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Center Alumna Hannah Adler Graduation

June 29, 2018

Ruth’s daughter Hannah is a Center alumna who will graduate from high school this year

Inside the Center | Spring 2018

Sometimes it seems like yesterday that we first came to the Childhood League Center, but most days, it feels like a million years. It was in the fall of 2001 when our daughter, Hannah, came to The Center. Our silent, sensitive, curly haired little girl was just learning to walk, nonverbal, and struggling with any type of noise, touch or change to her schedule.

We were referred by our physical therapist, who had followed Hannah since her premature birth. Through regular evaluations, we knew that Hannah was missing milestones, but we weren’t sure why. Despite not knowing exactly what was going on, we hoped through early intervention and intensive therapies, she would be able to catch up to her peers. At the time, doctors were unable to make a definitive diagnosis but encouraged us to take advantage of any and all services available. So in addition to weekly private physical, occupational and speech therapies, we started at The Center in Ms. Darla’s class – singing songs, meeting friends, and learning what it felt like to go to school.

From the very first day, it was clear to me that our time at The Childhood League Center was not just for Hannah and her development. It was also for me to learn how to become her advocate and for us as a family to learn what it meant to have a child with “special needs”. We took advantage of everything The Center had to offer: from all-too frequent visits to Nurse Susan to check for ear infections, to networking, to recommendations from other parents on the newest sensory toys and best doctors. I spent countless hours observing through the one-way mirror, watching as the teachers worked with Hannah and learning how to be sensitive to her needs while pushing her to venture outside of her comfort zone.

Childhood league blog HS graduation of Hannah center alumn baby photo

That first year, Hannah worked intensively with a wonderful speech therapist Miss Barb, and before long, the words started to come. In a matter of weeks, the single words became full sentences. Ms. Vicky strengthened Hannah’s muscles and her wobbly gait became stronger and steadier.

Ms. Dee got to work on fine motor skills and sensory integration, teaching me how to “brush” Hannah and to try headphones to minimize the discomfort Hannah seemed to suffer from sounds and touch.

That following spring, we planned for her transition to “big girl school”. The staff and our whole family prepped for awhile with Dee making home visits to help me strategize and prepare. Dee wanted to perform a few more tests to share with Hannah’s new preschool to help them work with her, but instead, these evaluations showed that Hannah’s struggles were not over and, in fact, she needed more intensive OT and PT. I was so focused on her speech issues that I failed to see how significant the other challenges were.

Dee and the team thought it would be wise to keep Hannah at The Center for another year. She spent her mornings in Miss Mary’s class. In a way, I was relieved because I had come to rely on this amazing group of teachers and therapists for so much. Hannah spent that year as the only girl in Mary’s class of boys, and she learned skills and strategies that enabled her to finally attend her “big girl school” in the fall of 2003.

Thriving in her new environment, finally at age four, we received the diagnosis of ataxic cerebral palsy. By then, it was just a label for us, but it provided some closure to years of searching and doctors’ appointments. We all continued to do the work we had to do. Hannah gave it her all, and her progress amazed us. She was happy and growing, doing well in school and making friends.

We stopped obsessing about how she held her pencil. We decided that riding a bicycle wasn’t a prerequisite for a happy life.

Childhood league blog HS graduation of Hannah center alumn child photo

We let Hannah decide what she wanted to do, and we celebrated each milestone when it came. We never told her she couldn’t do anything but let her pave her own way.

Fast forward to now, Hannah’s senior year of high school and miles away from the hospital NICU and endless doctors’ appointments. This past fall, Hannah was honored to be nominated by her school and selected from over 100 nominees as one of 3 students to deliver a motivational speech at TEDx Columbus. In front of nearly 800 people, she spoke about her disability and how it has affected her life. She was poised, self-assured and touched many people with her story.

If you had told me 17 years ago that my silent, sensitive, curly haired little girl would one day stand on a stage and speak with such confidence to so many people, I doubt I would have believed you.

In a few weeks, Hannah will walk across the stage at Columbus Torah Academy and receive her high school diploma – a diploma that will represent so much more than successfully taking all of the required coursework. It will represent a whole lot of hard work that resulted in excellent grades while struggling to sit in a classroom when the lights and the sounds and the other people were overwhelming. And it will prove that it never really mattered that she didn’t hold her pencil the way the other kids did.

Before starting university at Stern College in New York City in the fall of 2019, Hannah will travel to Israel for a “gap year”, studying ancient texts, engaging with other girls passionate to learn about religion and history and philosophy, and traversing the country on field trips and volunteer missions.

Will it be challenging? Yes, in many ways – for both Hannah and for us. But Hannah has never walked away from trying something. I know I won’t be sitting on the other side of the one way glass, obsessively watching her every move. I won’t be there at the end of the day to put on the band-aids or to give her a hug. But the world has changed so very much since those early days. Technology will shorten the distance, and she can manage her own band-aids, though she needs them far less frequently these days.

It’s like I blinked my eyes and time sped by. We are forever indebted to The Childhood League Center and its many amazing teachers, therapists and staff. They set that little curly haired toddler on a path that knows no bounds. We can’t wait to see where that path takes her!

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