Adopting a Deaf Child: The Special Need That Took a New Shape

December 11, 2018 2 Comments

Our story begins when I was in middle school and took a basic sign language class. I loved this manual language, and it’s amazing how the signs stuck with me for the next 25 years. But my husband was the first one of the two of us who had a heart for adoption. Between us, God began molding our hearts into the family He desired us to become.

We used baby signs to encourage our three biological children to communicate as babies and toddlers, and even though we weren’t fluent (not even close!) and had only one connection to the Deaf community, we felt that God told us to say “yes” to a child from China who was deaf.

RenYu, now named Graham, had just turned four years old when we travelled across the globe to get him. We fought so much fear during the months leading up to travel, knowing that we were not trained to teach someone a first language when we were amateurs still learning it as a second language.

I especially needed to grieve the fact that he would probably never know music. We are a very musical family, some of our favorite family memories are because of music, and it has been so therapeutic during difficult times. We were facing a forever future of Deafness in our family – not just a simple surgery or two to endure.

It was the middle of summer when we went to China. Meeting this little boy was a small taste of heaven, and he gave us the cutest little shy smile when we invited him onto our laps in that government office building. His demeanor changed quickly though as we brought him with us onto the elevator and out the doors into a strange van, without the familiar mamas he had learned to trust and follow. He refused to be held, and we could tell he was nervous by the loud grinding of his teeth as we travelled the streets of Shanghai.

We discovered that our son had learned to be extremely independent, but thankfully the little toys we brought and the big brother who came along kept him close by our family during the tumultuous change he experienced during the transition to the United States and a new family.

Since coming home, we have experienced many of your highs and lows in welcoming a preschooler as a new son and sibling. However, this seemed so different from other stories we heard. We naively thought that our son would be an enthusiastic sponge as he saw language on our hands and with our bodies. We thought surely his new language acquisition would be even faster than most hearing Chinese adoptees… he didn’t have a language to unlearn!

And this is where we found we were gravely wrong. When a child is not given any language, they don’t understand what language does. They don’t understand the meaning of language. They’ve gotten along “fine” without it, why start something new now?

Hearing children who learn a new language already have a language base to start from, they have purpose and merely shift that purpose into new sounds. They know what a question is, they know what an answer is, they know that they can ask and answer. They know that people have names, objects have names, and places have names. They can differentiate imaginary language from reality, and give reason to their emotions. Graham needed to understand the importance of a communication that wasn’t biting, taking, screaming, or withdrawing.

Our family had taken three sign language classes together before and immediately after the adoption, and were working together and with Graham to improve vocabulary and exposure. However, after a year with us, he only initiated a small vocabulary of signs – maybe 25 – and most of those were food related. He loved to learn food signs, but anything else was completely uninteresting. He did not notice animals, we were suspecting that he was color blind, he disliked watching cartoons, and he hated looking at books.

He was enrolled in our school district’s early childhood education program four days a week with a sign language interpreter, and gradually learned proper classroom behavior. We spent that year learning to draw him out by doing his favorite activities: tickling, bathing and swimming, games of chase, and cooking or baking in the kitchen.

During the first few months home, Graham did undergo a couple of long, inconclusive hearing tests before we finally made the trek to the Children’s Hospital for a sedated ABR (auditory brainstem response) test. They concluded that yes, he had profound hearing loss in both ears.

After much research and observation, we then pursued the steps needed for cochlear implants. A month before his fifth birthday, surgery was performed in both ears. This was one of the hardest decisions we have ever made. If you haven’t heard, there is a lot of disagreement about surgery for cochlear implants, as well as many unknowns about the results of such an invasive surgery. The decision we made for our son would, without a doubt, impact him positively and negatively for the rest of his life. We bore the responsibility to decide whether the unknown “pros” would outweigh the unknown “cons”.

Our personal decision rested on the surgeon’s diagnosis of the cause of his deafness and the potential for vision loss later in life; the permanence of our circle of support from hearing friends, family, and fellow adoptive families, and our desire to provide Graham with every opportunity available to him, allowing him to ultimately make the choice to retain or decline his “hearing” ability after presented with the technology.

One month after surgery was “activation”. This is when the implants get connected with the outer equipment (processors) that enables access to sound. What an exciting day!

Graham, per his usual tendency to show little emotion, expressed only a little interest. But he was always aware that something was happening, showing some anxiety, and even showed some excitement when hearing Daddy’s voice for the first time.

Thus began the next step in the narrative of his story.

Since activation 16 months ago, Graham has for the most part let us know that he prefers to keep his processors off, which means he does not want to hear what is happening around him. We have phases of him keeping them on without argument for much of the day, and then phases where every time he’s out of sight he pulls them right off. Sometimes they will be off (creatively attached to his glasses though, because we are afraid to lose them!), but he will connect them for just a second out of curiosity of what is happening around him. Lately, he might keep them on unless he hears music or a truck driving by.

