A couple months before our daughter HJ came home, we unexpectedly received a notice from the agency in Korea asking us to sign a Class B Medical Waiver. Essentially, it’s a document that asks parents to acknowledge that yes, you know your child might have some developmental delays and you are still ok proceeding with the adoption.
Looking back, we pretty much went into HJ’s adoption with a huge leap of faith. We didn’t know much about her birth mom, we knew absolutely nothing about her biological dad, and we knew nothing of her prenatal or genetic history. What we did know, deep in our hearts, was that she was meant to be our child.
From the moment that my mom told me that my grandfather had a baby girl at the orphanage and asked us if we knew anyone that wanted to adopt her, we knew she was ours. Still, for some reason that Class B Waiver really threw us off when we received it, at least for me. I was confused. Hadn’t my grandfather assured us that HJ was the healthiest, smartest, most beautiful baby he had ever seen in his 50 years at the orphanage? Yes, he was clearly biased and smitten by HJ, but it just didn’t occur to us that she could have any serious delays. We knew she was not babbling as much as other babies and that she wasn’t crawling or holding up her head very well, but we assumed at the time that she would soon catch up.
When she came to us at 14 months old, she was still not walking and talking much. I chalked it up to the shock of her transition and her sensitive temperament. But when she ended up qualifying for occupational, speech, developmental and behavioral therapy through Early Intervention, I shed some tears because now her delays were becoming more of a reality.
She made incredible gains those first couple years, and I kind of convinced myself that she was going to be fine. I told Sol, “I don’t want her to go to Harvard or anything, I just want her to have a normal education and not have to struggle too much in school.” Growing up, I had been one of those kids who loved school and was basically your typical Korean American overachiever, along with most of my friends.
But because of that, I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on HJ. I just didn’t want her to be made fun of labeled unfairly, or given fewer opportunities to excel. So when HJ turned three and aged out of Early Intervention, we had our first IEP meeting with the school district to see if she qualified for special education preschool. This is where the difficult decisions really came into play. We knew she had made so much progress since her adoption, but we also knew she had some major sensory issues and still needed support.
After a tense and drawn-out meeting, the therapists and teachers actually took a vote and determined that it would be better to put HJ in the least restrictive environment possible, which meant a regular preschool classroom, but she would continue receiving speech therapy on a weekly basis.
Fast forward about 9 months, and Sol and I found ourselves in another IEP meeting to re-evaluate HJ’s placement. This meeting went much more smoothly than our first overwhelming, confusing IEP extravaganza, and it was quickly decided that HJ would benefit from more intensive special education services.
It may have taken me almost a year, but now I was ready to accept it. HJ had special needs. I asked for a diagnosis this time, so I could better understand how to help my daughter. They told us she has verbal apraxia. The speech therapist described it as a disconnect between her brain and the ability to plan the movements her mouth has to make to form certain sounds and words.
The scary part of it is that it is considered a neurological speech issue, and that is something that she will probably have to deal with for the rest of her life. The good thing is she will now be receiving even more therapy to address her specific needs, and it looks like they caught it as early as they possibly could.
HJ had her first day at her new special education preschool today. I was so proud of her for how well she adjusted to her new teacher and classmates and how she took it all in stride. Now that I better understand what she has been going through trying to communicate with us and everyone around her, I am even more amazed at all that she’s overcome in her 3.5 years on this earth. She lost her birth mom and her first caregiver, survived a move from a completely different country and culture, and adjusted beautifully to a new baby sister and starting school, all the while dealing with the frustration of not being able to express the words she knew she wanted to say out loud. As her mom, all I can say is, I’m so proud of my baby girl.
She’s not a baby anymore. She’s really growing up before our very eyes.