Caregivers walk into a room where an adorable small baby lies in a crib. Someone has hung a mobile over his head and placed several toys about him. He is a loved and wanted child and is here only temporarily. His parents come to visit him regularly. The caregivers cluster around the baby, cooing and fussing over him and stroking his cheek.
Caregivers walk through the room, not stopping to acknowledge any of the children with significant special needs who lie waiting in their cribs. One caregiver leans casually against a crib, her back to the thin child lying behind her, no toys in sight. One small girl hears the voices around her. Over the sidebars, we see her tiny hand on her tiny contracted wrist rise slowly upward…reaching, hoping for a response…
The strollers are crowded along either side of the corridor. Each stroller is manned by a baba, and each one contains a small older child with obvious special needs. There is no place to sit down, no place for an older woman to sit where she can interact face to face with a child in a stroller. Squatting is too difficult a position for an older woman to maintain for long. Each baba stands, silent and bored, leaning on her stroller where her assigned charge cannot see her face. Even a baba I already know and love stands tired and unsmiling behind her stroller. The children cannot strike up conversations or otherwise reach out for interaction. So each child sits as silently as if he or she was alone.
A playroom. One adult is present–a baba who sits with her child at the far end.
In the middle of the room is another child in a walker. She is motionless except for a hand in front of her eyes, fingers flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping.
The baba sits like a stone statue in the baba room. She’s in charge of a tiny child who lies motionless, body twisted, limbs contracted, on a mat near her baba’s chair. We strike up a conversation with the baba. She turns out to be a decent woman, not uncaring. But still she sits there in her chair, as if there was no child lying on the mat nearby. Does the child respond to a loving voice and touch? Yes, she does. But for an hour the baba sits there in her chair, offering no interaction, no loving voice, no touch to the tiny teenaged girl she is being paid to care for.
A glance through a window as we pass down the hallway.
Two small girls in a plain, bare room.
No adults are present.
No toys are present.
One of the girls lies on her belly on the floor. She is blind. She cannot see the wheelchair in front of her, but her hand has reached out and found it. She lies on the floor and pushes the wheelchair back and forth. Over and over again, back and forth.
The other girl, a miniature teenager, has been placed in a child sized chair. She can only walk if she is holding on to something, so setting her on a chair in this way effectively immobilizes her. She sits in the silent, empty room. She sits. And sits. And sits. And sits.
While a few feet away, the small blind girl pushes the wheelchair back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
I look around the circular preschool-sized table, studying each beloved, familiar face.
“E, your email makes me wonder how many blog readers have an accurate picture in their heads of what Tommy’s “school” class is like when they read that post. I put the word “school” in quotes for a reason.
About half of the children are constantly getting up and wandering from their seats, so the teacher’s biggest job is to keep them all sitting down. My therapist friend got the tiny teenage girl with Down syndrome to pay attention to a toy and reach out and touch it once after interacting with her for an hour. Most of the children are easily over-stimulated and can’t process sensory input as most people do. Only one child is verbal, and that child is by far the most developmentally advanced older child in the baby house, not yet at the developmental level of a child half her age. The estimated cognitive ages of the children range from infant to maybe three years old.
It’s hard to communicate the reality to people who aren’t very familiar with older children who spent their lives having all their needs profoundly neglected without making the children sound freakish. The starvation they suffered was also starving their brains of necessary nutrients. There is hand flapping, tooth grinding, growling, random vocal noise, shrieks, toy-throwing, wandering, lip noises, nose blowing (no tissues), hitting the side of the head. And none of them can help it. It was done to them. They are such pure, precious souls, E.”
I have seen it over and over again now.
It goes something like this…
They were seen as undesirable and thence never received the help they needed to thrive.
The mistreatment they received damaged them to the point that nearly all potential adoptive parents will now agree with the caregivers and see them as undesirable.
So they are still not receiving what they need in order to thrive.
Throughout the week, the conviction grows inside me that what I am seeing in the faces of these very delayed miniature older children is not an obscuring but a revealing.
Nearly everything that can be stripped away has been stripped away, until their essential personhood is revealed as it is.
No manipulative mind games.
No hidden agendas.
No unrealistic expectations.
No critical, judging eyes; no prejudice or contempt.
No hate, no mockery, no desire to cause harm to others.
They are transparently themselves, transparently real.
And less stressful, and more restful, than any other group of people I can remember spending time with.
They are miracle children; none of them should even be alive.
And we think that children like these are the most disabled?
“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said. “And do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”