What is needed to overcome adversity? Start with patience, commitment, focus, love, and understanding -- just like these families did.

What is needed to overcome adversity? Start with patience, commitment, focus, love, and understanding -- just like these families did.

From Russia to love
Living in a Russian orphanage, the baby boy spent all day in a crib with only four diaper changes a day and gruel made from watered-down, boiled potatoes.

When he was adopted at 10 months of age by an American couple, James (not his real name) weighed only 10 pounds. He began to gain weight, but he made no sounds -- no gurgling, no babbling.

"They brought James here to have him evaluated," explains Lynn Dudek, speech language pathology coordinator at the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI). "There were no attachment disorders and no sounds. By his second birthday he was only making two sounds." James was diagnosed with apraxia of speech. "It's a motor planning disorder," says Dudek. "The brain tries to tell the mouth what to do and it doesn't happen. I thought to myself, 'this is going to be a long haul. He won't be here for a few months; he'll be here for a few years'."

Dudek and James started communicating first with sign language. "He had to learn how to play and talk," says Dudek. "I had a computer program -- James had to click on the cat to get children's songs to play -- he learned all the motions to 'I'm a Little Teapot' and 'Ring around the Rosie'."

'Cat' was one of James' first words. Dudek worked with the family to create a list of words that were important to them. On the list was 'mama'. "But his lips were protracted and he had a hard time getting his lips together," she says. When that problem was fixed, James and Dudek worked on mastering the word in every single session. "A year into the treatment he finally said it," she relates. "His mom was watching and we both broke into tears."

Fast forward to today. Nine-year-old James now plays tee ball, soccer and swims. He is completely conversational and his reading and math skills are at his grade level. "He's a pretty typical third-grader," says Dudek. "And he's wonderful -- he's the sweetest, most thoughtful kid. He'll have a great life."

James and his family never lost focus, despite the fact that his dad did two tours of duty in Iraq. "James shouldn't be talking, reading or doing math," explains Dudek. "He had the most severe case of apraxia you've ever seen. But the family was patient, committed and knew what was important. They looked at short-term, not long-term. They asked, 'What do we have to do today?' Most people would have assumed that this child would never achieve anything. He proved them all wrong."

See you, hear you
Before he celebrated his first birthday, Philip (not his real name) survived a premature birth, necrotizing enterocolitis (a gastrointestinal disease that causes destruction of the bowel) and bacterial meningitis (an infection that causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). "The meningitis infection left him with severe to profound hearing loss," said Dr. Emily Drew, audiologist at Columbus Speech and Hearing Center.

At age 18 months, Philip underwent surgery for a cochlear implant, which is an implanted electronic hearing device. "He has the implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other," explained Dr. Karen Mitchell, vice president and director of audiology and hearing Services at Columbus Speech and Hearing Center, "(The implant) enables him to hear all the sounds around him."

James also began speech therapy with Laura Middleton, a speech-language pathologist at Columbus Speech and Hearing Center who said, "The family looked for, and found, service providers to address all of Philip's areas of need -- speech/ language, hearing and motor skills."

Early intervention is important, explains Drew, because language is the basis for reading, writing and success in school.

Now almost 4 years old, Philip is exceeding his yearly Individualized Education Program goals. "Children listen to you and learn to talk by modeling the sounds they hear," says Mitchell. "If you are deaf, or have limited access, speech doesn't come as naturally. The implant made a significant difference in his ability to communicate -- you would never know he had hearing loss. It's almost unheard of for a child with his history of hearing and medical issues to overcome such odds. But he's a survivor."

Determination plus
Children are not the only ones battling the odds. Karen (not her real name) was pregnant with twins when one of her amniotic sacs ruptured at 21 weeks. "The hospital staff told her she should terminate the pregnancy," explains Brooke Stanley, a lead teacher at Easter Seals. "Because she was so determined to have the children, she stayed in the hospital for two months, literally almost standing on her head to keep from going into labor. Finally, at about 25 weeks, she delivered the twins at 1 lb. 6 oz. and 1 lb. 11 oz. She was told they probably wouldn't survive, but both came home from the hospital a few months later."

Because of language delays, the twins started speech therapy and signing. "This family really takes one day at a time with their kids," said Stanley. "The kids are making lightning-quick progress in school. I'm just so impressed with the progress made in the areas of social, emotional and speech development. It was like all they needed was a little support and they'll take on the world pretty soon."
And what can we learn from these families? "It's hard work but as long as you're committed to something and take it one step at a time, you can do anything," said Dudek. Middleton added, "Regardless of impairments or disabilities, these families have declared 'the sky is the limit' for their child -- they have not put limitations on what their child can do -- so we as onlookers must not either."

Marguerite Marsh is a freelance writer in Columbus. She writes about many topics, including families, relationships, artists and pets.