THADDEUS DANIEL . . . quite a name to hang on anybody, especially a baby, but it had possibilities, like Danny Boy or Tad. The mother had named him Thaddeus Daniel. I never saw her, but Father Cassidy described her as “a lovely girl; a wee slip of a thing.” She had been in the States for a year; found herself “in the family way” and came under the protective wing of Catholic Charities of Northern Virginia. Thaddeus was born on the 4th of July, 1967. The following day his mother died, not knowing what she — or God — had wrought.
Thaddeus Daniel will soon be 5 years old; a mischievous, delightful, energetic and inquisitive 5. He has an infectious laugh and an affinity for showing off as well as roughhousing with five brothers and sisters. Although none of the five is particularly inhibited, Tad is usually the ring leader in rough and tumble. A healthy child, emotionally stable, intellectually above average, normal in all respects, save two.
Thaddeus Daniel is deaf and blind. A rubella baby.
RUBELLA is commonly known as German measles, comparatively mild for child or adult, it is a deadly crippler of the unborn baby. A school child may pick up the disease in a classroom and bring it home, where it keeps him in bed for a day or two, watched over by a loving mother, possibly pregnant. She in turn may catch the virus, occasionally unaware that she is even ill. But it is transmitted to the unborn child with catastrophic results. Congenital rubella causes irreparable damage to the unborn fetus, attacking the eyes and the ears, and often the brain, the heart and the neurological system as well.
I vividly recall the day the Tadpole came to live with us. For me, it had been an unusually frustrating day in the Puzzle Palace, and home was a welcome escape, not only from the vagaries of the Pentagon, but from a hot, humid day in late July. In contrast, the house was cool and refreshing. It was also like a tomb. After years of being attuned to high decibel sound, I wondered vaguely where all the children were, but my wife gave me no time to ask. Fortified with a gin and tonic, I followed her down the hallway to my study. She switched on a light. My desk had been shoved into a corner and there was a crib in the center. I said something like, “What the hell…” and she said, “It’s a baby!” I looked in, and, sure enough, a baby. I guess I was expecting puppies. It was clad in a too-large diaper and a little undershirt; red and wrinkled, with legs curled up as if he were still inside his mother; a little fuzz on the head, and eyes tightly shut — like a newborn kitten; a typical baby. “Isn’t he darling!” she said, and I asked whose it was, and, of course, she said, “Ours.”
That was nearly five years ago. I finally moved the desk into a corner of the game room.
THADDEUS Daniel is a lucky boy, not because he has found a home, but because he has a chance. It is one largely of his own making. In that regard, a source of mild embarrassment to us is the friend who remarks that, “You are so good to take a handicapped child into your home!” Our stock answer, “Au contraire!” After years of traveling the world over, with time out for some rather intimate involvement in two wars, I am essentially pragmatic when it comes to both goodness and the nature of man; however, we are lucky in that our five other children — sometimes kooky, occasionally lethargic, always wonderful — have no visible shortcomings.
Probably the most rewarding aspect of the addition of the Tadpole is his relationships with the older children and their friends. They react positively to him and often include him in their activities. Bruce, the oldest and a law student at George Washington University, occasionally takes Tad and his dog for rides in his VW; Doneva, studying psychology at Dickinson State, plans to work with handicapped children after graduation, as do three of her friends. She brought them home during the Christmas holidays and Tad was their steady date. Kevin, majoring in girls and campustry at Yorktown, is Tad’s constant companion and sparring partner. Colin, whose goal is medicine, is a Williamsburg Junior High student. He devotes too much homework time in figuring out intricate gimmicks with which he tests the Tadpole’s abilities. Annette is a student of St. Agnes and of the piano. She is convinced that Tad will master Chopsticks by the end of the year.
All of the children are musically inclined, with an assortment of guitars, amplifiers, a clarinet and saxophone. Some of the music is good, all of it loud. They claim that whatever the Tadpole hears, he enjoys. He has one advantage in that when music turns to cacophony, he pulls out his hearing aid molds — instant silence.
With the exception of Thaddeus, all of our children are student pilots and frequently fly with me. Annette, 10, has a slight difficulty at the moment. When she sits up so that she can see out of the windows, her feet don’t touch the rudder pedals, and when she slides down to reach them, she can’t see out the windows. For her, this is a minor problem of a temporary nature which will soon be overcome by natural growth. Of greater concern to her is how the Tadpole will do when his turn comes, never doubting that this will be the normal course of events. Kevin’s rationale is that Tad, with his exceptional sense of balance and ability to twirl around endlessly without getting dizzy, would make an excellent pilot, especially in bad weather. No vertigo or disorientation. Colin assures Annette that the Tadpole will be able to fly right seat, pointing to Ray Charles, the singer and pianist, who occasionally takes over the controls of his personal jet. Ray Charles is blind. For youth, nothing is impossible.
