Our Adventure with Vincent: Learning about Autism

The smile that melts mommy’s heart

A heartfelt thank you to all who have inquired and even assisted us with Vincent’s developmental journey. So much has happened lately and we want to share our joy with you.

Towards the end of last year, it was suggested to us by a few concerned friends and those who have been working with Vincent that we should take Vincent to a paediatric neurologist to have him tested for autism. I must tell you, that this troubled my heart. “Could my child be autistic?” It sounded like a life sentence. After many phone calls and emails to neurologists in Pretoria, I finally found one who was not only willing to see us (because it is hard to find a neurologist that works with kids) but also help us by allowing us to pay the consultation fee in three separate payments! Our consultation with her was a blessing and an eye-opener. She conducted an ADOS test. ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. It is a standardized diagnostic test for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Wrestling and cuddles with pappa and lil bro

We learned that autism isn’t one particular condition that can be defined or confined to a few symptoms. Now with all the information and new discoveries in the medical world we can see autism not as a disease (one particular colour) but as a spectrum (a rainbow with all the hues in between). The ADOS test helped us to see that even though Vincent has quite a few markers on the spectrum, he is actually quite brilliant and we as his parents need to begin to understand his world and what his unique challenges are, not so that we can “cure” him but help him manage how his body sees and responds to his world. Some of the red flags Vincent has are: speech delays, attention deficit, obsessive-compulsive disorder, high-sensory threshold and poor eye contact.  The neurologist recommended a holistic approach to helping Vincent with his development. This includes occupational and speech therapy done by people who specialise with autistic kids, attending preschool with a small classes as well as small doses of medication to help him with his tantrums and concentration. Vincent saw the neurologist in January 2019 and has made significant progress since then:

1. He LOVES school (pictured below)– We found an English preschool with small classes, a very experienced and loving teacher and best of all – it’s only 2 blocks away from our house! Vincent is surprising us at home with his growth in vocabulary and skills. Although he does struggle with paying attention in class, he is developing at a pace that I could not achieve by keeping him at home

2. The medication – We have seen steady progress regarding Vincent’s capability of handling his emotions better as well as paying better attention when attempting a task. This hasn’t changed his personality in any way – in fact it feels like we are getting to see the real Vincent – our joyful, friendly child. Through the grace of God we’re able to get this medication and see Vincent’s neurologist for free at our local public hospital. His teacher has remarked that Vincent is now completing his tasks at school and is indeed more focused as a result of the medication.

3.Occupational and Speech Therapy – Serna Smit – Vincent’s occupational therapist from October until now, recommended to us an occupational therapist in our area who works specifically with autistic kids. Her assessment with Vincent showed significant growth in his development particularly his eye contact and verbal interaction

The Occupational Therapist assesses Vincent through role play

(when compared to last year). She recommended we start with speech therapy and focus on that for now. This led us to Karien Marais – a speech therapist who works with autistic children. Her assessment of Vincent went well and she believes that Vincent will improve greatly with weekly therapy which he will begin on 9 April.

We as a family have learned so much in a short space of time. There are indeed daily struggles of course: Vincent still does have erratic mood swings, his speech isn’t fully discernible, he still speaks in 2-3 word sentences and getting him to concentrate is difficult. Once again this reminds us that autism isn’t about trying to cure Vincent, it’s about understanding his world and helping him learn how to thrive in it. Our greatest encouragement has been watching God’s provision – not just regarding the finances for Vincent’s care but especially the people who are giving us the love and support through this journey. It seems that God has already foreseen our needs and we are catching up with discovering what He has done!

It’s like what Isaiah 64:4 says:

“Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

God is acting on our behalf, wow, we are indeed privileged to be called His children!

Friends, thank you for your love and support. We unwrap the gift of Vincent’s development every day and are humbled that the Lord would entrust him to us.

 

Advertisements

Getting sharper

Ecclesiastes 10:10
“Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.”

