Avery is in very good health. She has experienced no major illnesses or hospitalizations since her adoption. She has grown remarkably. In a little over a year, she has gained 7 pounds in weight and grown almost 5 inches taller!! She is on no medication for behavior issues at this time.
Avery is a child who has mental, emotional, and developmental delays. She is an extremely curious child and struggles with learning not to touch everything. She tends to be destructive with physical things, various adults in authority, and herself. She can be very angry and violent. We believe most of this is due to frustration over difficulty with communication and being very strong-willed. A developmental pediatrician witnessed and described her having oppositional defiant behaviors. Despite her struggles, she loves to learn and is becoming very smart. We believe she behaves inappropriately as a way to engage in any kind of personal interaction, whether positive or negative. She is extremely attention motivated.
Avery had an IQ test administered and she scored 79. This is above the 70 mark for intellectual disability. The plan is to repeat the test in three years, and her score is expected to be higher.
Avery has come very far over this year, particularly in three areas. The first and most obvious is her increased ability to communicate. A year ago, Avery was completely non-verbal. She can now verbally communicate almost every need to us and her teachers. She still has a lot to learn, but it is amazing how her vocabulary is expanding every day. We are sure this has much to do with the second area of improvement, which is her behavior. A year ago, Avery was constantly angry, frustrated, combative, aggressive, destructive, and violent. For a period of about three weeks, out of complete desperation, her developmental pediatrician prescribed her Clonidine to help her calm down. This helped with the calming down, but we did not like some of the effects of her being on this medicine. It made her so tired, she wasn’t herself and behaviorally she acted like a cranky two year old. We discontinued the medicine and decided to be patient and hope that by ignoring negative behaviors and only giving her attention when she was behaving appropriately, she would eventually come around. Though she still has her moments, she is a completely different child than she was a year ago. Her “episodes” are farther and fewer between. She has improved enough that she can be worked with and taught. Though she has not been officially diagnosed with autism, she attends school in an autistic environment, where she is one-on-one with staff who are trained to handle aggressive situations. She continues to learn how to behave and exhibit better self-control through consistent consequences for negative behavior and positive rewards for good behavior.
The third area of improvement is academics. Avery’s achievement scores in school are great, considering she had had no formal education prior to her adoption. Though she is 8 years old, they have her placed in 1st grade. Among her peers, she is scoring in the average range in some areas. This is incredible! Interestingly, she shows more aptitude in the language areas over math.
Avery has also been doing gymnastics since September 2013. She started out in a special needs class. By November, the teachers and I felt comfortable transitioning her to a regular class. She does very well in class, has a natural ability and is extremely flexible. She follows instructions with minimal frustrations. We believe this is because she enjoys this activity so much. She frequently inquires if she is going to gymnastics that day, as she does not have a clear understanding of something that happens once a week.
Avery eats a balanced diet and is not a picky eater. Occasionally she stuffs her mouth full of food and then has a difficult time chewing, especially with treats like chocolate chips or M&M’s. But for the most part, reminding her to put one in at a time helps. She loves to drink water. There were a few bad habits we needed to work on in regard to table manners. She constantly wiped her mouth and hands in her shirt. In the beginning, we put a bib on her and taught her to wipe in the bib. Then we transitioned her to napkins. Now she will even ask for a napkin if we’ve forgotten to give her one! She has learned to wash her hands before and after eating.
Avery had a very difficult time with sleeping when we first brought her home. She would not go to sleep very easily at bedtime, staying up for hours. Then when she would fall asleep, she would wake up during the night and get herself into trouble, typically doing something destructive. Finally, she would be so exhausted by the early morning hours that she would be difficult to wake up come sun up. We struggled for many months with this. One of the biggest helps was getting a video monitor so she knew we could watch what she was doing. Getting her to stay in bed was also a major struggle. We also began giving her Melatonin. This was the answer. If we give her melatonin just before bedtime, she is asleep within a half hour. And for the most part, stays asleep. Occasionally, she will wake up in the middle of the night, turn the light on, and start playing with her toys. But for the most part, she is on a regular routine. She takes no naps.