In the meantime, Tad works on more basic skills, such as learning to chew and to dress himself. In these pursuits, he also gets an assist from his brothers and sisters and their assorted friends. Each has his own techniques of communication with Tad. Annette uses the clapping of her hands to get his attention, then a variety of animated gestures to convey the idea of food — water— sleep — play. Bruce uses the direct at approach; a pair of stereo head phones clamped around Tad’s rib cage, one earpiece over his hearing amplifier; then a bit of Country Road from an electric guitar.
Youngsters understand better than adults Tad’s total lack of inhibition. At nature’s call, he will interrupt the activity of the moment and charge off to a bathroom. Mission accomplished, he rushes back to the action, sometimes stripped to the skin. When in a hurry, especially if fun has been interrupted, he finds it easier to undress completely rather than go through the intricacies of buttoning and zipping. A whack on a bare bottom has conveyed. the idea that it is wiser to dress. This lack of inhibition can be disconcerting to the uninitiated. As a form of teasing or because he delights in the reaction, he occasionally steals up behind an unsuspecting female and flips up her skirt. With a teen-ager, reaction is a squeal followed by laughter; in school, the teachers understand this bit of devilment and have curbed it; however, try explaining it to a middle-aged dowager pushing a grocery cart. We no longer take him shopping.
Even Duke John, his 4-year-old Samoyed husky, understands the Tadpole’s forms of communication — understands and tolerates it when Tad decides to ride him or pull his tail or cuff him on the nose for barking in the house. He also understands that Tad will not eat while he is in the same room. Lunchtime for Tad, when he is at home, is a glass of milk, a bowl of soft food and a roll served in the kitchen, Duke John’s favorite indoor haunt. Lunchtime is ceremonial for Tad; always the same time, the same chair at the same spot.
When my wife, Ursella, in her periodic rearranging, places the small ice cream table and chairs in another part of the kitchen, Tad, with a penchant for orderliness and perhaps with a feeling that somebody is trying to booby-trap him, drags them back to where they “belong.” The table properly placed, Tad then ceremoniously escorts Duke John from the room, slaps the dog on the rump, shuts him out and returns to the table, where he digs in with gusto.
Nothing is spilled. He is fastidious. After each spoonful, he wipes his mouth with the edge of the spoon; the bowl is cleaned, the milk drunk, and the empty dishes are always carried from the table and gently placed in the bottom of the sink. In the process, he has not broken a dish or glass for six months.
Dinner is usually a noisy, pleasant affair, with the entire family gathered about an oversized table in the dining room. Tad is there, seated in his highchair alongside his mother. He eats from the same menu as the others, although his portions are often mashed or cut in small bits. Meat still presents a problem as he has not yet mastered the art of chewing, which is an imitated skill. This, too, is a form of education. Most normal children learn much by imitation. Tad, and many like him, neither see — nor hear well enough to imitate. They must be shown again and again, and in great detail. But, they learn, and the intellectual and emotional capacity to expand and mature is present, sometimes in higher than average amounts. Tad recently underwent a battery of tests and a week of close scrutiny at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass. He was adjudged to be above average in intelligence, to be highly trainable and perhaps educable. “Perhaps,’ of course, is an elusive word. The implication seems to be that if the right kind of teachers are available for the right amount of time, Tad can learn to speak, read and write — if . . . .
AT HOME, Tad is surrounded by seven sets of willing hands — willing not to do for him, but to teach him to do for himself.
It was Colin who taught him to wash his hands and face; however, it was Bruce’s room below that flooded out when Tad mastered the technique of turning on the water. He has since learned to turn the water off.
Doneva took over his toilet training — a beautiful, thorough job. He mastered the flushing mechanism especially, then discovered that toothbrushes made gaily colored patterns as they swirled about the bowl. A toothbrush, however, has a tendency to become lodged in the drain trap. In self-preservation from future flooding, Bruce upended the toilet bowl in the little kids’ bathroom five times, removing two or three brushes, each time. For two months, we kept Dr. West’s in business; by that time, Tad learned that toothbrushes in the toilet bowl was a no-no.
Kevin teaches him death-defying acts, like jumping from the fireplace mantelpiece into somebody's arms. This has led to solo leaps from cocktail tables, night stands and the dining room table. Next was the backward fall from the mantelpiece, always making sure first that somebody was behind to catch him. Annette then taught him the joys of the bed as trampoline. He taught himself the added joy of mounting the headboard by clutching Ursella’s red velvet drapes with peanut butter fingers, relaxing completely and falling backwards onto the bed. Arriving home one evening, I was greeted by howls of glee from the master bedroom. Tad was demonstrating. Each time he plopped back, it evoked a belly laugh from the Tadpole which broke up the audience of five brothers and sisters. It also broke the main spar in the box spring.
