Adoptive mom Jen Skipper shares about adopting her son who has developmental delays — the unknowns, the hardships and the hope she now has for his future.
It was time to go and meet our fifth child, our second adoption from China. Our path to him had been clear — we knew he was the boy that God had led us to. He was to be our son. We knew he would come to us with a couple medical diagnoses and some developmental delays. We thought his developmental delays included learning to walk and speak late. At 2 years old, he was just starting to babble. I had poured over his paperwork and felt like all of his reported delays were simply related to being institutionalized, and I was encouraged by the great strides in his development after joining a foster family in China. I had heard stories of institutionalized kids coming home to their forever family and overcoming so many of their delays. I was optimistic and ready to welcome my son into my heart and our family forever.
The moment he was placed into my arms in China at almost 3 years old, I knew his delays and issues were more severe than I had anticipated or imagined. He was laughing and smiling, and that was not how kids are supposed to act when being placed into a stranger’s arms. We took him back to our motel room and I realized he was not making eye contact with any of us. He had no verbal communication and was rummaging through every garbage can he could find, looking for something to play with. He hit himself repeatedly and when we went anywhere new, he would go cross-eyed and grind his teeth. He was so scared and couldn’t communicate it. And so was I.
Those first two weeks with him in China were confusing, stressful and scary. Honestly, I thought my life was over. I cried every night to sleep. I even had thoughts of not bringing him home. It was my faith in God that pulled me through. I was confident that God had led us to this boy. I didn’t understand anything that was happening with my child but I knew that God was worthy of my trust.
After two hard weeks in China, we traveled home and began the journey of getting to know our son. The world of developmental delays was unknown and uncomfortable to us, but it was the world that we had suddenly been immersed into. I hadn’t done any specific research on developmental delays before this point — and in hindsight I wish I had done more to prepare myself to understand him better and meet his needs in the very beginning. We interacted with many professionals who all seemed perplexed by our son’s behaviors and offered different theories as to what a diagnosis could be. All we knew for sure is that he was developmentally delayed. He could not speak. He could walk, but not run or jump. He did not follow any commands or direction. He was impulsive. Life was hard, and we all needed help.
Slowly but surely, we began to get help and see glimmers of hope. After weeding through many therapists and medical providers, we found those who were comfortable with our son’s complexities and unknowns. Not knowing when his delays started or any of his history proved to be difficult for many providers. But we found the ones who were willing to work with him based on what they saw in him in the present, and they began to help us see glimpses of his potential. As we watched them work with him, we were also being trained. His progress was slow, but we began to observe baby steps in the right direction.
To be completely honest, attachment was difficult for me. He was not the son that I had imagined for our family. I was selfish and had a lot of self-pity because I was out of my comfort zone dealing with him. I had lost control and life was not looking or feeling like I had planned. But two things happened that changed this for me. Sadly, one was him getting critically ill due to one of his medical diagnoses. He spent full days and weeks of his first year with us in the hospital. Watching him suffer softened my heart towards him. It was in those many quiet moments in the hospital that God gave me deep compassion and a mother’s heart for him. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t care what his diagnosis is or if he ever overcomes any of his delays. I love him so much just how he is!’
The second moment occurred on a day I visited him in his preschool class. I observed two other boys arguing about which one of them got to sit by my son. I asked his teacher what was going on. She told me with a big grin, “This is common. All the kids want to sit by your son. They love him! His laugh and smile are contagious and he makes everyone happy!”
I couldn’t believe it! My son, who had so many delays and couldn’t even talk, was an important part of his little community, his class. I was so amazed and so proud of him! My son! Over time, our emotional attachment grew, and I also developed great hope for him and his future.
In the beginning, all I could see in my son were his delays and disabilities. But as I experienced life with him and got to know him, I realized on the inside he was the same as me. He was born with a heart to feel and a mind to think. He was born with challenges and strengths, just like me. He is extremely smart, discerning, funny, adventurous, brave and compassionate. I no longer view him, nor anyone else, as disabled, but I instead view us all as differently-abled.
He has been home with us for five years now and we just celebrated his 8th birthday. He is still delayed in some areas but has come so far since coming home. He learned to swim and ride a bike this summer! He loves to climb and run now. He can speak about 20 words and can communicate much more through his iPad. He even likes to tell jokes. The compassion that he demonstrates for people who are hurting is unlike anything I have ever seen. He has overcome more than I ever thought he could and continually amazes me as he reveals more and more of what he can do! The sky is the limit for my boy! I love and adore my son so deeply. I am his number one fan and think he is one of the coolest and move lovable kids in the whole world!
My life does indeed look different since bringing him home five years ago. Living with a child who has some developmental delays is not easy. But it is worth it and I wouldn’t change it for the world! I am so thankful and honored and blessed that he is my son.
I thank God for leading us to this boy, my cherished son.
Jen Skipper | Keizer, OR