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Sheri Castello
The ChairMom Shares Her Story

Remember, even before your baby is born,
you are your child's best and most important advocate.

Sheri Castello, ChairMom and Co-Founder of Daycare.com, has two children, Jonathan, who is nine years old and Jessica, who is three. When Jonathan was four he was tested and found to be a highly gifted child. In this article Sheri shares some of her experiences as the mom of a gifted child with special needs.

- Glasses and Eye Surgery -

At Jonathan's six month check up his doctor suggested we see an eye specialist because his eyes were crossed. By the time Jonathan was 8 months old he was wearing glasses. At first it was difficult to keep them on him. I literally had to follow behind him putting them back on every time he took them off. I stayed with it for about three days and then he just left them on. I still remember thinking how fortunate we were. Everything physically about him was perfect. So he wasn't going to have perfect eyesight. Things could have been worse. I tried to be very positive.

Jonathan Using His GlassesAt age one we were told he needed to have surgery to correct his crossed eyes. I'll never forget that awful feeling of handing over my sedated baby to the doctors for surgery-he had to be sedated before surgery so he would not be traumatized by the separation. I still remember how painful it was for my husband and me. Of course, all the awful things that could happen enter your mind and drive you nuts. It was all I could do to maintain myself with a lot of praying and pacing back and forth.

Jonathan's surgery was very successful and the doctor was quite happy with the results. After he recuperated from the surgery we had to start patching one eye, which we did for several years. It was very hard for Jonathan to keep that patch on especially when he had to wear it for a couple hours at daycare. Everything progressed very well with his eyes but he did need one more surgery when he was five. I had to relive the same feelings as before. I dreaded every minute and wished it could have been me instead of him. I hated to put him through it again but he was a trooper. It was another very successful surgery without the need for more in the future. We were relieved it was over.

Starting to Read

When Jonathan was about two, we were driving around town with my husband's parents in the car. Jonathan was pointing out the window and trying to say something. It sounded like "athabeta". We couldn't figure it out. Then on the return trip home he again pointed out the window and said "athabeta". I quickly looked out the window to figure out this big mystery when suddenly it dawned on me he was pointing to a grocery store called Alpha Beta. I couldn't believe it! And that's not even where I shop! We all laughed hysterically. Little did we know that Jonathan was already in the early stages of learning to read. By two and a half he was reading fluently and managing a computer. Now we look back in amazement, but while living it we didn't realize that Jonathan had a gift. Since this was our first experience raising a child we had no idea what the learning progression was for a typical two year old.

I now believe that Jonathan's constant crying during his first year may in part have been because of his eye problems. I can only imagine the headaches he must have been experiencing as he tried to focus. If I had known then what I know today I might have been able to relieve some of his pain and discomfort and some of my worry. The Internet has become a great source for research and learning for my entire family. I strongly believe in self-education. With tools like the Internet, you can do so much to empower yourself and spread that knowledge to others who may need help.

A First Experience with Daycare

When Jonathan was almost three, I had to go back to work. My husband Michael had gotten very sick with a serious illness, which also forced us to rely on welfare. It was tough getting by on very little income. This was a humiliating experience that helped us at a time when we really needed it. I focused on educating myself about nutritional eating so that I could help my husband regain his health. We had to have faith in our togetherness, prayer and healthy eating. I can still remember sitting down at the table for dinner and giving thanks for all the things we did have.

JonathanGetting back to work was another educational experience. I joined a few temporary agencies and took advantage of their software tutors to improve my computer skills. I tried to learn as much as I could and started interviewing. I landed a job with a large corporation with onsite childcare. This was great because I could visit my son anytime. The job was very satisfying and I met many new friends. It's funny because I think about the scrapbook I made while I was home with Jonathan during those trying times. I believe you have to visualize things you want in order to attain them. I took pictures and words out of magazines of all the things I wanted for my family--a great job, more money, a house, health and good childcare. These things were all beginning to materialize. It was a great feeling. I was in charge of my life, which meant a better life for my son.

I had quite a hard time leaving Jonathan in daycare. I cried just as hard as he did that first day. It was heart wrenching. I couldn't wait to pick him up after work. He continued to have days where he would cry when I dropped him off. It never really stopped. He liked playing by himself and reading in a corner. He didn't like group activities and he especially didn't like changes or anything new. He also had an interest in the room next to him, which was the next age group up. The daycare providers finally decided to put him there to see what would happen. He did well for a while with new things that interested him but then he wanted to move to the next age group. This is where the frustration really began. He had many emotional outbursts and couldn't manage his anger. He was beginning to be too much for the daycare providers to handle. They couldn't understand why he wanted to move ahead, why he liked playing alone, why he loved talking with the adults and why he was so emotional. I know that they were not set up for a special needs child but comments like "there is something wrong with your child, he is not 'normal'", were definitely something they should not have said to any parent. Every time they moved him to the next room ahead of schedule they would say, "your child is not special but we think this will work." I thought, of course he's special, isn't every child? We had several meetings with the director and teachers. It was frustrating. They even told us that Jonathan should be on medication. Ugh!! I was very upset. I do feel that there is a definite need for medication for some children but it should be thoroughly investigated, prescribed by a doctor and given a second opinion.

One day, on a trip to the eye doctor for one of Jonathan's regular check ups, we met another mother with her child. She noticed that Jonathan's reading and vocabulary were quite advanced and suggested we get his IQ tested. She told us about a school designed especially for gifted children. They had a doctor on site who was highly rated and could perform the test. I was a little hesitant about testing his IQ but she assured me there was no need to worry and Jonathan would do quite well. We left there seriously contemplating her suggestion.

We took Jonathan to get his IQ tested and he passed with flying colors. He actually enjoyed the test. They rated him as "highly gifted"--but what did that mean and how were we to raise him? I immediately started researching on the Internet to be better prepared to make good decisions about Jonathan's education. I learned that the key was going to be to keep him challenged. Also, because highly gifted children are typically emotionally immature, he needed to be in an environment where the caregivers have the knowledge and expertise to deal with his periodic emotional flareups. It was apparent that his current daycare was not equipped to deal with a child with Jonathan's specific needs. We immediately ended that daycare relationship. >>>>> More

Sheri Castello
ChairMom and Co-Founder Daycare.com

• ChairMom Tells Her Story - Part One
January 14, 2002
• ChairMom Tells Her Story - Part Two
How My Mother's Washer and Dryer Saved the Day
January 24, 2002
• ChairMom Tells Her Story - Part Three
Glasses and Eye Surgery
February 20, 2002
• ChairMom Tells Her Story - Part Four
Schooling The Gifted Child
February 24, 2002

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