Making the Grade: Special Education and Adoption

September 30, 2016 agenesis of the corpus callosum, autism, brain damage syndrome, cerebral palsy, cognitive delay, developmental delays, early intervention, Education, hypothyroidism, IEP, institutional autism, non-verbal, public school, September 2016 Feature - Back to School 1 Comments

It’s September which means school is back in session. And this month at No Hands But Ours, it’s all about Education. From IEPs to OT, from homeschooling to Early Intervention, we’re covering the gamut of educational topics and how they relate to the unique needs of the children who have joined our families through adoption.



I was asked to write this post on Special Education, and I’ve written it several times over.

At first I was trying to explain the standard process of my Special Education experience. But – in writing this – I discovered several important lessons I’ve learned over the past four years….

My perspectives on Special Education are that of a mother and an educator. I taught for 18 years in the Texas public school system. We have five beautiful children, and we attempt to meet each of our children’s educational needs on an individual basis. Our biological daughter Molly is homeschooled by my mother, a retired school teacher. Our adopted son Timmy is in general education at the public school near our house. And our beautiful girls from China – Savannah, Kelsey, and Emily – are all in different special education programs within the school district in which we live.

Savannah’s special needs are autism, congenital hypothyroidism, non-verbal, and significant cognitive delay.
Kelsey’s special need is cerebral palsy, and she is non-verbal.
Emily’s special needs are encephalocele, severe epilepsy, blind, deaf, significant brain damage (missing corpus callosum and 9/10 of her cerebellum), scoliosis, and non-verbal.

I believe that 99.9% of educators and administrators have children’s best interest at heart.
I believe that all children can learn and make progress.
I believe in a flawed educational system that still does good.



Savannah was three when she came home from China. She weighed 11 pounds, and she functioned on the level of a two month old. She needed so much more than we could give her on our own. We had her evaluated through the school district and anxiously awaited the results. The IEP was called three months later, and I was nervous. As an educator, I had been in many IEP meetings but going in as parent? So scary. My best advice for IEP meetings…. wear the strongest deodorant you can find and take a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to share with the IEP committee.

Savannah’s IEP was in a conference room filled with 14 people… administrators, therapists, teachers, and us. Three words: Peace. Offering. Cookies. With that said, I was still overwhelmed in the IEP. It is difficult to hear anyone talking about your “baby”.

I heard the following:
We are unsure.
No one knows.
No one has really seen a child like this without early intervention.

I began to feel defensive. I just wanted someone to say she would turn out “okay”.
When the anxiety tears were just about to leak out, God fixed my eyes on the incredible fact that fourteen people were sitting around a big conference table talking about our baby girl.

Fourteen! People!

In China she was left in a crib made out of plywood and metal.
In Carrollton, Texas our baby girl had a team of people who are invested in her.
Not only were they invested in her, but they had a plan to help her move forward. My heart was so filled with gratitude that the tears did come. The visual of that conference room on that day…..
Fourteen people.
One baby girl.
And a chance…

Four years later… the magnitude of this is not lost on me.

In 2013 Savannah started in the Developmental Program for children with the most severe needs. Her teacher, Mrs. Lucy, was just perfect for her. She loved our baby girl deeply and also “had her number”. She saw the fight within Savannah and channeled it to help her reach milestone after milestone. Mrs. Lucy was amazing, and I felt secure sharing my “baby” with her. Then after the first full year in the Developmental Program Mrs. Lucy transferred to another job within the district and truthfully I thought I might die.

My husband I had so much anxiety over who the new teacher would be and I cried. A lot!

Then Mrs. Sarah came into the picture. She was so sweet with the biggest heart. Savannah continued to make great progress both physically and cognitively. During this time Savannah’s endearing personality began to blossom, and I give credit to Mrs. Sarah and her team for the love they lavished on her every day. They truly delighted in Savannah.


She learned to walk during this time period. They nicknamed her Class President and Belle of the Ball. At the end of the second full year in Developmental, it was suggested that Savannah be moved up to more advanced classroom within the program. Again, I thought I might die. You are seeing the pattern here, right? Savannah would be with a new teacher… and who would that be? I began to pray for whoever the next person who be.

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Matthew 21:22. God had provided two perfect people for her, and so I thought this is our year. With great hesitation, we gave our blessing to move Savannah up within the program. Mrs. Erin was an amazing fit for Savannah. She loved her fiercely and was able to push her to make great strides. She had high expectations of Savannah and knew what she was capable of.

