The morning after our kids admitted they were much older than our agency had told us, we went to work on a new plan. In addition to already known, although minor, health problems, we now had a new set of problems on our hands. I think Ken said it best when he said, “I feel like someone kidnapped our kids, and put 2 others in their place.” Our son should be in 3rd grade, rather than Kindergarten, and our daughter should be in 1st grade, instead of the 3-4 year old classroom in a local preschool.
If you have a headache, are feeling nauseated, or are even mildly disinterested, please feel free to skip this post. If you are interested and feeling well, grab some Pepto and Tylenol for what’s to come.
Here are the people who are helping us decide on a new plan, as well as continue with the necessary parts of our current plan:
- Our family physician, Dr. Wallace
- Our international adoption physician, Dr. Rothman
- An ENT specialist, Dr. Fortune
- A developmental psychologist, Dr. Ashford
- An occupational therapist, who evaluated Addie as being 3 years old in her motor skills. This wasn’t really a problem when she was 4, but now that she is 6, it is.
- Several radiologists, who have caught a rare abnormality in Addie’s neck, as well as who are determining their bone age (Palmer’s has been done, and Addie has hers on Monday)
- A team of neurologists to consult about Addie’s neurologic state
- The public health department– because they come from a country where diseases that are rare in the U.S. are common
- Metro Nashville Public Schools, including the local school, the English Learners program, and soon-to-be a few others
- Addie’s preschool staff
- Ken and I. We both have advanced education in medical and developmental psychology, but want to make decision as a team.
- Our kids
Where do I begin? Well, first of all, we have to decide how old our kids are. Once we found out their birth certificates were falsified, we realized we should throw out their birth day and year. We now have to, as a team, decide what age our kids are. Aging of internationally adopted kids can indeed be difficult.
An important consideration is puberty. Studies have shown that internationally adopted kids go through puberty very early. Girls start as soon as 8 and boys as soon as 10. This means we have just 1-2 years before our kids are likely to start puberty. On our current schedule, that would put Addie in 1st grade and Palmer in 2nd grade when they start to develop. So it’s really not okay just to leave them where they are at on their birth certificates.
Another consideration is that our kids know their age when they were in the orphanage, and know that they were told to lie. If they didn’t know, we might have more options. In fact, the picture in which they said they were 6 and 8 was from last December. Whether they know that it was from a year ago, is questionable, but they could even be 7 and 9 at this point. They aren’t talking about that, but we’re aware it’s a possibility.
Another factor is that they are not speaking English. Addie essentially admitted to me what I have believed: that someone told her not to speak English. That someone is likely the person she shares a room with. It is very difficult to assess childrens’ developmental abilities without language comprehension, since much of intelligence is based on receptive and expressive language.
We have found out from other parents of children from the same orphanage, that Addie has always been “slow.” She has never talked, walked, or run as other children her age do. She was always very loud, even for the Congolese. So her developmental issues aren’t because of a cultural shift. It’s who she is. I find it ironic that other children knew she was “slow” but the adoption physician wasn’t astute enough to pick it up. Ahem. We are having her hearing tested to see if hearing loss explains her delays and speech problems.
Now that I know that her speech problems are not cultural, and her actual age is 6, we have to be more aggressive with getting her therapy to maximize and even realize her potential. Because she is 6 instead of 4, the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) should be involved. She will qualify for services that would be very difficult for us to afford with our extremely-high-deductible health insurance. We will likely have to say farewell of our plans to send them both to private Christian school once their English comprehension was up-to-speed.
I called the school where Palmer is attending on Monday to explain the situation. Their first reaction was expected: “What in the world?” Their second reaction was that they believed that even though we don’t have their birth certificates changed, we needed to move Palmer to the third grade, according to the law, because we know about the age disparity. We wrestled with MNPS all week long, played phone tag, talked to lots of different people, but ultimately it was decided that we will need to advance Palmer more slowly, but the goal is to get him within one year of age level within the next year or so. This means skipping TWO grades in approximately 1 year. Remember, he’s not even speaking English yet. It’s a very tall task.
On the other hand, we want to go ahead and treat Addie like she is 6 right away so that she qualifies for services and get her in a more academic setting as soon as possible. Her current preschool has 15 minutes of academic work per day, and she is surrounded by one 4 year old, and seven 3 year olds. Behaviorally and academically, this isn’t good for her. Her preschool is trying to test her for Kindergarten readiness, but Addie hasn’t been very cooperative. She knows we’ve called her bluff and our expectations are changing. We’re not sure if she has a fundamental lack of intelligence, or has had a lack of being challenged.
Essentially, we are asking 2 different things for 2 children with the same problem. Fortunately, MNPS realizes what a pickle we are in, and has expressed both condolences and sympathy. They are taking a week to think about it. Because we have no proof at this point how old she really is because her birth certificate was falsified, we are at an impasse until the international adoption physician (and all of the above) helps us assign a new age and create new documentation.
Addie has an abnormality in her spine that was picked up on a chest x-ray. That, coupled with the fact that she is 3 years behind in her fine and gross motor skills, make me and the adoption physician wonder if it is related to her developmental delay. It is an abnormality that is so rare that we all thought it was a typo, until I did some research and found that it is not all that abnormal in African children. No one here has heard of it, either, until they get out the journals. We are going to let the team of neurologists from Vanderbilt look at the original film, and decide if they want to sedate her for an MRI. What follows after that could vary. Just therapy? Surgery and therapy? We’ll see. It could be nothing, or it could be a big deal.
As you can see, deciding why Addie is so delayed is becoming as big of a dilemma as what to do about it. Palmer’s biggest challenge will be the fact that regulations say that he needs to be in an age appropriate classroom as soon as possible. We’re asking MNPS to do what is best for our children individually, and that’s a tall task for a huge school system.
Oh, and have I mentioned, we still have to file for readoption, refile our 2011 taxes, and apply for the Certificate of Citizenship? Oh, and have I mentioned that I have pneumonia right now?
International adoption is hard enough, but we are overwhelmed with the to-do list to make our situation manageable. We’re searching for the new normal.We march on. This is the race we have been called to run. Two to three doctors’ visits per week. We’ll be needing to add psychological and occupational therapy to that soon as well. It’s daunting. I’m running out of time on my part-time maternity leave. Soon, Ken and I will both be working full-time. Our families are thousands of miles away.
We have to grieve after the kids go to bed, or while they are at school, because we in no way want them to think that we are disappointed in them.
Forgive us if we don’t want to talk about it in passing. It’s just too much for casual conversation, especially in front of our kids. If you want to take us to lunch or out for a cup of coffee, or call us on the phone when the kids aren’t around, we’ll talk. We love to hear the words of support, which have poured out since we broke the news on Tuesday, through e-mail, text messages, and cards. We need them. We need a team of cheerleaders in our life, because our team is tired. Very tired.
We know that though this situation has been brought about by much evil and deception, God has intended it for good. I’m reminded of when Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” Genesis 50:20, NIV. We cling to that.