at 10 1/2 years old, and certainly doesn't look his age. He is much smaller than the kids with DS in his Special Ed. class who are 2 and 3 years younger than him.
Axel had only been with ME for 16 days in the video above. He had no idea what we were saying to him unless I signed it, and of course he didn't understand all that much sign either. "Eat", "drink", "more", etc. He had somewhere around 20 signs that he used on his own when we came home. One week later he had 56. He had figured out that when I signed it was communication. I was giving him the name of everything I could. (I still do!) In the video you see him imitate the sign for "flower". Now, four months later, Axel undestands almost everything I sign TO him (as a former ASL interpreter I am fluent in ASL) and he knows over 600 signs that he uses on his own. In fact, he has a bigger vocabulary than the staff at his school...which is an issue we're addressing. Axel is a communicator, and has figured out who can sign and who can't. He knows that Papa struggles, so will sometimes just take Dean's hand and bring him to something. With me he knows he just has to sign and I'll get it. But even better, if he doesn't know the sign for something he will make one up!
Now, go back and watch the video again, and watch Axel with the balloons. See how he rocks back and forth from one foot to another? See how he shakes the balloons? At the very end of the balloon playing you see him rocking his head and his eyes are glassed over. This is all self-stimming behavior. We haven't seen it in AGES. In fact, I used to turn music on in his room and all he could think to do was rock back and forth on his feet, bobbing his head and flipping his fingers. Now he requests music by name (he wants certain CD's at certain times.) and listens to it while he plays with toys. Sometimes he gets his toy guitar out and pretends he's playing the music himself. In the past three months I've only seen stimming like this when he has been incredibly stressed: After his very first day of school, after BIG medical appointments, after his first ride on the school bus.
When I got Axel, his foster mother told me he was not night-time toilet trained, nor was he ready. The first four nights that I had him, he woke up soaked every morning. (I had brought pull-ups along, thank goodness!) Then one morning he was dry...and the next...and the next. The entire rest of the time we were in Serbia he was dry. When we came home we had to start over again, but I waited until he'd been home a month to give him some time to settle in. Axel has been night-time trained since the beginning of February.
When Axel first came home, everything was new and strange. Every day there was something he hadn't seen or done before. Watching all of these "firsts" for him has been an amazing experience for us! His first time on a swing, his first time bowling, sliding down a GIANT hill in Christmas morning. (before we knew about his neck!) Now he is used to his new world. There are still many new experiences for him, but they're not necessarily happening on a daily basis. There were so many things we were excited for him to be able to experience this summer; all things that will now be on hold until next year when he's fully recovered from his spinal fusion. We're o.k. with that, most of the time.
Axel knows his way around town now! He knows when we go past the street where his school is, he knows when we're near Angela's school. He tells me a mile before we approach McDonalds, and he tells me where the grocery store is. Now that the weather is nice, he's come to realize we have neighbors! And sometimes there are people outside in this neighborhood of ours. Because we sit up high on a hill, he enjoys being able to look down on the neighbor's houses. He also likes playing out on the driveway with his nerf guns. The other day I went out to check on him. He'd had 3 darts from his gun, but was now down to two. I asked him where the other one went, and he just looked at the ground, very guilty-like. But, he couldn't keep his eyes from looking up at the rooftop behind me. I turned to look and sure enough, there was the nerf bullet. I laughed, and told him sometimes that wind likes to play with nerf toys too, and when Papa gets home he'll get it down.
If you look up at the picture on the blog header, you'll see that Axel has one eye closed more than the other. In person, his face was very asymmetrical, and it was quite pronounced. You can kind of see it in this picture, which was taken on about day 14 with me.
A couple weeks home you can still see it.
Here are some recent pictures:
Really, I have to say, he doesn't even look like the same kid as the one in my blog header, or who was with me in Serbia just four months ago. The puffiness under his eyes is gone. The asymmetry is gone. How? How does that happen?
Months ago I showed you is rotted teeth. He was petrified of the dentist chair, and I had to hold him on my lap and wrap him with my body for the dentist to get even a cursory look in his mouth.
After having 6 teeth removed and 10 restored, he now has a beautiful smile. He can also eat anything he wants without fear of pain. He loves to brush his teeth. Yesterday he sat in the dentist chair all by himself and opened his mouth WIDE for the dentist to take a look! ANd....drumroll please...he has THREE new teeth!!!!
Axel knows who his family is, and where is "home". He talks about Angela all the time, and has now come to realize that some things in the house are his, and some are Angela's. When Angela is away he often picks up items of hers and signs her name, as if to say, "This is Angela's. I'm going to keep it for her until she comes back." He is SO VERY EXCITED whenever Angela comes home. He truly misses her! Axel ADORES his Papa more than anyone else in the world. The PURE GLEE that overcomes him when Papa comes home from work is more than one heart can take. He hops and and down and claps his hands. PAPA IS HOME! Whenever we're gone somewhere an pull in the driveway, Axel hollers "Home!" from the back seat. His bus driver says he does this as they turn onto our street. If Papa gets him off the bus, Axel is quick to sign, "Mama" and points to the house. He's asking, "Is Mama home?" I won't go so far as to say he's excited that I'm here. I think he just wants to know so that if I'm NOT home he can start planning the adventure he's going to have with Papa! LOL
The little boy you see in my blog header is gone. Not only does this little boy know his name, he can also fingerspell it or write it with a pencil. He knows all the letters of the alphabet and his numbers 0-20. He can tell you when it's windy outside, or raining. That the sun is shining and he is hot....or thirsty. He knows all his colors, and how to hit a hockey puck with a stick. He can manage the mouse on a computer and navigate some games. He rides a bus to school, and can tell the other kids when it's time to "line up". He eats lunch in the lunchroom AND finishes in time!
This is the new Axel. A little boy who is self confident and knows what he wants. He knows he belongs, and that he is loved. This is our boy. Our Axel