Catching Up: More Summer Adventures

The rest of this summer has absolutely flown by.  While I am thankful for September and God’s great mercy in switching on the outdoor AC, I do wonder how time keeps getting away from me like this!

Early August saw these two young ladies off to their first ever overnight camp experience with Hopewell Camps at Tel Hai.  I think I was far more nervous than they were.  They both took all the new experiences in their stride, even my book-loving introvert Romilly!

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This little man had to get in on the photo op action while we were saying our goodbyes:

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On the heels of their week at camp we had a long-overdue weekend visit from Megan, of whom I regretfully took not one picture while she was here.  (You know you’re family when I don’t even get the camera out anymore!) I did take pictures of this amazing ever-growing family of dolls she has made for our kids over the years.

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Lewis’s doll was a new addition this trip (a belated birthday present), and each of the old dolls is receiving a new outfit themed around the flag of their birth country.  I cannot even tell you how much joy these little dolls have given the kids (okay, and me!) over the years.  Aren’t they wonderful?  (Please pardon Niko doll’s lack of pants.  They always turn up eventually, just not in time for the photo shoot this time.)

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Thank you, Megan, for your friendship, for spoiling us, and for another wonderful-but-way-too-short visit.

We celebrated our summer and fall birthday girls in late August with a grand party at pop-pop’s house.  (And do you know, my beautiful firstborn is 12 today?!  Happy, birthday, Pippa!)

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(Loch Ness monster and galaxy cupcakes by Pippa, even though it was her birthday party.)

And then, just like that, we found ourselves starting school again!

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With a baby coming in October and a couple of other adventures on the horizon that I will share about in future posts, we thought it would be good to get an early start.  So far, things have been going remarkably smoothly, as long as we manage to stay at home enough.

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We’ve had a busy season of appointments, which has finally started to settle down, but one permanent feature of our Fall semester at least will be speech therapy for Lewis and Delia and OT for Delia at Theraplay.  It has been over two years since we have tried traditional therapies with Delia, and we finally feel like she is ready to try again.  Lewis, I believe, will take to speech therapy like duck to water, since he wants to speak so badly and is very motivated to work at it.  He just struggles with articulation in a way that I don’t feel I have the tools to help with yet.  I was thrilled to find that both speech therapists who met with them know ASL and are very happy to use that as a stepping stone for spoken language, since both Lewis and Delia currently use more sign than speech.  Watch this space!

In the meatime, we are still chugging along with Delia’s NeuroDevelopmental Program at home, and seeing some encouraging progress.  She contiues to be more willing to attempt to copy speech (when she’s in the mood!) and has even recently added “water” to her list of words she will use meaningfully.  This is one of our daily flash card exercises.  (If the video works?)

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We are coming down the home stretch to baby time (less than six weeks to my due date!). I *think* we finally have our girl name nailed down.  And that’s probably all we’re going to need, right?  Right?!  (Any boy name suggestions are welcome.  He’s really not going to have a name if he’s a he!)

As always, thanks for hanging in there with my sporadic posting.  We are still here.  We are doing well.  We are just busy in all the best possible ways!

 

A Long Overdue Update Including, But Not Limited To, China and Lewis: Week 2

Well, that was a long break, wasn’t it?  I actually hadn’t realized how long I had abandoned this poor old blog for until people started to ask where I was.  Thank you to those who noticed my absence and reached out!  In fact, we are all fine, life is just full and busy, and if I am honest, I have very little motivation once the kids are in bed for the night to do… well, anything!

But it is all good busy!  Lewis continues to be a joy to us and everyone who meets him.  During our second week in China he continued to amaze us with his sense of humor and easy-going charm.  He still does!

The week was mostly filled with various appointments and paperwork, but we did get to one of the two beautiful parks near our hotel more days than not.  Another highlight was a trip to the Guangzhou zoo.  Lewis was fascinated by all the animals and I got my first ever glimpse of real-live pandas!

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We also had the privilege of visiting Lewis’s orphanage and meeting his caregivers.  He proudly showed us his chair and his schoolwork.  His teacher, through tears, told our guide how very smart and able he is.  The only thing he can’t do very well, she told us, is talk.  (We have found this to be very true of our boy, that as his receptive English and signing ability grow exponentially, his acquisition of spoken words lags behind.  We are currently using an online speech therapy program called Gemiini for both him and Delia, but I also feel he will respond very well to traditional speech therapy once he has a bit more English, and he is very keen to learn and so very determined.) It was obvious from the reactions of all who knew Lewis, even the office staff, that he was very well-loved, and for that we are very thankful.

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Our flight home was long, but the kids did amazingly well.  Our adjustment  at home has been seamless.  We had intended to take a semester’s break (at least) from our home school co-op, but Lewis was so happy and enthusiastic about every opportunity life placed before him that we just jumped right back into that as well as our other activities.  Lewis has not only not made our lives harder, but he has added even more laughter and fun to our days.  We are incredibly blessed to be this little boy’s family!