By now, many other children will be trying to form words with their voice, but Graham has not wanted to do that. By now, many other deaf children will be expressing themselves and seeking answers to questions in sign language. Graham occasionally asks us for a snack, or asks where a sibling is during a game of hide-and-seek, but rarely do we see another question formed on his hands.

This year he is in full-day kindergarten, and his interpreter has done a fabulous job of including the other children and teaching them sign language. They pick it up quickly. Graham’s receptive skills are getting better, but for a 6-year-old (2-year-old to language), he is still only at about 135 vocabulary words right now that he initiates. We are hopeful that his language explosion will come, and he will excitedly seek out answers to questions about how, why, what, where, and who.

Having a deaf child means adjustments to family life that were normal for us for many years. Deaf children don’t find amusement in rhyming books, so we need to get creative in finding ways to sign a story that captures the attention similar to rhyming might for a hearing child. We need to be very intentional in giving information, because Graham doesn’t receive information as easily as the rest of the family when they hear about the plans for the day. We need to express our feelings to him specifically so that he understands when we are playing and when we are not. We need to be intentional about teaching how interactions work with a cashier or a stranger or a librarian.

These are all things we are still learning and internalizing ourselves, and we have a long way to go before I can say we have provided full access to our deaf son. Even the habit of providing interpreters for him at doctor’s appointments hasn’t been established – partly because of his resistance to communication and his habit of ignoring anyone who is trying to sign to him.

So, is being deaf his main special need? No, I don’t believe so. Being deaf means that he will communicate differently – his first language will not be English or Chinese. Being deaf means that he will need a few different accommodations to daily life, school, and work. Things need to either be visual or felt. Being deaf means that he will feel more comfortable and let his guard down with people who communicate in sign language.

Graham’s primary special need is language delay. This has been and continues to be the biggest barrier to learning, affection, and communication. Being adopted and deaf has posed some very unique challenges that we have all needed to navigate together.

Life with Graham has been one of the most fulfilling, but hardest, things we have experienced as a family. To see him play with his pretend cookies and watch as suddenly the concept of color clicks in his mind (nope, not color blind!), to see his drawing transform from scribbles to the letters of his name, and then to drawing a stick person within a span of three months…amazing.

He used to wait in his bed every morning for someone to come get him, and just in the last month he has felt the freedom to come running down the hall and snuggle with mom and dad in our bed before the day starts (I mean, real snuggles!). This lifts me up like nothing else ever could!

Change is happening – it always has been – but sometimes we are too close to the struggle to see the victories. As our hearts have broken for the children without families and without language, as we work through a second adoption process to bring one of these little ones home, we hope and pray that the world will become more vivid to our Graham.

We hope that he will have friendships that last.
We hope that the people who have shown an interest in him will not give up while he slowly develops an interest in them.
We hope that he will understand that abstract concept, but so real concept, of Jesus’ love and care for him.

It is days like these that we see the clock ticking and feel an urgency like never before. God bless our precious boy.

– guest post by Jennifer

Waiting Child Spotlight: Leta

December 9, 2018 0 Comments

Leta is a precious little girl, born in April of 2016 with Down syndrome. Leta can sit, crawl, walk, play clapping hand games, and pick up small objects with her fingers. She likes to play with toy drums, rattles, and the toy piano. If Leta hears music, she will be happy and shake her body to the beat. If another child takes her toys, Leta will hide from them and find another toy to play with instead of crying. She is quiet, obedient, and has a beautiful smile.

Leta makes one syllable sounds and responds to others asking for her toys or food. She likes snuggling and hugs from her caregivers. Leta is a good eater and is not picky. She does have a red birthmark on her left arm. Don’t miss Leta’s video below from this past August!

Watch a video of Leta here.

There is a $1,500 agency grant for Leta’s adoption with Madison Adoption Associates. Other grants may be available based on the adoptive family’s circumstances. Agency grants are awarded as agency fee reductions. MAA also partners with the Brittany’s Hope Foundation for matching grants, which are given out twice a year January and July) and to families that are officially matched with a child. She also has an account on Reece’s Rainbow, where she goes by Delia.

Leta needs a family with an approved home study to be able to move forward with adopting her. If you have an approved home study or a home study in process and are interested in adopting Leta, please fill out a free PAP Waiting Child Review Form, which can be found here.

The Unexpected Gift of Struggling

December 7, 2018 1 Comments

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times, “Adoption is a gift”. People respond with a smile and a nod of their heads. Sometimes I get to go a little deeper and share details of our story and how we came to be the parents of a child with significant physical and mental disabilities. Usually people respond with something like, “Yes, I’m sure he is a gift!” or “Your family is such a gift to him!”

What I really want to do is to grab their hands, look them in the eyes, and tell them the truth:
Adoption is the hardest thing I have ever done. Adoption has required me to walk daily, often hand in hand, with suffering. Adoption has transformed my life.

And that is the greatest, most unexpected gift.