The above-mentioned verse of biblical scripture was brought to my attention during a leadership course in 2008. I was taught the value and wisdom of keeping yourself sharp – to pursue growth even in your areas of strength. Speaking of areas of strength (or giftings), the Bible has something to say about that as well:

Romans 12: 7-8

7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

In these verses we are reminded that our gifts (given from God) are to be taken seriously, honed, perfected, taken to a standard of excellence and most of all, to be done with gladness in our hearts. After taking the Strengthfinders assessment by Gallup (you can find it online here), I came to understand that my top strength is Communication. The Comms Lab – a workshop organised by our human resources department was an ideal opportunity for me to grow and learn. Some of the topics covered were: Gestures, Eye contact, Movement and Sound. Every day concluded with a drill where we could practice telling a story using the lessons of the day. Here’s a video of my story told on the day we learned about Gestures:

This week-long course was a blessing to me. Especially because Nicholas chose to stay at home that week so that I could grow. One of the major things I learned was that when one is a good speaker the audience doesn’t remember her fantastic gestures, eye contact or loud voice – they remember the content of her talk! I want people to remember what I said, not how I said it. But now that I know better, I am going to SAY it better!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One year plan? I can do that! Five year plan? Umm…I think I’d better sit down :-)

Missionaries are dreamers, boundary-pushers, risk-takers, big-picture people. Perhaps that’s true when it comes to our faith and aspirations (which cause us to accomplish great and seemingly impossible tasks!), but when we are asked to attach strategic plans, timelines and budgets to those dreams, a certain feeling starts to come over us and our plans become smaller and safer. Every year, each team with CCC creates a one-year strategic plan, with a budget and calendar. This year, the board of directors requested that each team submit a one year operational plan and a FIVE year strategic plan, each with their own budget!

Most teams gathered together physically at our national strategic planning event while others (like Nicholas’ team – the Digital Strategy Team) did theirs prior to the event. This was one of the highlights of my year work-wise because for 3 days and two nights, Nicholas was able to spend daddy-time with the boys on the site while I spent some quality work time with the national Student-led Movement team (my team!). I was in my element!

Our first order of business was to actually find out how everyone is doing. This was a very special time because we don’t often get the opportunity to connect as a national team face to face. It warmed my heart to hear how our missionaries and students in Cape Town are doing and to even see two of our missionary friends as newly weds (They’re the couple on the far left of the picture below).

The Student-led Movement of South Africa

I was given the task of leading the team through our SWOT time (a tool to help assess our current reality by considering our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Taking some inspiration from the Digital Strategy team, I led our team through a time of dreaming about the future. Even though crazy, adventurous dreams lie in the heart of many a missionary, I feel we don’t take adequate time to discuss those dreams, stretch them, and even put them to paper. This was the time to do it, and we did! My question to the team was: “If funding and manpower were never an issue, what dreams would you dream for our ministry?” There were a few moments of silence, but then the ideas slowly trickled out. At the end, it felt like something had lifted off our chests and we were ready to build these plans. By the end of those three days, we had put together both a one year and a 5 year strategic plan! A few days later, I worked together with our national SLM team leaders to create a budget to see how these dreams will become a reality. I must tell you, it was exhausting but worth it.

 

Here are a few things I had learned from this time together:

a) Sometimes it helps to assess the current reality of your staff before you assess the current reality of your organisation

b) Budgets, timelines and calendars are not weights to your dreams, they’re wings. When the right wind comes it will lift them and carry them!

c) Vincent and Kiran love chasing chickens 🙂 It also was sweet to see them busy with a few toys while Nic and I sat in on a few sessions in the main hall.

Nicholas was also able to contribute to the national planning event by giving a presentation on the national plans of the Digital Strategy team. He did an excellent job and I’m encouraged by his team and the way they work.

Nicholas sharing the national strategic plan for Digital Strategy

Please pray for Nicholas and I as we take turns to give each other opportunities for ministry. We are figuring out how to care for Vincent at home with occupational and speech therapy in order to prepare him for school next year.

 

The boys kept themselves busy while we worked. Kiran had a furry 4-legged visitor to keep him company!

Thank you for your love and prayers!

 

Pravani

 

Vinnie is growing! And so are we!

 

“If you’re going to be a leader, you need to be a life-long learner”. This concept was taught to me during a program called the Emerging Leaders Initiative. I was young, about to enter a leadership position at CCC and I was engaged to Nicholas – taking on as many courses and reading material as I could get my hands on. Fast forward ten years and oh boy, I have finally begun to understand that learning isn’t always about academics or accolades!

Kiran loves muddy puddles

One of the most fun, interesting (and hardest) opportunities for learning has been my kids. With Kiran I’m learning how to raise a two year-old again, this means potty-training, emotional outbursts (including regular uses of the word “no!” in his vocab) and needing to enforce discipline even in the face of intense cuteness. Oh my word, the cuteness! It’s paralysing! He is a teddy bear, a man of adventure and has the cutest dance moves ever!