But, you can fix a box spring. Far more Important is the self-confidence such activity gives a child who is short on sight and hearing. Although cautious, he charges about the house and yard, unmindful of stairs or doorways. He has never had a bad fall or more than a slight bruise from contact with an immovable object. He is constantly occupied, most of it meaningful, some of it cluttered, but he has come a long way in a short span of years. He still has a long way to go.
Mrs. Sonya Fleming agrees. She is child development supervisor at the Arlington County Department of Human Resources Growth and Development Center, where Tad spends every weekday from 9 until 2. The center provides a preschool program for exceptional children residing in Arlington.
“Tad has overcome most of the characteristics associated with rubella children,” she tells us. “He has grown into a highly active 4-year old, who thrives on running, roughhousing and tricycling. He is ready now for bigger and better things.”
What bigger and better things? At the moment, the Perkins Institute, seems to be the best possibility. If Tad goes there, he will be part of a privileged percentage of deaf-blind children, perhaps as low as 20 percent — that gets to attend a special resident school.
There are several reasons why. First, there is the cost, $8,000 for nine months at Perkins, and at that the fee is less than half the actual cost to Perkins. Each year it must dip into resources used to operate the School for the Blind in order to underwrite its small, but effective, deaf-blind department.
A second reason is the reluctance of parents to send their child to a residential school, looking upon it as “packing him off to an institution.” But the principal reason is the lack of facilities and specially qualified teachers. I have talked about this shortage with Mrs. Gertrude Cheng, an outstanding teacher of the deaf-blind in Washington. She feels, as do many others, that there is an urgent need for a national facility to train teachers of the deafblind, as well as educate the children.
“A double handicap of both deafness and blindness compounds the educational process a hundredfold,” she says. “Not only are increased skills required of the teacher, but greater patience, more empathy, and vastly more time. Time is critical. A deaf-blind child should begin formal training as soon as possible after birth.”
“There is hope for most only if they can be reached in time — identified, removed from isolation, trained, and in many cases educated. These children, like Thaddeus Daniel, must be offered a meaningful present and given the opportunity for a promising future.”
The Tadpole himself is unconcerned. He is happy and he is content. Frustrations are few, and the world — or Mother Nature — has many compensations. He is a creature of the outdoors and revels in fresh air and sunshine. During the summer past, under the guidance and tutelage of a grand old man and great soldier, Gen. Bruce C. Clarke, Tad learned to swim. The general, who frequently travels, presented him with his own private key to the gate of the high fence surrounding the Clarke pool so Ursella could let him in. But, it was usually the general who slipped the life jacket over Tad’s skinny ribs and sat at the edge of the pool while the Tadpole dogpaddled from one side to the other. Gen. Clarke, a hero of the Battle of the Bulge and St. Vith, commander of a fighting corps in Korea and of the U.S. Army in Europe and the Continental Army Command, beamed with pleasure as the Tadpole grasped the side of the pool and hoisted his skinny bottom alongside his instructor’s more ample one.
It is late spring in Arlington. Each day, Tad ventures out with Duke John to walk and run, to ride a trike or clamber up his slide and zip downward, or to sit quietly at the bottom and gaze up at a warming sun. “Listening to God,” Annette calls it, and maybe he is.
One of Tad’s favorite teachers at the Growth and Developmental Center is Lilly Burton, a warm, compassionate woman, black and beautiful. She and Tad have a mutual affection for each other, and when his is so inclined, he climbs onto her lap and snuggles his face into the hollow of her shoulder. The other morning, Tad sat patiently with his mother in the waiting room of Sibley Hospital, waiting for an eye appointment with Dr. A.M. Reynolds Jr. Two ladies entered, one of Mrs. Burton’s proportions. Tad approached, gave her a critical once-over and held up his arms. She picked him up, and sat down. The hour was early, the bosom comfortable, and Tad slept until the nurse woke him up for his appointment 20 minutes later. The woman remarked that it had been a pleasant wait for both of them.
Vignettes of Thaddeus Daniel, an ambassador of good will.
AIDED by dedicated teachers in the Arlington Growth and Developmental Center and guided at home by parents, brothers and sisters, Tad is learning to overcome, his afflictions. With contact lenses and bifocals, he is able to make the most of what little eyesight he has. With dual hearing aids and a powerful transistorized amplifier he can pick up sounds — just how many and to what degree, it is too early to tell, but this s u m m e r , under the expert guidance of Mrs. Cheng, he will begin an intensive speech program.
Ideally, all deaf-blind children should be taught to speak. For some, it is impossible. For many, it is entirely possible, but takes expert guidance, proper hearing aids, glasses or contacts, and the right kinds of electronic equipment. Each child should be fitted with wireless headphones in the classroom so that the teacher can communicate directly with individual children. The cost, per child of this one item: $1,250, a price beyond the reach of most. While expensive, such training has immeasurable rewards; not the least is the intrinsic satisfaction a parent or teacher gets when she first hears a deaf-blind child speak. We’re anticipating that moment.
The Tadpole, at home on the farm in Madison, Virginia