Five years ago, when we saw a sweet little face on a waiting child list, my heart said yes before my head could even catch up. What followed was a whirlwind of praying, paperwork, and raising funds. Thirteen months later we stood in a hot stuffy room in China, waiting to meet the little boy who only existed to us in a few roughly translated words, medical explanations and pictures.

I was not ready for what lay ahead. I was not prepared for the complete and total surgery Jesus was about to do on my life and heart. Because when that little boy was put in my arms, stiff and smelly and drooling, something shattered inside me. My hopes and dreams and misplaced savior complex died.

And the reality of parenting a child with severe special needs came rushing in. I felt the weight of his suffering and his broken life, and it became my own.

We came home and life felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable. But I smiled and held it together. I told myself that his lack of speech and his mental delays were mostly orphanage related. I kept on doing all the things: the making him special foods, and taking him to appointments, and smiling and singing and hoping.

But I was dying inside. My heart was struggling with love and I didn’t know what to do about it.

All I could see was this child who was so much more than we anticipated.
A child who couldn’t speak to us.
A child who was having uncontrollable seizures and living in a fog of confusion.
A child who still wore diapers, long past potty training age.
A child would never live independently.

I was suffering. I felt like a total failure because our adoption was not the feel good story I had imagined. My son was suffering. I watched as he struggled to do things that came so easily to his peers. I prayed for wisdom as we dealt with medical issues. I sat through the IEP meetings that so glaringly highlighted his shortcomings. I held him as he sobbed and sobbed, no words available to explain the deep sorrow in his soul.

And through it all God was holding fast to me. He was weaving the story I couldn’t see, preparing me for the gift I didn’t realize I even needed. The pouring out of my life on behalf of someone else. The gift of dying to myself.

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

One of my favorite Bible verses. But as God began to knit our life back together I came to realize that I was only now beginning to understand it.

I hadn’t understood that God often calls us to something so much bigger and harder than we could ever imagine. And when we walk in that suffering, when we embrace it and run to it and drop to our knees and cry out to Jesus through it, we get something so much better.

We get Christ.

One of my favorite worship songs repeats the lyrics “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life.”

This is what adoption has given me. This is the unexpected gift of the struggle. We get to walk hand in hand with a God who can meet every need. We get to see the transforming power of love, hope, and the perseverance of faith. We get the hard work and privilege of dying to ourselves… sometimes daily, sometimes minute by minute. And in return, we experience a bigger portion of Christ.

I fell in love with my son. And in the process, I fell deeply in love with Jesus.

This is the unexpected gift of adoption. The same incredible gift we celebrate at Christmas. God is with us. We get Jesus!

And hallelujah, He alone is enough.

– guest post by René

Meet Klodia!

December 5, 2018 0 Comments

Klodia, born in September of 2007, is a sweet girl who loves playing games and chatting with her primary caretaker. She is cooperative and gets along well with other children. Klodia is outgoing and helpful. She likes to smile and laugh and when she does you can see her adorable dimples! Klodia wakes up at …Read More

How Grateful Are We: The Gift of Adoption

December 2, 2018 1 Comments

This morning at 8 AM…. My little girl and I… together rocking in a chair. Her tiny little body cozy against mine, her head confidently against my chest, her breath in the same rhythm as mine, both enjoying this very precious moment. Mother and daughter…. united in a harmony that I couldn’t imagine before. Life …Read More

Urgent Waiting Child: Mary Kate

November 30, 2018 0 Comments

MaryKate is a sweet, spunky, sensible, talkative, and optimistic girl, born in December of 2007. She gets along well with the other children and she enjoys playing aeroplane chess, singling, dancing, and building things with Legos. She does not enjoy running. MaryKate was born with beta thalassemia major and being adopted would absolutely extend, if …Read More

Thank You is a Powerful Message

November 29, 2018 0 Comments

November is the month we all focus on being grateful and giving thanks. Everyone loves a thankful person. It can make or break our day. “God gave us a gift of 86,400 seconds in a day. Have you used one to say, ‘thank you’?” ~ William Ward As a mom of ten children, I need …Read More

Waiting for You: Calvin

November 27, 2018 0 Comments

Calvin is the cutest little boy, born in December of 2012 with complex CHD: dextrocardia, complete VSD and ASD-B type, DORV. Calvin lives in a loving foster family on the orphanage grounds.He is active, likes talking, and is full of curiosity. Calvin is described as smart and is said to have strong study abilities. He …Read More

The Greatest Gift

November 26, 2018 2 Comments

This November we are highlighting the work of NGOs in China doing work on behalf of orphans. I have absolutely no first hand knowledge of any. How can this be? Meredith Toering is one my favorite Instagrammers, but I don’t know her or the precious work she’s doing for kiddos with heart issues beyond that. …Read More

Find My Forever: Naomi

November 24, 2018 0 Comments

Look at that sweet smile! Adorable Naomi, born April of 2010, is a gentle and shy girl who likes to help take care of the younger children. She loves her teachers and is especially good about sharing her toys and food with the other children. Naomi is quiet, but she does speak in sentences and …Read More

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