Vincent is a marvel and testimony to us of God’s creativity, patience, fun and love. As you may have heard, he is currently receiving speech therapy as well as occupational therapy. For those of you who don’t know, here is a synopsis of his journey until now:

We began noticing Vincent’s speech challenges earlier this year when his brother began talking more and more. To me, it was a personality thing – Vincent was a quiet boy who enjoys playing by himself. We also noticed that when Vincent played with his cousins, he couldn’t communicate with them well. This all gave us a point of reference regarding how he should be communicating. Most of his sentences were 1-2 words long, he would babble a lot, not respond to our questions and would have sudden tantrum outbursts without being able to tell us what the cause of his frustrations were. He was also often distracted and restless, it was difficult getting him to complete almost any task.

Vincent’s time in hospital wasn’t easy but we are thankful for unblocked ears!

My family encouraged us to take him for a speech therapy assessment and we soon got an appointment with the Speech and Language Pathology department at the University of Pretoria.  The assessment revealed that Vincent had a significant wax blockage in both ears, and that he would need both speech and occupational therapy. After a visit to the ear, nose and throat specialist it became clear that Vincent would need to be put under a general anaesthetic to remove the wax thoroughly. After doing this and going for a hearing test, we found the procedure to be a success. We also made an appointment with an occupational therapist. This assessment proved to be one of the most helpful of them all. Serna Smit, an occupational therapist in Moreleta Park, explained to us that Vincent has a high sensory threshold. This means that he needs a high amount of sensory input before he can focus on anything. The communication between his senses, his brain, and his muscles and joints (the term for this is proprioception – fancy right?) need to be exercised and developed so that he can understand what to do, prioritize what to do and do it through to completion. This also will affect his speech, helping him to finish his sentences and verbalise his thoughts constructively.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I can gladly say that after 5 weeks of speech therapy and 3 weeks of occupational therapy, we are already seeing a difference in our boy. The differences are small but we as parents feel so empowered by the tools given to us and seeing the fruit of those efforts is encouraging.  Here are some steps given to us by the speech and occupational therapy:

Speech Therapy: The acronym OWL is key. O is for observe – taking the time to watch Vincent for opportunities of communication (like him looking up at the fridge at the jar of sweets). W is for wait – show him with your body posture that you’re waiting in anticipation for him to ask you what he wants. L is for Listen – actively listen to him, letting him know that his attempts to communicate are validated by us being excited that he wants to talk to us, a part of listening is to also give him a word or two as a nudge forward, for example “Vincent, say ‘Sweets please Mamma’” and when he says it I respond with praise and excitement.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Occupational therapy: To have constructive play time that has a beginning an end. Like picking up only the red blocks with tongs and dropping them into a basket until there aren’t any left. When he gets bored or distracted I gently redirect him to focus on finishing the task rather than moving onto another toy. Activities such as “ring-around-a-rosie” (falling onto the ground and getting up again), playing on grass, feeling the sand, riding his bike barefoot – all those activities are actually helping him do things like building puzzles, completing chores and even using more 3-word sentences rather than 2 words!

Dear ministry partners, please continue to pray for our beautiful boy, that he will flourish and that we as his first teachers won’t grow weary of learning and practising with diligence.  Pray for our selection of the right school for him next year and that God will continue to provide for the cost of Vincent’s therapies.

With love,

 

Pravani

 

 

Going Potty

It’s been a busy but blessed season at the Kelderman household. Our little big boy Kiran who turned two in May is now potty training and he is very proud of himself,  especially when he’s allowed to flush! If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be excited about bowel movements I would’ve laughed at you, but these are now part of the fun conversations I get to have with my family.

Our first-born, Vincent, who turned 4 in April is full of fun, joy and curiosity. As some of you may know, we have had challenges with his delay in speech. This past week I was finally able to take him for a speech therapy assessment at the University of Pretoria (pic right). It was fascinating to learn so many things aboDSC_0001ut my boy. I got to understand that his love for sensory stimulation, music and numbers are great tools we can use to build his language development. The feedback I got from the assessment helped me understand that we need to work on a few things: his hearing, his language development and the way he deals with the sensory overload that his body and mind experiences. We are currently tackling the hearing issue by gradually removing a wax build-up using eardrops and will soon send him for regular speech and occupational therapy. We are grateful to God and look forward to watching Him use our precious, friendly Vincent for His glory.