A reader asked how we decided which child to take to China with us, and another asked in general about taking younger children on adoption trips.  I apologize that I am just now answering these questions, weeks and weeks later!  We have always taken at least one child with us on our pick-up trips.  Pippa and Romilly went with Trevor to bring Niko home, Bea came with us to get Delia, and working our way down in age order, it was Junie’s turn, so she got to go to China.  That worked out nicely, because as we suspected, Junie was the perfect kid for the job.  She was patient and cheerful through all of the not-so-fun parts of the trip, but also a perfect little buddy for Lewis so that he didn’t have to be all alone with two potentially scary foreigners.  This is why I really feel taking a sibling along on an adoption trip is a fabulous idea.  If you have a child that is close enough in age (or developmental age) to be a fun playmate to your newly adopted child and that you know will be resilient enough to handle the travel and boring stuff, they really can be such a blessing.

I don’t think I can possibly update on all that’s gone on here since the beginning of the year, but I do want to share what’s been going on with Delia’s NeuroDevelomental therapy.  She went for her reevaluation in early February, and although she had not made the gains in speech that we were hoping for, she is definitely making progress in other areas.  Her eye contact has improved somewhat, and her ability to look at an object, book, or picture has improved dramatically.  This, in turn has improved her fine motor skills so that she can now unzip her coat, put on her PJ bottoms, and color deliberately in the center of a piece of paper without assistance.  These may seem like small gains for the amount of work we’ve put in, but they are building blocks that are crucial to her further learning.  Now that she will look at things we can begin engaging her in more meaningful flashcard and similar activities.  We really believe the whole world is beginning to open up to her.

But that scares her.  And it seems as soon as we begin to see progress, we watch her retreat from it in fear of the unknown.  She has developed two new “habits” over the past couple months.  One is frequent squinting, as if to close the world out, although her practitioner believes this may just be a new form of self-stimulation now that she is rocking so much less.  The other, which speaks volumes to me about her internal struggle with all this learning we’re trying to get her to do, is an almost obsessive answering of “no.” Anything we ask her or tell her to do is met with a shake of the head and even a verbal “no”, even when sometimes her little hand begins to sign “yes” at the same time!  We can usually break through this wall by saying and signing “yes” back to her, and for the most part, she is fairly compliant, but it just seems like every fiber of her being is saying “no” to all of this progress.

Her new program includes a couple of elements I am particularly excited about.  First, we are playing a “Simon Says” type game with her that requires her to respond to an auditory command without any nonverbal cues.  We are amazed at some of the things she is able to do: “Touch the TV”, “get the baby’s PJs – they have polka dots”, “Find me a purple lego”, “give Lewis a hug”.  We even use this “game” to trick her into saying words she is more stubborn about saying when we do her other activities.  We are also excited that her program includes crawling this time around.  Crawling, as we understood it, was the bones of the NeuroDevelopmental Approach, so we were a little disheartened that her first program didn’t include any, but also relieved we didn’t have to get her to do it!  This time she has to crawl for two sets of three minutes, which isn’t much, but she does it!  And that is exciting stuff.

The last month has brought a steady stream of birthdays, which I can only apologize for not having given their due fanfare.

Romilly turned ten on February 9th, officially commencing the Young Birthday Gauntlet.  We celebrated with a trip to IHOP for the whole gang.  Happy birthday, Ro!

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Junie was up next, turning seven on the 25th.  She was celebrated on her special day by Aunt Paige and Grandmom while Bea and I went to visit my dad in the hospital (he had a brief and mysterious case of amnesia!  But he is doing fine now), and later with cake and ice cream in the evening. Happy birthday, Junebug!

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Five days later instead of the usual four (thanks to Leap Day), we celebrated Trevor and Niko on March 1st.  Niko turned ten!  We had treats and a playdate for Niko on the day, and Trevor finally got his birthday Thai take-out dinner tonight a couple days late.  Happy birthday, boys!

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Lewis will also be included in the boy birthday season, as he will turn nine on Tuesday next week, the 8th.  Since I don’t have birthday photos of him yet, I will sign off with a picture of him from our Chinese New Year celebration with some dear friends (both old and new) who have also adopted from China.  This boy sure does enjoy life!

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Updates

We now have eleven days of Delia’s “Neuro” program under our belts.  There are a few positive things we think we are seeing, as well as a few negative things that we definitely are.  I am comforted by remembering there were negative behaviors that emerged after she came off of the medications she was on in Bulgaria, too, and that that was a natural side affect of her brain awakening and beginning to reorganize itself.  Here’s to lots more of that!

