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Special Needs Success Stories

By Carole Stiles, LCSW
Former Vice-President of Social Services

Most families who contact Holt about a child whose photo appears in the “Some Children Wait” of Hi Families express feelings of being “drawn to this child.” It is also very common for families to have lingering feelings and concerns about this child even if they are unable to follow through on a plan to adopt him or her. Each year we provide a report of the children who were featured in the preceding year—but that report reveals little beyond the fact that the child was placed with a family. Our staff, however, is fortunate to hear wonderful success stories from families. I’ve often felt that sharing these stories would dispel some of the most commonly held fears, uncertainties, and myths about adopting children with special needs.

Fortunately, five families agreed with me and graciously shared their time, experiences, and wisdom. While they had adopted children with varying ages, medical issues, genders, early histories, and countries of origin, there were several consistent themes.

The Green Family
None of them viewed their child as having a “special need,” and none of them viewed themselves as especially heroic. Despite the fact that they were managing issues that they considered carefully before accepting the child, all of them stressed that they had adopted a child, “not a diagnosis.”

While each of these families spoke of an intangible, emotional connection to the child (which they believe accounted for their persistence and perseverance) all of them approached the process with thought and care. In most instances they conducted an exhaustive review of the medical information available, requestedadditional information when that was possible, sought opinions from a variety of sources, and after careful deliberation made the decision based on whether their family could adequately meet the child’s needs.

Some families were surprised to find themselves grappling with different issues than they had prepared themselves for. One family indicated that their child’s age was more pressing than her medical problem. Another family found speech therapy to be more time consuming than the child’s serious medical issue.

All of the families had parenting experience prior to their adoption of a special needs child. Some had adopted before and believed that having experienced adoption previously added to their ease in managing the child’s issues. Most of the families reported that identifying a child and considering his or her needs prior to parenting is much easier than having to deal with something that emerges or “just happens.”

Kanya arrived home from Thailand at almost 6 years old to David and Jane Sesser in June 1998. Kanya was born without both legs and has malformations on her hands. The Sessers have two birth sons who are two and seven years older than Kanya, and the Sessers indicate that Kanya has been a “perfect fit” for their family. She is very well-liked at school and has many friends. Sheuses a wheelchair only in public because she manages very well without one at home. The Sessers, like the other families, do not see Kanya as having a disability, and in fact when I contacted her, Mrs. Sesser had to “stop and minute and think what it was.” Mrs. Sesser said that their exceptional school system was a factor when they made the decision to adopt Kanya. She recognized that she would not “have to fight” to ensure that Kanya’s needs

The Meyer Family
were accommodated. The Sesser's report that the only real difficulty Kanya has experienced is some frustration, early on, when she could not express herself in English.

Malachi arrived home from Vietnam to Dennis and Karen Meyer in August 1999 at age 4 1/2. Malachi had mild cerebral palsy that affected both of his legs, and since his arrival he has been fitted for a walker and with braces for his lower legs. The physician who evaluated him after arrival believes that with ongoing therapy, he should be able to walk independently. His parents describe him as very intelligent and say he has made a wonderful adjustment over the last year. Malachi is the Meyer’s fifth child. They have adopted all of their children internationally, and they were prepared for a special need with each one. Their oldest son was adopted from Korea with an angular pancreas but now is a very healthy 12-year-old. Their second son was adopted from Guatemala with a possibility of a heart problem, which was ruled out after his arrival. A third son, featured in Hi Families, was adopted from Korea and diagnosed with Russell Silver syndrome and a possible seizure disorder. Both of these diagnoses were ruled out. Their fourth child, a daughter, also was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. She is described as doing very well, and although she still has therapy, her cerebral palsy is much less involved than her younger brothers. The Meyer’s stress that they “did their research” and approached each of these adoptions prepared for many challenges.

Joli arrived home from China in May 2000 at almost 6 years old to single parent Sharon Puttmann. Joli was one of the first special needs children referred to Holt for homefinding by the China Center for Adoption Affairs. Sharon has two other children: Carla, now 16, adopted from Guatemala, and Maia, 3, adopted from China. Sharon applied to adopt a third child and requested a healthy five- or six-year-old. Preliminary information indicated that Joli had congenital heart disease. Sharon said that she asked for more information about Joli because the initial reports described her as “stubborn” and said that she “loved music and like to dance.” Sharon was intrigued by that description because the same words accurately described her other children. Later reports indicated surgeons in China had closed the duct in Joli’s heart, and because Joli lived in an area of China that had very comparable medical care and had been treated at a University medical center, Sharon knew a great deal about Joli’s condition before she arrived. Sharon acknowledges that she considered the decision carefully and in the end made the decision to proceed because of the doctors’ reassurances, because she has confidence in her physician, and also because she has good health benefits. Joli will require a second surgery when her heart reaches adult size, but for now she has made an excellent adjustment and is “so happy to have two sisters.”

The Puttmann Family
Amelia arrived home from China at 5 1/2 years old in August 1999 to Bryan and Elaine Green. Amelia is the third child the Greens have adopted from China, and when Mrs. Green traveled to China to adopt their daughter Alice she became acquainted with Amelia. Elaine said that Amelia stood out as loving and gentle and although she had lived in the orphanage she did not seem like a “typical orphanage child.” She apparently had lived with a family until the age of three and then had been placed because of her albinism. Although the family was not looking to adopt a third child from China they continued to think about Amelia and were concerned that her disability could result in her being harassed. Because of her coloring she looked very much like Mr. Green’s side of the family, and after receiving excellent reports they decided to proceed. She has made a very easy adjustment, and her family describes her as eager to integrate. Amelia will be considered legally blind, and her condition is not correctable. She is able to read large print, and doctors anticipate that she will be able to read with adaptive technology and will not have to learn Braille. She may need to use a white cane but only to alert others to her condition; it will not be necessary for her mobility.

Kristofer arrived home from Korea in November 1988 to Rick and Rebecca Brummel at the age of nine months. Because they were both Holt adoptees, they wanted to “complete the circle of adoption” by adopting a child from Korea. The Brummels did not apply to adopt a child with special needs, but they became aware of Kristofer after their social worker mentioned that there was not a family for him. He had only hand and feet anomalies, but because she had worked as a medical transcriptionist, Rebecca was familiar with the medical terminology and recognized that this might be an indication of a more serious syndrome. They took the paperwork to their pediatrician and a geneticist, both of whom painted a worse case scenario. The Brummels asked for a chromosome test and an MR

The Sesser Family
I to see how serious Kristofer’s needs might be; both results came back okay. This process of testing and investigation took over two months. They admit that it felt like they were on a roller coaster and credit prayer with seeing them through the difficult process. Since his arrival home Kristofer has had two surgeries at the Shriner’s Hospital. Each time he has had to learn to walk again. His parents describe him as developmentally on target, strong-willed, and generally doing great. The Brummels advise families to do research, prepare themselves mentally and trust God’s plan.

It was impossible to talk to these families and not be impressed. They all point to the blessings they experience because of these children. Although they are all unconditionally committed to their children they were very practical and realistic in assessing their own abilities, resources, and needs. I was struck by the statement of one of the parents that sums it up for all of these families. She said, “In making this decision, we recognized that this child would have this issue whether or not we adopted her. We considered whether we had the ability to help her live with those conditions, and if we could, then we got the privilege of living with her.”

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