Saturday, August 20, 2011

"The Girl in the Window"

American journalist Lane DeGregory was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her feature story in the St. Petersburg Times on July 31st, 2008. "The Girl in the Window" was a feral child discovered in Florida in 2005. The 6-year-old had not been raised by wolves - she had been severely neglected by her mother (photo here), whose parental rights were severed. Now DeGregory has published a follow-up, 3 years after her 1st story about Danielle and 4 years after the girl was adopted by Bernie and Diane Lierow of Tennessee. She attends a school with other special needs students where she participates in a vocational program, but she still doesn't recognize her classmates. She works one-one with a speech therapist and has seen occupational and behavioral specialists, but still doesn't speak. A victim of what the 1st psychologist to examine her called "environmental autism," Dani is still severely developmentally disabled, but has made some noticeable changes:
  • She now makes eye contact and is more aware.
  • She exhibits more trust and understanding.
  • She sleeps through the night.
  • She attends to her own personal hygiene, although she sometimes has to be reminded and needs help with things like brushing her teeth.
  • She uses the bathroom on her own, but sometimes has accidents.
  • She can get undressed, but still needs help putting her clothes on.
  • She communicates non-verbally by refusing some things and reaching for others, but hasn't picked up sign language.
  • She knows how to hold a book and turn the pages, and she will listen to a story, though she can't read.
  • She can complete puzzles, climb fences, ride roller coasters, open doors, but has trouble sitting still.
  • She can pour herself a cup of water, but is not allowed in the refrigerator and is still learning not to put anything in her mouth except food.
  • She has fewer tantrums.
  • She smiles and laughs.
Raising and reaching Dani has been a challenge for her adoptive parents, who still can't leave her with her older brother or a babysitter because they're the only ones who can keep her calm. But she is making slow improvement. "She doesn't chew off her dolls' arms any more," says Bernie. "Now, she just spins them by their hair."

Image, left: Dani Lierow on 2/3/08, right: Dani on 8/12/11, more before and after photos here.

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