Dr Coe, my professor in Talbot’s Institute of Spiritual Formation, has said that a person’s spirit is formed by the age of six, and that by the time one is even aware that such a process of formation is happening, their formation is complete. What comes after, the part that we consciously participate in, is really a process of re-formation or trans-formation of that which has already been formed in our spirit at that young age. A Children’s Ministry Magazine article agrees, saying that “Developmental experts believe the first six years mark a child for life. By age 7, the “personality” mold has been cast.”
I don’t have reason to disbelieve those conclusions, though I have not found actual studies that give hard evidence of such. But if that is true, it raises a whole bunch of questions as to what I can expect with my adopted, special-needs daughter.
Since we adopted her at age 7, and therefore her “formative” years were all spent in an orphanage, how much can we expect to see change? Is it possible–and if so what would it take–to see her grow beyond the institutionalized habits and mindsets that have been formed in her? Can the childlike characteristics that seem to have died within her–natural creativity, curiosity, and playfulness–ever be re-born?
What is it exactly that is formed by age six? Beliefs about self? Beliefs about how life works best? Understanding of how to relate with people? Habits of living that bring the most comfort? What does it take for those beliefs and habits to change? Or can they?
Where does her Down Syndrome fit into the mix of things? Obviously it means that her learning is delayed and very, very slow, but is it possible for her to learn some of these foundational beliefs and habits and relational skills? Once the institutionalized behaviors are cemented in her long-term memory, can they ever be un-cemented or replaced?
And if some of these things cannot be changed, then how should we be treating her? We have set the bar high, believing that she will rise to that–but how do we decide that the bar is too high or when do we give up on those expectations and say this is just how she is going to be?
It really comes down to two questions: 1) Can she change? and 2) What is our role in that process? I don’t have any answers right now…just lots of questions.