Young bullpup an inspiration to cadets
Christian Ladson is a typical 10-year-old boy. He's inquisitive, talkative and rambunctious. Yet, he carries with him a wisdom that extends well beyond his young years and hides the fact that he's been legally blind since he was 3.
"Christian is truly an extraordinary child," said Shelton Milner, activities coordinator in The Citadel Department of Cadet Activities. "He does not feel sorry for himself and does not expect anyone to give him sympathy."
Milner met Christian when he came to The Citadel's Bulldog/Bullpup Mentoring Program this year. Cadet Activities sponsors the program for about 30 children ages 6 through 11. The bullpups, as they are called, are paired with a cadet mentor, a bulldog. In addition to regular phone calls and occasional outings, the bulldogs and bullpups get together three times a year to celebrate Halloween (Christian's first party), Christmas and Easter.
To watch Christian interact with cadets and other children during the Bulldog/Bullpup Christmas Party and Citadel tree lighting ceremony Dec. 5 was awe inspiring, said Cadet Marcus White of Oscar Company. White is Christian's mentor.
"Christian is a normal 10-year-old who enjoys hanging out and is very hyper!" White said. "He likes throwing the football and basketball."
White, Class of 2004, has worked with special needs children like Christian while attending Spartanburg (SC) High School. But the cadet said he doesn't see Christian as a child with a disability. White sees a smart, playful, happy boy who inspires him and also fosters great respect for Christian's mother, Glenda Ladson of Charleston.
Christian came to the Bulldog/ Bullpup Program through a referral from a Medical University of South Carolina nurse who thought the boy would benefit from the mentoring program. In addition to being blind and a little hard of hearing, Christian also suffers from brain tumors that have more than once threatened to cut his high-spirited life short.
Ladson, who also has a 3-year-old daughter, said her son often amazes her. He consoles her when she's feeling down, assuring her that God loves her and with faith everything will be OK. He also is a source of inspiration to other children who are sick, she said.
"Christian wants to be a minister and is always ready to start preaching," she said. They are members of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Charleston and Christian attends St. Andrews Elementary School in West Ashley.
Ladson hopes Christian's doctors will soon medically clear it for her to enroll her son at a Spartanburg school for special needs children. There, he can learn to be more independent.
In the meantime, Christian and White are developing "a remarkable bond," said Col. Richard Irby, director of cadet activities.
"We have never had a special needs child in the program and took a chance with Christian on the advice of his doctor," Irby said. "It has been a great experience for everyone involved in the Bulldog/Bullpup Program.
"If we can add even a ray of sunshine to the life of this child, it makes the program totally worthwhile."