Artyom and Matvey
When the boys were just two and three years of age, we were assessed for the first time by a medico-pedagogical board at the Centre for Remedial and Developmental Education. The board found us to be significantly behind our peers developmentally and predicted serious problems at school if we did not do something about it immediately. That sounded like a grave verdict and came as a shock. I had had no experience before raising children, had little idea of what developmentally normal meant and how to foster child development. In the beginning, we spend most of our time on adjustment and putting our lives together. When I was on child care leave, I felt that we had plenty of time, perhaps even too much of it; on many occasions, my only plan for the day was to bide our time until the evening without letting anything extraordinary happen.
Because we are living next door to the Convent, I often took my children to church to take communion and attend the worship services. I am confident that the Lord will nourish the soul of all children through the Holy Sacraments in which they partake. One day, as we were standing at church Father Andrey [Lemeshonok], approached us and asked me, quite sternly: "It's fine that you are going to church. But what are you doing for their development? They need to be taken somewhere other than the church, some developmental activities. Earlier, a psychologist from the National Adoption Centre said to me: "just going about your everyday activities is good for development." This observation sounded quite encouraging to me then. I still think that there is a lot of truth in it. But it is also true that children with developmental problems should not go without professional help. I was impressed by another remark from a known paediatric neurologist. He said that any child would grow without any special effort from their parents but the result would resemble the glistening a raw diamond with unpolished sides; putting in an effort is like adding polish to the gem; the result is much more impressive.
Artyom and Matvey at school
So I immersed myself ever more deeply into the field of remedial education. God was sending some good professionals who offered their help. Some of them were totally unmercenary and were willing to provide their services pro bono. In general, however, this is a very time consuming and expensive area of work. I was impressed by the warning of one of the professionals who spoke to me about the critical stages of development in children; if they are missed, catching up will cost a lot more time and effort than normal, or will not be possible altogether. For example, the critical stage for speech development is age seven. Any child who has not been exposed to human speech before this age has a high risk of not learning to speak at all. So I decided to do as much as I could for the boys by before this age. We tried all sorts of methods I could find out about. One may not have to try out all known solutions, but an approach that combines multiple methods, not just someone method, is generally the best. In fact, we tried many different therapies, including medicinal treatment, vitamins, osteopathy, horse riding, swimming with dolphins, daily Neurotherapy sessions, speech therapy, and developmental classes with psychologists. On recommendation from professionals, we also signed on to a number of activity clubs - fine motor skills development, gymnastics, therapeutic figure skating, piano, and mental arithmetic. The only thing that did not work out, in the beginning, were swimming classes. As for the rest - we tried almost everything that was available. To be honest, my enthusiasm for activities waned on our third child. All I am doing with her now is read to her from a book (one time a day at best), and take her to a speech therapist two times a week. In the old times, my husband used to say as he was observing my ordeal with the boys "Are you preparing them to fly into space?"
Giving my children better life chances was not my only motivation, I must confess. It was a prominent one, of course, but I was also finding it hard to stay at home with them all the time. However, my most important reason was to make my life as a parent easier but helping my children become wiser and more mature. I have succeeded in this in part. However, I realised eventually that children have natural abilities and limitations, and their achievements did not fully depend on our own efforts. As parents, we should learn to accept these limits. This certainly was not an easy thing to do. To an extent, I took comfort in the fact that the limitations of my children were not of my own making, but biological parents must find the learning a lot more difficult. However, there is little progress to be made unless we can recognise and accept a limitation.
Matvey and Artyom
One thing that made me apprehensive was sending the children to school. I already knew from my conversations with the other adoptive parents and adopted children often had difficulty adjusting to school life, with its rules and discipline. As a result, we went to the private school run by our Convent. It offered a warm and welcoming environment and small classes. We also had a wonderful teacher endowed with great love, professionalism and an ability to reach out to every child. Our older boy made great progress in his first year. However, he was still behind the other children, and reading and writing were some of his greatest difficulties. A professional we knew recommended and convinced us to send him to a remedial class for speech development. Children with slow speech development often develop reading difficulties, even after catching up with their peers. The remedial speech development class follows the standard curriculum of elementary school, albeit at a slower pace - the curriculum content is spread over five years instead of four in the standard curriculum. Another great advantage is the small size of the class - typically three or four students. This way, children will get individual attention and better chances of mastering the content. In the beginning, I was suspicious of remedial education, now I would like my boy to stay on in the remedial class. I understand now that going to a remedial class should not be seen as a humiliation for the child and the parents, but a helpful thing to both. Remedial programmes can be of different types, and I would recommend parents to do their research and get into touch with professionals from the Centre for Remedial Education if their children have difficulty mastering the school subject for whatever reason - such as lack of concentration, fatigue or anything that might appear to them as 'laziness' on the part of the child. It is best to so before starting school. As one professional explained to me, It is best to start remedial instruction, and eventually, close the development gap with the peers, rather than wait for the problems to escalate beyond control, and end up in a remedial class then. I often hear from them that the parents of children with difficulties find it hard to accept that their child has a problem, and close off the options for getting help for themselves and their children. I am not saying that parents should be laying all their responsibility on professionals - just that they should be seeking out for themselves the opportunities to help their children. This is always easiest to do at a young age,
I have already accepted that studying is not a strong point for my children. I am not an expert in education and have no resources or energy to teach my children myself, so I realise very well that all we need to do is live through the school years with the least trouble possible. Who knows what the world will look like in ten years time, and which professions will be most valued. There is simply no way for me to imagine that. I have also heard from many people that we should not see our future pessimistically, and let ourselves fall into the trap of self-fulfilling prophecies. I am confident, therefore that things will eventually turn out well for our children. At least this is what I am praying for. If not, there will perhaps be a place available for them at our monastic farmstead, a shelter for troubled men. They are now singing in the boy's choir - just in case the farmstead needs some singers! Joking apart, though, I do think that it is far better to be saved for heaven at a farmstead than to die for eternity at some of the most luxurious locations of this world.
By Larisa Nezhbort
In our interview with Fr. Sergius and Matushka Anna we focused on their roles as parents in a large family and asked them questions about different aspects of their lives.