We witness a miracle each time a child enters a life. But those who must make their journey home across time and miles, growing in the hearts of those waiting to love them, are carried on the wings of destiny. And placed among us by God's own hands.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Burning Birthdate Debate

One of the dilemmas that some adoptive parents face is whether or not the reported birth date of your child is accurate. This has become a common occurrence in older children adopted from Ethiopia for several reasons. First of their calendar is actually 7 years behind ours, they do not celebrate birthdays in Ethiopia, and if a child is born at home in a rural area there is no registration system thus no birth certificate created at the time of birth. We learned about all of this the hard way, through experience.

We were told that our daughter was born June 2005, but immediately upon meeting her, when we traveled one year ago this month, I noticed that she seemed older. It also seemed strange to me that in Ethiopia they had moved her from the toddler care center to the school-age care center and had started her in school. We were told that she was still older 2 at that time so I was shocked! When I asked they said it was because she was doing so well that they moved her up.

Upon arriving home we gave her several months to settle in and watch for physical growth. We started her in preschool with other 3 year old children a few months into being home because she wanted to go to school. This last summer she started growing very fast in height and I started to think it was strange that we knew she was very malnourished yet she was above the 90th percentile in height for a 3 year old. I am a school psych so it helped that I knew what to watch for as far as development. One day this fall she brought home a picture from preschool that was perfectly colored in, I mean every tiny detail. My thought was “that is not normal for a 3 year old!”. BUT her pediatrician who had never seen a child adopted from Ethiopia before kept saying that her age was not that far off. Then we started to have a lot of tantrums which I now know were related to her being really frustrated. Finally when she had dental surgery the pediatric dentist came out and said "do you know her two bottom teeth are loose" she estimated that Tensae was at least one year old maybe 2. So I gave her an informal IQ test because I needed to know what was going on with my daughter! I say informal because I know that the results are not 100% accurate as I am of course her mother. I was immediately shocked by how well she did on the non-verbal items. Her nonverbal IQ placed her well within the 5 year old range of intelligence. What made me realize how frustrated she must be is that her verbal ability was still only in the 3 year range. Keep in mind that any testing involving English vocabulary would not be an accurate measure of her intelligence because she had only been speaking English for 10 months at the time. But it is truly amazing to me that she had obtained an English vocabulary in 10 months equivalent to a three year old child!

So I had finally had enough waiting and I talked to her preschool teacher. She felt 100% that Tensae would be ready for kindergarten next year, that she is advanced in her class of 3 year olds and she fits in very well with the 4 and 5 year olds who are going to kindergarten next year. I expressed my concerns again to her pediatrician. He ordered a bone-age scan which showed that she was in the 4 year age range which again he did not think was that far off and it was not worth changing her age. I disagreed because the bone-age scans were normed on average white kids in the 1950’s. If she was severely malnourished of-course her growth would be behind! So I requested a referral from her pediatrician to the International Adoption Clinic at the Denver Children's Hospital. It was a hassle getting the appointment scheduled because you need to clear it by insurance first (and not all insurance companies will pay for it). When you have a developmental evaluation with IAC they have an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a physician, and a psychologist all there to assess your child. I voiced my concern about the age and they all watched her and said oh yes, I think you are right. So they tested her and she came out with the fine motor skills of a 6 year old and the gross motor skills of a 5 year old. They recommended keeping her reported birth date and changing the year by one to make her 4. I agreed and got the paperwork ready to send to court.

Then a month later I was brushing her teeth and there was a 6 year molar in the top of her mouth! So I called the dentist again, and she said “children never get molars before age 5, I am confident she is between the age of 5 and 6”. So here we go again I called the doc at IAC to discuss it and request a new letter with a new birth date recommendation. I talked it over with my husband and we agreed to move her birth date from 6/28/05 to 9/28/03. This way she may still be the same age as some of the children in her kindergarten class next year but we are at least being as honest as we can with her about her age. This would make her currently 5 years and 4 months of age. Yes, we could have left it alone in the first place but she is so smart it would not be fair for her not to start school next year and I sure don’t want a little girl in 4th grade starting to menstruate!

So all of this has put paperwork on hold for us. I will have to send a general motion to the court to the same judge to approved her adoption revalidation in Colorado asking him to order the office of vital records to change the date on her birth certificate. If anyone in CO needs the court form you can find it at: http://www.courts.state.co.us/Forms/PDF/jdf76.pdfThen we will need to request them to create a new birth certificate and get new copies. There is no charge for the motion to the court but there will be for the new bc to be created. I have waited to get her passport and certificate of citizenship because I want to have the correct birth date. I was told it is nearly impossible to get a birth date changed on the passport or certificate of citizenship. We are also waiting to get her US social security number and will have to fight with them when we do to get the birth date changed because we already have an alien status social security number. Uhhg! There is a really great article by Dr. Jane Aronson (The Orphan Doctor) titled The Conundrum of Age Assignment for Children Adopted from Abroad. She recommends waiting 2 years after arrival home to get the age question answered. That is all great but as I just said getting birth dates changed on paperwork is not so easy and neither will most school districts let kids start school without a birth certificate showing that they are age 5 prior to September 1st! Expert medical advice is great but then there is also the real world that we live in as adoptive parents.
Here is a link to her article: http://www.orphandoctor.com/medical/commondiseases/developmental/conundrum.html

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