Friday, September 5, 2014

Did You Know?

From time to time I will get the question of whether we knew Matthew had autism when we adopted him.  In fact someone just asked me that this week.  If you read Mama Bear...GRRR...  or knew us at the time of his adoption, you might already know the answer, but I still think you will find his adoption story interesting.

After we had been back from China with Abby for about three years, we decided we wanted to go back to China to get her a sibling.  We assumed that it would be a girl because from our experience the majority of adoptees from China were girls. *  We started the process the same way we did with Abby, in what is called the standard process.  Every month our adoption agency would send an email that would have updates on wait times from when dossiers (crazy amount of paperwork) were sent to when matches were being made. When we were waiting for Abby those emails were so exciting to get, because each month we knew we were getting closer to receiving a match.  However, we had the opposite experience during our second adoption in that we began to dread those emails.  Every time we would read them, the wait time to match would increase.  At a certain point we realized that if the wait time kept increasing (and there was no indication that it was going to decrease) we were looking at a four year waiting period.  That was not our plan.  We didn't want our kids to be that far apart in age.

We got information on adopting children with special needs and decided to switch over to that process. (I made that decision sound easier than it was.)  You might wonder why we didn't just switch to adopting from a different country.  For one, it really wasn't that simple. Payments that we had already made were not necessarily refundable and every country has its own set of rules about what needs to be in their required dossier.   Therefore it felt like it would almost be like starting over. We had already invested too much time and money into the process.  Secondly, we really wanted our two children to be from the same country.  We had a great support system with a group called Milwaukee Area Families with Children From China and Cricket Academy (where Abby took Language and Culture classes). We wanted our children to have the same cultural background as each other. We thought they might be able to have that bond with each other as they got older and had questions about their cultural identity.

One of the things that we had to do when we switched over to the special needs process is fill out a checklist.  The checklist had a list of different types of special needs and you had to check Yes, No, or Maybe on whether you were able to handle that type of special need.  Believe me, this was not an easy process.  It was not lost on us that if were able to have children naturally, we wouldn't have a choice on what we could handle.  We would have to live with the cards we were dealt.  But this was the process that was set up.  A good example that I can think of is that some medical issues require a financial obligation such as surgeries that some families might not be able to afford.  Rob and I spent a lot of time filling out this checklist. We had to look up lots of different conditions because there were so many that we had never even heard of before.  As we all know, many conditions have a range from mild to severe, so even that could be a factor when choosing between a Yes and a No or a Maybe.  I want to repeat that this was not an easy process.

After completing the checklist and other forms that we needed for the specials needs program we were surprised at how fast we got a referral.  With both the standard program and special needs program you have the opportunity to accept or reject the referral.  I have never heard of anyone rejecting a standard referral, but it is more common in the special needs process for some of the reasons I mentioned above.  We had one referral that we were considering that somehow by mistake had been referred to another family at the same time.  That was difficult because we had decided to accept the referral and then found out the other family had already accepted it.  I know it might be hard to understand, but as soon as you think that child is going to be yours, you already have a connection to him/her.  But then we got a referral for a little boy named Zhang Li (approximately 18 months old).  So, did his paperwork have the label of autism?  Did we know when we got his referral that he had autism? His paperwork had a label of growth delay.  He was extremely small in both height and weight...under the 3rd percentile for both.  His paperwork also indicated some developmental delays (not walking or even crawling and not talking) without a specific cause.  There was no mention of autism and I suspect that the orphanage and others involved in his care did not know that he had autism at that time.

No one has ever been brave enough to ask the follow-up question:  If you did know that he had autism would you have accepted the referral?  (Admit it, you were wondering it...) I am not trying to cop out with this answer, but I don't know.  I don't know if we marked Yes or Maybe for that condition on the checklist. I don't know if we would have let stereotypes, perceptions, and even my personal experiences as a special education teacher affect our decision.  Very possibly.   But I will tell you this:  I am glad that we didn't know. What if knowing would have caused us to say "No"?  We would have missed out on having this amazing, funny, happy kid in our lives.   That is something I can't imagine.

* Without going in depth into the politics involved surrounding the One Child Policy, I do want to say that we did extensive reading  before we adopted Abby.  The book Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China by Kay Ann Johnson helped us to understand why there are more girls put up for adoption and clear up some of our misunderstandings of the situation.   The Book Summary (click here if interested) on Amazon gives a good description of the book.

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