Special needs. Down syndrome. Cerebral palsy. Spina bifida. Hydrocephaly. Some of the most anxiety-inducing words in all of adoption. Still, that’s where our family landed after considering all the different adoption options open to us. After all, when expecting our third child, markers for chromosomal disorders, specifically Down syndrome, were found on ultrasounds.

Scott and I stared down a list, marking ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to special needs we felt we could bring into our home and family. Wheelchairs? Not with all the stairs we had in our home. Hard of hearing? Is that really a special need? Marking off the logistical limitations we had was much easier than each of the items we hadn’t considered even being a special need.

Because we felt most prepared through our daughter’s markers to meet the needs of a child with Down syndrome, Scott and I began the process of adopting a waiting child. After asking for more information on Viktorya, we received a file detailing her history. Four pages of medical and social history, rather transparent and thorough, including vaccine records and any hospital visits, along with school information. We took the document to our children’s pediatrician, who was more than happy to look over the report. None of the information was terrifying, so we moved ahead.

When we asked for Denny’s file a few months later, while his report contained only his diagnosis of Down syndrome, reading the three-page report felt like a hit to my gut. Signs of institutionalization, apathetic, no possibilities to create social communications. Still, Scott and I knew he was ours, so we brought his file to the doctor, decided we’d meet Denny where he was, and continued.

Just before traveling to meet Viktorya, we heard from our agency that she’d been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. We panicked! Not because we were scared of parenting a child with diabetes, though it is a tremendous responsibility, but because it wasn’t on the list of special needs we’d consider and we didn’t know how that list would impact our adoption process.

Two years later, when we began Stella’s adoption, her report was seven pages long. Five pages of it terrified us (kidney disorder?!) and two pages of updates from her foster family, written in a much more relaxed style than most reports, reassured us.

What those lists and reports often fail to convey to prospective adoptive parents is that these children, our children, are people. Individual people with bright personalities and strong opinions and their own sense of self. Reading over the four-page report after bringing Viktorya home, I asked my husband, “How in the world did we miss ‘sometimes tends to become irritable and capricious?’” Along with that capriciousness, she’s a girl who loves her Mama and runs to the front door to hug her Daddy when he comes home from work. She’s a budding artist whose flower drawings pile up on my desk while she ‘works’ next to me.

Reading through Denny’s report, the writer completely underestimated what he was capable of accomplishing with the support of a family. They didn’t consider how incredible therapy services and quality medical care could change a scared and withdrawn little guy into a boy who communicates by any means he can to have his needs and wants met. His ‘can’t walk, can’t talk’ became the foundation from which he launched to begin to reach his full potential.

Stella was fortunate to have a foster mother who was also a social worker, and the love her foster mother felt shone through the report update. Her potential was recognized and her achievements were celebrated. We have to remember that medical reports certainly have their place in helping us navigate our children’s needs once they’re home in their families, but they’re only part of who these children are. I hope you’ll work to discover the rest. They’re worth it!

By Chandres Pickett

Chandres Pickett lives in Virginia with her husband, Scott, and five beautiful children, three of whom were adopted from Bulgaria through Bulgaria’s Waiting Child program.

 

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