So, although we have seen some regressions (some wild behavior, periods of tearfulness and a couple of uncharacteristic potty accidents), we are encouraged that good things are happening, too.  I believe Delia is using her eyes better already.  We see this in an increase in eye contact, a greater ability to look at books, and even a bit more adventurousness on the playground.  She climbed a curved ladder on a play area yesterday that I don’t believe I’d ever seen her attempt before, and she was very pleased with herself.

Delia has never had what I considered to be major food issues, but she did have an aversion to drier foods like bread and crackers.  One of her sensory exercises uses an electric toothbrush to brush her gums and teeth and tongue.  Already she is cooperating better with her normal toothbrushing, and she ate four crackers at lunch today (!)  This exercise is hopefully also giving her a better sensory awareness of the parts of her mouth to open things up for more talking.

And we have seen an increase in attempts at talking!  The words aren’t perfect, and they are still usually mimicked, but there are more of them.  She attempts to repeat some of the words I say in her flash card exercises, and she also repeats some of the words I say while doing other exercises, such as “pat, pat, pat” and “medium”.  Again, this isn’t qualitatively new for her.  She has always been able to mimic words on her own terms, but these exercises seem to be drawing more of them out of her.

Her program is time-consuming, so I am very thankful that she is still very up for it and rarely fights me on anything. I am also thankful for seven other kids who have been super helpful and unusually low maintenance while we’ve been getting up to full speed with Delia’s program.  We have designated next week as a school catch-up week, but I think, in theory, it will all fit in on a week-to-week basis once everyone knows the drill.

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Our other news is that our I800 immigration application was finally approved early this week.  This means that we should very shortly be able to submit the final, online step of the immigration process, the DS260.  We’re still on track to have Lewis home for Christmas as long as everything else goes smoothly.  And that’s a very good thing, because I am beginning to feel very ready to finally meet this little guy!

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A New Adventure

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Tuesday was this sweet, hilarious little monkey’s 4th birthday.  She had a fun day at co-op, hanging out with grandmom, and then being sung to around a lovely cake (made by her biggest sister) at small group.  Happy birthday, sweet Coraline!

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We had already celebrated her birthday big-style on Sunday, along with a few sisters whose birthdays were never given proper fanfare over the summer due to our slightly crazy camping regime!

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It’s been a busy few days of happy celebrations, but in the midst of all that, something else quietly began this week.  On Tuesday, Delia and I left co-op early with Trevor to go for a long-awaited appointment with a neurodevelopmental practitioner to begin a new therapy program that we are all very excited about.

Over a year ago, a good friend began sharing the success her daughter was having using a therapy called neurological reorganization.  This method uses a series of exercises, which mimic those that encourage infant brain development, to create new neural pathways for improved processing in the brain. I was immediately interested in looking into it for Delia, but at that time, she was still so hopelessly uncooperative.  We had already been advised by her physical therapist to give therapy a break for a little while.  “Life is therapy for her,” she told us.  “Go to the playground. Just get her out doing normal kid stuff with her siblings.” And we took her at her word to the tune of taking a full year’s break from therapy of any kind.

To be honest, we hadn’t really meant to take such a long break, but each time we met with a new therapist, they seemed so puzzled by Delia, and so uncertain of what to try with her.  We really did feel she was benefiting more just from being at home in our family and getting comfortable.  She just needed to feel safe first.

In that year we have seen her relax.  We have seen so many of her negative behaviors just slip away.  We have seen her begin to blossom and show her personality.  I have seen her really begin to trust me (and maybe even like me a little bit!), but we really haven’t seen much new progress in her communication or other developmental areas.

Meanwhile, a second good friend began using a therapy very similar to neurological reorganization, called the NeuroDeveopmental (ND) Approach (click the link to read more about this approach) with her daughter.  Again the results were quick and impressive.  It was as though her daughter’s mind just began to wake up.  We once again immediately thought how perfect this approach sounded for Delia.  And this time, we felt ready to jump in with both feet.

At her evaluation on Tuesday, I was expressing to Linda Kane, the ND practitioner, what a great relief it was to finally talk with someone who had met other children like Delia and had been able to help them make great strides.  I told her how frustrated I had been when, despite Delia’s willingness to sign and attempt words, her speech therapist had wanted to focus solely on teaching her the PECS (picture exchange communication system) method of communicating.  Linda replied confidently and without hesitation, “Oh, no! I think she’s going to talk!”  I wanted to lean right over the table and kiss her.  She is the first professional ever to say that about our amazing girl, and I believe her!

We have now had two days of finding our feet with Delia’s new program, a rigorous collection primarily of sensory input exercises that will probably take us over a hour to complete each day. So far she has been extremely cooperative and even asking for more! Time will tell how far she will go with this, but I wanted to be sure to chronicle our journey here right from the start, wherever it takes us.  The kids are convinced she is different already.

Here she is doing neuro to her baby doll this afternoon (which is pretend play, folks.  Pretend play!)

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