 

In the meantime, I’ve been trying a few exercises at home just to help him slow down, davprocess information and articulate what he understands. It’s been rocky here and there (especially because Kiran wants to do his Godzilla impersonation on every project we attempt!) but we are having fun and making progress. In the picture on the left, Vincent is selecting pegs of the same color, naming them and pegging them onto a cardboard. This activity helps with focus and fine motor skills.

 

Vincent, Kiran and I attend a mommy group once a week. Here the mommies get to give each other support, encouragement, advice and prayer and the kids get to play outside and make friends. Kiran’s closest friend is a beautiful blonde with a fbtshy sweet smile, her name is Sarah and they’re two weeks apart. Sarah’s mom, Beth, is a close friend of mine and she leads our mommy group time. I’ve found this group to be a lifeline, steam-valve release, “I’m not crazy”, we’re-all-in-this-together circle of friends here in Pretoria. Honestly, I don’t believe anyone should do parenting on their own, especially us as moms who often take on more than we can handle.

Amid all the laughter, tears, chaos and mess, I’m immensely grateful for  this season when I can have my boys all to myself and have a front-row seat on their growth journey, even spiritually. Vincent and Kiran have both started saying grace at the table lately and it’s been precious to watch them pray with their tiny hands clasped together. I am learning from them – to trust, to laugh and to release all that I feel to our Father.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WIGs and things…

If you’ve encountered other missionaries from CCC you may hear them say we’re one big family. With this in mind, saying goodbye to our Cape Town team and saying hello to our Pretoria team was kind of like getting reacquainted with our cousins. Still though, fitting in with a new team does require some intention of the heart. As I pulled out my bran muffins from the oven and heard my house filling with familiar sounds of my colleagues, I knew that staff meetings at home were going to continue to be a joy, just like they were in Cape Town.

Boring staff meeting? Never! Here we are at my place picking out a new WIG.  Left to right: Pravani, Lydia, Renier (our team leader), Ruan and Thabiso

We got around my dining room table and starting talking about our WIGS (I see that raised eyebrow of yours! Just hold on this isn’t the hairy kind, I’ll explain). WIG is an acronym that stands for Wildly Important Goal. It’s something we can strive towards as a team – wildly! At each staff meeting we will touch on it briefly and celebrate how close we are to reaching it. The WIG that seemed to “fit” our team best was to achieve 100% of our goals for ministry partnerships this year. At the next meeting we took the time to evaluate our personal current reality using a SWOT analysis and discussed our findings. This was so helpful because we could identify with each other’s weaknesses and be encouraged by each other’s strengths. From there we each plotted our own strategic plan for achieving our goals. I took this plan to Nicholas and together we’re working on reaching our goal. Our first step is getting in touch with our Gauteng ministry partners. If you’re in Gauteng and haven’t heard from us, please send me a Whatsapp or email so that we can get together.

Getting strategic about our plans. We enjoy meeting at The Hub at Universiteitsoord next to University of Pretoria.

One part of our strategic plan was to figure out our schedule. Nicholas and I have worked on a schedule that allows me to spend enough time at home with the boys, connection time with other mommies and time with my team. We are trusting the Lord that we will be able to enroll Vincent into a playschool soon but for the moment he is enjoying spending his days at home with mommy and his little brother. He is making friends with the other kids in our apartment building and it is a joy watching him interact. Kiran is racing towards the two-year old milestone and not stopping for anyone! He is wearing bigger clothes, eating almost as much as his brother and learning how to express himself both to us and to strangers. For now, his Afrikaans is developing faster than his English and it is adorable!

Bouncing baby boys! Vincent and Kiran usually enjoy a good bounce in the morning until Kiran is tired enough for a nap 🙂

This is a new and joyful season for us as a family. There is much to get used to but there is also enough support for us to maintain certain routines. We thank the Lord for our date nights, family tea time and special visits with cousins and grandparents. If you’re in Pretoria and are able to visit – please contact me, we would love to see you!

Our sushi date night sponsored by friends of ours was such a treat! Nic had just a “few” more plates than I did 😉

When the cat’s away the mice will play! Nicholas and the boys enjoy some “guy time” when I’m at our weekly staff meeting. This is such a sweet blessing!