Looking back at how much Leo has changed since we met him six months ago, it really hits home how wonderful it would be if there were a gradual process for adoption from China where you could get to know each other in advance. Foster adoption and a few countries use a process like that, but of course, we ruled out those programs because we didn’t have the ability to spend a month or longer in another country! With the China adoption program, you have a mere 24 hours to decide whether you want to proceed with the adoption and it is not uncommon that a couple will decide to leave the child in China. One couple that we saw receiving a one year old boy in Nanjing returned him the next day, declining to complete the adoption. With only one day to decide how do you know what is autism or a developmental delay and what is the child reacting in shock to what is happening to them? Being withdrawn or listless, not making eye contact or refusing to speak would all be normal reactions.
We didn’t have any of these concerns in China but I mention this because I thought Leo was pretty settled in at three months, but now he is so much happier, sillier, more loving, affectionate, and playful. People who see us regularly began to comment at around the 4 or 5 month mark that he seemed to be much more relaxed and at ease. We didn’t have any concerns about his development before, but now it is hard to think that anyone could look at Leo running around the living room with his siblings giggling his head off and not think he was anything but a normal healthy 2 year old.
Leo did have some gross motor skills gaps when he came to us. Some of those were cultural, such as not being able to feed himself, since the Chinese feed children until they are early elementary school age. Others we really didn’t know about, such as his gait which seemed more like an early walker. Now he walks up and down the stairs by himself and can skip and jump with two feet off the ground. He knows how to turn doorknobs to open doors. He climbs up on furniture such as the couch or a chair unassisted. He is learning typical two year old skills such as taking off his shoes, unzipping his sleeper, and buckling himself in to his booster seat at the table. At this point he can feed himself with a spoon or fork. In fact, he gets mad if we try to feed him, but he will also refuse to eat if we don’t sit right next to him.
Leo’s speech is where we have seen the biggest improvement. Leo only said a few words in Chinese when we got him, and when he was acquiring English, he went through a period of two or three weeks where he only said “Mama” and the sounds ma, na, or ya. Once we began speech therapy through Early Intervention, he began to make rapid progress. We found that he picked up the signs for words within a day of us introducing them, and usually he would begin to say the word for the sign verbally within a week. He has been adding about one new word a week to his vocabulary.
He currently says: Mama, Max, Gregor, ruff, quack, moo, meow, snow, cat, ball, car, more, mine, all done, snow, ta-da, flower, uh-oh, van, hi, yes (yeah), no (naw), night-night, and bye. He also signs drink, eat, help, Christmas tree, Papa, Mary, Vincent, brush teeth, Leo’s turn, and shoe. He likes to sing the “clean up” song but since he still has trouble articulating consonants it sounds like “ee-uh, ee-uh.” Before, he would not echo a word after you, but now he is starting to do that more often, like saying “flower” after his therapist was asking him to pick out the flower from a group of objects. He is also beginning to put two words together occasionally such as saying “Bye-bye, Mama!” when Matt leaves for work.
The sign Leo currently uses more than any other is the sign for shoe. One of our favorite things about him is how much the boy loves shoes. I remember Max being the same way. Leo will bring Matt and I our shoes in the morning after we take our showers. If he sees that the children are getting ready to go somewhere, he will run to the close to find each of their shoes and bring them over. Now that he knows the sign for shoes, he follows us around all day long signing shoe. First thing in the morning when he’s wearing footy-pajamas? Needs shoes. If I put his shoes on, he will take them off and then sign shoe and help for me to put them back on again. Once he signed “more shoe” when I had just put his shoes on! I told him he needed to grow another pair of feet to have more shoes. When he is unhappy about something, taking off his shoes in protest is a typical way of expressing his unhappiness and then a few seconds later he’ll start to sign shoe and help again. And heaven forbid you don’t actually want to wear shoes if he should bring you a pair.
Leo was not saying anyone’s name but Mama and Max but his therapist suggested we each make up a sign for ourselves after seeing how quickly he was picking up signs. He started saying Gregor almost immediately. He is still pretty insistent that both Matt and Mary Evelyn are also “Mama” and for awhile he seemed to be refusing to either sign or say Vincent just out of stubbornness, because he is very competitive with Vincent. He also thinks that Vincent has all the best ideas and constantly follows him around so he can copy whatever he does or try to steal his toys. Leo’s therapist says that Vincent is her biggest helper because she can count on him to demonstrate and Leo is sure to try it if Vincent does it first.
But talking about gross motor skills and vocabulary really doesn’t capture life with Leo after six months. He is an extremely happy and loving little guy. He likes to play a few little games such as stretching out his hand and laughing because you can’t quite reach his hand in return. Another favorite is pulling his hand inside his sleeve and then having you exclaim “Oh no! Where did your hand go?!” He wants to give everyone several good morning hugs. He can be counted on to give someone who is crying a hug and pat on the back. If Vincent gets sent to time out, Leo will follow along to keep him company. While Leo still only tolerates the dogs (not crying at their presence is a victory for us), he has come to love the cat. If our geriatric disgruntled cat merely walks to the couch, Leo will shriek “Gat! Gat!” over and over again, doing a little happy dance and run over to pat her. Leo loves to be entertained, and he hates Saturday mornings when his older siblings watch cartoons while Matt and I drink coffee and read. It’s too boring! No one is paying attention to him! Similarly, if the other children play outside while I’m cooking supper, he will bury his face in the couch cushion and make loud sniffling noises, hoping that I will stop cooking to read him a story. He has such a big heart, he loves his family, and he’s happiest when he’s right in the middle of us. We are so happy that Leo is a part of our family.