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This blog entry is for my son Caehl Andre Euan who is celebrating his 8th birthday on October 13.
My son can read several languages. Aside from English and Filipino, he can write and understand Japanese, Arabic, Russian, Greek, Italian and French. And everything is self-taught, learned from the Internet.
Like a sponge, Caehl quickly absorbs everything he reads, sees, and watches. At age 3, he already knew how to read and type (yes, type), including his long name. He started with MYX and videoke, reading the lyrics of the songs on TV. His fondness for almanacs and atlases resulted to knowing all the regions of the Philippines, its cities and municipalities; the US map and its states and territories, including state capitals and time zones; the world map, continents, flags and capitals of all countries, and famous landmarks. He knows all dinosaurs like the back of his hand, planets and constellations, and the Table of Elements, too. If there’s one who can pick out constellations from the raindrops on your windshield, it would be Caehl.
He loves puzzles and watching the news and educational programs like Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho and GMA News TV’s documentaries. Proof? Please watch this.
CAEHL’S JOURNEY. When he was four, and he was being screened to enter Nursery, the school directress thought he was just sight-reading. To sight read, she explains, means to read with the aid of images, associations, letters or words one repeatedly sees or is exposed to.
In a previous blog, I wrote that a child may be able to “read” apple or banana because there’s a letter A or B beside it, or Jollibee or McDonald’s, because he is familiar with the logo or the sign, or some Spanish words because of his exposure to Dora the Explorer.
But when the school directress (Teacher Mely) asked Caehl to join him in a room and read a Kindergarten book (which contains only words and no pictures), she told us she was dumping the sight reading theory. “He truly can read,” she declared. She was amazed at how Caehl can read without going through the reading process, citing the aid of sounds or use of syllabication. At a time when kids his age can only read words of up to 3 letters, how did he do that? I don’t know.
A month or so after classes started, the school called our attention. They said Caehl had no eye contact, poor peer social inter-action, and echolalia. So we consulted a developmental pediatrician (which was not easy to do, we discovered as there are only a few in the country). Dra. Malijan, his first DP, recommended that we seek occupational therapy to address behavioral concerns and improve his gross motor skills, fine motor skills, as well as social skills; and speech therapy to address problems in language and communication.
When he was evaluated at Building Blocks, Teacher Kith said he might have mild ASD/High functioning autism, Asperger Syndrome, or hyperlexia, but those (were) not final findings. The speech-language pathologist said we had to address his expressive language problem, as he has difficulties in expressing himself with words. What I love about Teacher Agnes’s assessment though was her reference to Caehl’s sense of humor. “He picks up subtle hints of humor and jokes, and would laugh heartily.”
Together with the monitoring of his behavior and academic performance in school, Caehl underwent OT (one hour once a week, clinic-based), applied behavior analysis (or ABA, two hours twice a week, home-based) and speech therapy (1 hour once a week). The sessions were expensive but we will forever be grateful to CKLC, Building Blocks (thank you Teachers Ryan, Kith, Jeff, Dana and Jhovy) and Teacher Agnes for all the love and support we got. In 2010, his 2nd DP, Dr. Joel Lazaro ruled out autism but diagnosed him with mixed receptive-expressive language disorder.
People used to tell us “Kawawa naman anak ninyo, ang haba ng pangalan. Baka pag exam, tapos na ang mga kaklase niya, siya nasa pangalan pa lang.” Not true. Hashtag #smh (shaking my head). Ang bilis niya magsulat, promise. Ang ganda pa ng penmanship.
He loves to read the Bible and dictionaries, too. 4Pics1Word and Logo Quiz? Nah – peanuts for him.
He watches basketball games with me, in fact I encourage him to play the sport and try out dancing and outdoor activities. And he knows the titles of my books. Nakikialam pa, sa dami ng mga libro niya hehe
Now he’s into languages. There was a time when he was trying to read the Japanese characters on a truck. We thought he was just making it up. Turned out he really could understand them. He can write and draw the prefectures of Japan. He says he uses Google Translate and YouTube to listen to how the words are pronounced. And he would always tease me for always forgetting how to say Eid al-Fitr and matryoshka properly. Nosebleed.
Ate Cae studied French and German formally but for Caehl, learning languages was just through Google and YouTube. He can also guess the nationality of an actor or a celebrity by listening to his accent. Watching Cupcake Wars with me one afternoon, he remarked, “He is French,” referring to the resident judge Florian Bellanger, an executive French pastry chef.
What I never experienced with Caehl is to tutor or review him in preparation for exams – never. He really does not like reviewing but when he has to, he does it on his own, including assignments. So convenient for a working mom like me huh? Yet sometimes I feel weird when I don’t act like other moms who have to rush home and stress themselves out with doing reviewers and mock-up exams for their kids.
“Kanino nagmana?” Those who have known me since grade school would know the answer. I would usually just smile and say, “Sa Papa ko.” Caehl may look a lot like his Dad, but his study habits and comic timing are definitely from me.
Since he loves to share his knowledge with my mom, my youngest sister Lea, Nanay and Ate Doobs, and our neighbors, I asked him if he wants to be a teacher. He said he wants to be a doctor (consistent naman since Nursery). Do you want to study in UST, like Ate Cae? “Sabi ni Nanay (Evelyn), Ateneo daw.”
People who know Caehl and his journey understand his uniqueness. I truly appreciate that they are patient (and generous with their time) answering his questions and listening to his stories, and putting up with his occasional tantrums.
What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Autism? Genes? Early exposure to books, educational materials, and media? Formula milk? I leave that up to you. There are questions which have no answers. And there are things which we just have to accept and understand. It took us 11 years after Ate Cae before God gave us Caehl. I have always called him “my equalizer.” When God sent him to us, our lives have changed a lot for the better. It was Marie, a schoolmate of mine, who gave the perfect reason. “Perfection takes time,” she said.
If I can completely list everything Caehl knows, I am underestimating my son. He knows more, I am sure, more than I give him credit for. He has a big heart and he is really a good charming boy. I really must have done something good to deserve such blessing.
(Note: I didn’t touch on Caehl’s Lazy Eye Journey, as it deserves its own story.)