Twenty Years in Service
I remember the sunny, cold morning in January 1992.
The folder on my desk, with the documentation for my next appointment,
contained a request for a typical psycho-educational assessment in the
Russian language for a child named Alexander.
I entered the waiting room and, as usual, greeted the
parents in Russian. They both smiled and said they did not speak Russian.
I apologized and turned to the boy, greeting him in English. The parents
again smiled and said the boy did not speak English.
I was confused. "Is he your son?" - I asked.
"Yes, he is our son, we adopted him from Russia nine days ago."
"Adopted? From Russia? What does this mean?" I was puzzled.
"It looks like you never heard about international adoption",
the parents laughed.
It was true - I knew nothing about international adoption
at that time and could not even imagine that such a thing was possible
in the country I was too well aware of. I could not have realized at
that moment that this morning would be a turning point in my life: I
was stepping onto the path that would change me as a person and a professional;
that my interests, aspirations, preferences, attitudes would be dramatically
transformed; that from then on I would have an uplifting feeling of
"doing something real", that the expression "helping
profession" would make personal sense to me. I certainly did not
realize that I would have to navigate uncharted waters.
I thought I was well prepared to examine Alexander:
I was a licensed psychologist, educated in both Russia and US, with
many years of practical work and research in the field of developmental
and educational psychology. I had native fluency in the Russian language
and first hand familiarity with the Russian culture, including the specific
sub-culture of Russian orphanages.
I was knowledgeable about the American educational system
and mental health resources available for newcomers. However, it took
years of hard work and learning to become professionally competent in
this emerging, dynamic, and rapidly progressing field of international
adoption. In addition, to my surprise, I found myself emotionally involved
in the whole new world of turbulent and extreme feelings, high hopes
and bitter disappointments - human drama, playing out in front of me
with every new patient. I got acquainted with many interesting people,
colleagues from different fields and adoptive parents.
I am proud that over the last twenty years my small personal
practice has developed into what is now known as the
BGCenter, with offices on the east and west coasts and a
first-rate professional reputation. We cooperate with a network of outstanding
specialists in the field of medicine, neuropsychology, educational law,
psychotherapy, language pathology, and other related professions. We
continue to accept patients from all states and abroad: Canada, Swaziland,
Denmark, and Germany (mostly American citizens living in those countries).
At the BGCenter we have developed a unique methodology of initial screenings
and offer them in three languages: Russian, Chinese, and Spanish. Over
the years a new methodology of a combined developmental, neuropsychological,
and educational assessment specifically tailored to the sometime extreme
circumstances and remedial needs of international adoptees was created
The new notions and ideas that I developed and popularized
in varies publications during these 20 years, such as: internationally
adopted children lose their functional native language extremely fast;
an initial psychological screening in the native language on arrival
is a must for successful schooling for the majority of IA children;
school placement should be based not only on chronological age, but
on the actual school readiness of IA child; from the start there is
an urgent need for an extensive remediation of older IA children in
order to prevent cumulative cognitive deficit in children with delays,
- these and many other novelty concepts are now well accepted by the
adopting community and some educational institutions.
Elleseff MA CCC-SLP
for Multisensory Stimulation of Internationally Adopted Children
Recently I participated in a professional adoption email
discussion regarding developmental stimulation of infants and toddlers
in orphanages and it got me thinking about not just the importance of
stimulation for institutionalized children but also about stimulation
activities for post-institutionalized children. Orphanages have long
been infamous for sensory deprivation as well as a host of other adversities.
Even one month spent in an institutional environment can significantly
disrupt functioning in a number of areas including health, language,
cognition, and behavior (Johnson, et al 1992). But what of the children
who spend several years in orphanages before their adoption takes place?
After all, just because the children become adopted doesn't mean that
their problems magically disappear.
As a speech-language pathologist I work on improving
or developing post-institutionalized children's speech and language
abilities, feeding and swallowing abilities as well as social pragmatic
skills. But I also realize the importance of multisensory stimulation
for these children and try to incorporate that into my speech and language
therapy session activities.