Toward the end of the year Mrs. Erin asked us if we would be okay with having Savannah tested for autism. I agreed to the testing, but I was certain Savannah was not autistic. I kept thinking her behaviors were institutional. Until I watched this video of Savannah…

I was truly blind to my child’s needs. Blinded by love. I attributed her behaviors to orphanage life and other health issues. After the testing was completed, Savannah qualified for a Communications Class where most of the children are autistic.

This fall she started at a new school within the district. This time around I was not so scared about her, or who her new teacher would be, but it was hard to leave our wonderful friends at the Developmental Center. It’s not goodbye though because our daughter Emily is now in the program. It was just hard to think of Savannah being somewhere else. We are forever grateful to everyone who worked with Savannah, and we love them like family.

I learned so many lessons through the process of Savannah’s special needs experience:

Others will likely push my child further than I will.
Other people have higher expectations of my daughter than I do.
Even though I felt so defensive at certain points of the process, I looked for the good. And I was able to find it.
God is trustworthy in everything involving the people who will be interacting with my child.
Because my child’s needs are severe, it’s helpful to have a team of people giving input.
It’s perfectly okay to be blinded by love. I’m the mommy!

Kelsey and Emily

In 2015 we brought home two girls, Emily and Kelsey.

We started the Special Education paperwork right away and went through the process with both girls again. I kept my IEP rules the same: man deodorant and cookies. After four years, one would think that the IEPs get easier. I always know what to expect as far as the process goes, but it’s still unnerving.


Kelsey has cerebral palsy. She has difficulty walking and she is non-verbal. She was enrolled in Preschool Program Child Development where life skills and some academic concepts are taught. She had a wonderful first year. Kelsey craves structure and so going to school was a gift for her. She had a sweet teacher, and she gained confidence and purpose during her year in PPCD. She also made a best friend. I doubt in China she would have had the opportunity to go to school.

This year she moved schools to a new program called Applied Academics. You won’t be surprised to know that her new teacher Mrs. Beth is also wonderful! This time around I was able to trust the process and lean into what people were teaching me about my child. I realize the system is not perfect, but I continued to find the good in each school.

I drove Kelsey to school each day. At the beginning of the year it took her about seven minutes to walk in using the walker. By the end of the year she walked in without the walker in about two minutes flat.


Each day the crossing guard would greet her and the aide would be waiting for her by the door. Her BFF, Kelly, was there each day. They were always excited to see each other.

It seems small but Kelsey’s daily school routine filled me with gratitude.

“Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant – this plants the giant miracle.” – Ann Voskamp

I think the special ed teachers that I know believe this as well. It’s what gets them up in the mornings and keeps them fighting for each child.

Before we had Emily tested, we were certain she would go to the Developmental Center with Savannah. Her needs are complex, and we started the year with a wheelchair that was completely unstable. The therapists and teachers arranged for a loaner chair that would be safe at school. This was amazing as it took us nine months to get her fitted and insurance funded for the correct chair.


Because she was in the program where Savannah had been for over three years, we knew things would be okay. She had Mrs. Sarah, Savannah’s second teacher. Mrs. Sarah always complements Emily on any progress she makes. She always has higher expectations of Emily than I do. I think it goes back to me viewing her as a “baby” as well. She is constantly trying to find things to stimulate Emily and it always gives us ideas for home.

Most recently Emily started having difficulty eating. The speech teacher, Mrs. Amanda, and the class nurse, Mrs. Rachelle, approached me and told me they saw signs of her aspirating. If this was true, we knew she would need a g-tube.

I felt very resistant to this news, and I’m sure they felt this from me. It’s not that I didn’t believe them, I just didn’t want to believe it. After several tests, we found out that Emily is aspirating on everything she eats and drinks. Without Mrs. Amanda and Mrs. Rachelle, we would have never know this about our daughter.

Because Emily has such significant needs and she is medically fragile, it’s a gift to have other people that are invested in her care. They love her, and they view her life as valuable. They acknowledge her and treat her like a princess each and every day.

This love and this level of care? Well, it simply fills this momma’s heart with gratitude.

The education system is not perfect.
My children may not reach all the goals listed in the IEPs.
I might initially disagree with what is being thrown my way.
The bus might be late.
There will always be more paper work than I want to think about.

In the end? It is about my attitude, my willingness to listen to others, my willingness to accept hard things, my willingness to find the seed of gratitude, and let it grow into a miracle.

And finally….
To trust God with the people that He has placed into my children’s lives.

– guest post by Amy: facebook || email

One response to “Making the Grade: Special Education and Adoption”

  1. K says:

    I love you for writing “IEPs” instead of “IEP’s”. You’re amazing.

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