November 1, 2013 Columns

World Beat: Bringing New Hope to Chinese Orphans

An SLP's personal quest to adopt a child from China turned into a larger mission—establishing a foundation to provide services to orphans with disabilities.

Grace, with adoptive sister Erin

Early in 2006, speech-language pathologist Eileen Fasanella received the news that she had been longing to hear. She, her husband, Jerry, and their 15-year old daughter Erin were about to grow as a family. Huang FuJing was soon to become Gracelee Alicia FuJing Fasanella.

The journey began in 2005 when they were considering adopting a child and heard about the "waiting child" program in China that allows for adoption of Chinese children with special needs. They applied to adopt a 3-year-old girl with a repaired cleft lip and palate and within 10 minutes received a picture of the little girl whose life was about to change.

As an SLP, Fasanella was acutely aware of the importance of proper cleft repair and subsequent speech-language treatment, so she consulted with experts in these areas for guidance and support. It seemed like an eternity—but finally the paperwork was completed, the home visits approved, the immunizations received, visas obtained and flights booked. The Fasanellas arrived in Beijing on June 27, 2006, and had only four days to wait until they could meet their new daughter for the first time.

In the meantime, because of Erin's interest in becoming a preschool special education teacher, Fasanella sought out New Day Creations Foster Home in Qingyundian Province, Beijing. It was one of the few orphanages that not only had a preschool for children with special needs, but allowed visitors. Privately operated and funded, New Day is home to approximately 75 babies and children with special needs, providing them with craniofacial surgery, cardiac surgery and other critical care needs. From the moment the Fasanellas arrived there, they were surrounded by "nannies" eager to have the extra help to interact with and feed the babies, toddlers and young children.

When orphanage co-founder Karen Brenneman realized that Fasanella was an SLP, she pleaded with her to spend some time helping the staff understand the best way to treat the speech, language and feeding disorders of some of the children. The lack of adequately trained speech and language professionals to help these children was immediately apparent to Fasanella, who answered the questions she could but was unable to stay at New Day for longer than that afternoon's short visit.

When she returned to the United States, Fasanella further researched the SLP situation in China with colleagues, and discovered that there are only about 1,000 SLPs in mainland China—who receive training ranging from two weeks to six months—to serve a population of more than 1.3 billion. In contrast, the United States has more than 115,000 ASHA-certified SLPs for a population of 300 million.

Fasanella appealed to colleagues at the Montclair State University Center for Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology about the need for services to address speech, language, swallowing and feeding disorders among Chinese orphans. She succeeded in convincing them. In 2009, she and colleagues Joyce Liebelt, Rosemary DeStephan and I founded the Grace Foundation to train foster care providers and orphanage staff about treatment for orofacial disorders.

The foundation began fundraising, and Fasanella and Karen Brennemen arranged for it to dispatch a team of SLPs to visit New Day Creations Foster Home and the Institute for Children's Welfare, a government orphanage in Zhengzhou with 800 babies, children and teens with special needs. In January 2013, the foundation's co-founders traveled to China to begin fulfilling its mission.

At both orphanages, New Day provided translators who translated PowerPoint presentations that had been previously sent to China. The SLPs presented workshops on autism spectrum disorder, infant feeding disorders, language development and treatment, and language-based play therapy, while Liebelt shared information on literacy. The team spent hours demonstrating treatment and language stimulation, working directly with the children and their nannies.

New Day and the Institute for Children's Welfare continue to need supplies as well as training, and the Grace Foundation is committed to providing both. The institute has heat in only a few rooms, and there is no hot water for the 800 orphans. Educational toys, warm clothing, books and treatment materials are in short supply at both facilities.

As for Grace, she traveled to her new home in the United States with her "forever family" just after celebrating her third birthday, which appropriately is on July 4. It was quite a surprise to the Fasanellas that, although her cleft lip had been repaired as indicated in her adoption dossier, her palate had not. The surgery to close the palatal cleft was completed in October following her U.S. arrival. Grace received speech-language treatment and had bone graft surgery in October 2010.

Today Grace is a happy, healthy, bright and highly verbal 10-year-old who seems surprised that a foundation was named in her honor. Little does she know how many lives she has touched. It is because of her that the Grace Foundation remains committed to continuing to serve children with special needs in China and to expand, we hope, to other government orphanages in the future.

Diane Polledri, MA, CCC-SLP, is a clinical supervisor and adjunct professor at Montclair State University Center for Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. For more information, visit gracefoundationmontclair.org, newdaycreations.com and gracefoundationmontclair.blogspot.com. polledrid@mail.montclair.edu

cite as: Polledri, D. (2013, November 01). World Beat: Bringing New Hope to Chinese Orphans. The ASHA Leader.

  

Advertise With UsAdvertisement