In the beginning, Avery did not know how to appropriately play with any toy. Her only goal if she got her hands on anything, was to instantly break it. She has improved greatly in this area, as now her three favorite activities are legos, building with a wooden train set, and hand held toys that she can play learning games on. Legos are by far her favorite and she is quite precise in her architecture. However, if she plays too long, frustration and aggressive behavior ensues. Sometimes, we limit her time, although stopping her from playing her favorite toy, causes almost just as much frustration for her. She has a favorite baby doll that she sleeps with. She even gave her the name “baby Lisa.” She enjoys having the doll wear a matching nightgown to hers. She gets a kick out of “role playing” with the doll. For example, when putting Avery to bed, we will tell baby Lisa to lie down and go to sleep. Baby Lisa sits back up (just like Avery gets reprimanded for) and we have to tell her to “lie down.” She finds this very funny. In the summertime, Avery LOVED the pool. She is quite the fish and would stay in the water for hours. Every day she asked to go in the pool and was very sad when it was time to close the pool up for the winter.
Avery’s favorite foods are pizza, turkey, macaroni and cheese, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Her favorite snack is pistachio nuts. She does not like spicy food or cooked bell peppers. She will gag tremendously over cooked bell peppers. Of course, she loves chocolate, particularly M&M’s.
Avery’s interactions within our immediate family have improved as most of her behavior issues have improved. Thankfully, all of her violent, aggressive behaviors were aimed at adults who were in authority over her. So though she attacked her dad and me, she never hurt the other children in the home. Early on, she rarely interacted with her new siblings. When they would attempt to play with her, she ignored them, giving them no response whatsoever. If they persisted, she would do her best to go somewhere else. She was clearly avoiding any interactions with kids. In her groupa in the orphanage, Avery was the highest functioning child. I believe she learned to ignore other children she may have found bothersome. She learned to avoid these situations as much as possible. Since she was always “on the move” anytime any sibling wanted to give her some affection, such as a hug or a kiss on the cheek, she would push them away and try to get away. We encouraged the other children, to respect her boundaries, so as not to push her to behave aggressively toward them.
Thankfully, she has come around. She does not attack us physically anymore. She still hits staff at school once in a while. She still prefers to play on her own. I have noticed her asking her siblings to help her with her legos building. The kids see this as an open invitation to play with her. She tolerates this for a while, but eventually she gets frustrated and goes away from the activity to sit somewhere nearby and cry. But this is an improvement and a step towards interactive play. She is much better about accepting love and affection from us, including the kids. She loves to play wrestle. She will even snuggle in bed with us on our lazy mornings.
Avery’s relationships with our extended families have been a slower process. This is because of the behavioral issues already mentioned, along with less day to day contact. Early on, we limited her contact to many additional people outside of our immediate family and in public to encourage bonding within our immediate family and for safety reasons. As this is not so much a concern now, extended family has had some time to start developing a relationship with her.
She is particularly fond of her Uncle Bret, who visits most frequently. He also accompanied me to Ukraine during the second trip to bring her home. We are not sure if she favors him because she remembers him as someone she met early on, or because of the frequency of his visits. He is the only relative she asks about when not present.
One of the first things we had to teach Avery was to use toilet paper when using the bathroom. We noticed in the orphanage she would urinate and simply jump off the toilet and go. Seemingly, this was not regularly monitored nor corrected by the nannies. During the first few weeks at home with us she was regularly pooping in her pants. This stopped on its own very soon. We assume this short lived problem was due to adjusting to her new home with many new distractions that caused her to have a difficult time getting to the bathroom when she needed to go. Over most of the first year, she would wet and/or poop herself during the night. We kept her in diapers and worked with positive reinforcement to help her learn to keep herself clean and dry. As she improved and kept herself dry for a solid week, we discontinued the diapers. She has not soiled herself since.
So there it is. Stay tuned.....Julia's or Aaron's will soon follow.......