When I was 16 my parents changed our family forever. They became foster parents for hard to place children. Always intent on adoption, they welcomed many babies into our family. Each child had special needs of some kind, whether it was autism, drug and alcohol exposure, deafness, a medical issue, or specific syndrome. Each was special and unique and I loved every single one of them. It was at this time that I became interested in special education.
Fast forward 21 years. My mom and dad grew our family through adoption from 4 children to 17! (No that’s not a typo.) In my college years I attended St Joseph’s and earned a dual certification in special education and elementary education. At age 23 I got married and now my husband, Pete, and I have 4 children of our own. Our two boys, Peter and Patrick are biological. Our two daughters, Marin and Marlowe are adopted.
My parents have greatly influenced our decision to adopt. Our girls were placed with us through the special needs unit of a NY adoption agency. Both of them had drug and alcohol exposure to varying degrees. One was on morphine and blood pressure medication in the NICU for months before she was released. We are always on the look out for issues that they may have or may develop. But to our (somewhat) surprise, it was our biological son, Patrick, who had the greatest mountain to climb.
Perhaps it was my family history, or my profession. Maybe it was “mother’s intuition,” but I was always aware that Patrick was somewhat different. He was a NICU baby, he has a visual impairment, he has difficulty with change, there are food aversions, he doesn’t like crowds, he suffers from extreme anxiety, OCD plagues his daily life. The list could go on and on. As he grew and developed I would mention at times that I thought he had Asperger’s Syndrome. (Think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory; incredible vocabulary, excellent computer skills, not very tactful.) My parents lovingly called him, “professor.” But then I would watch him make friends and be social. He met all of his milestones. He was happy, my snuggly little boy. So I would push the thought aside a little longer. As a worrisome mom, I would ask his wonderful, patient teachers what they saw, what they thought. Each year they would assure me that everything was fine. “He’s unique,” they would say. “He thinks outside of the box.” “Stop trying to label him.”
Then we saw it all very clearly. It was during his own birthday party last summer. Repeatedly he needed to leave and isolate himself for periods of time. He was unable to handle socializing in such a large crowd. Finally, this past fall, we took a giant breath and a giant leap and brought Patrick to a pediatric neurologist. His anxiety had become too much for an 8 year old to have to deal with. Very quickly it was determined that Patrick was on the autism spectrum. Now we are on a new road of discovery. He has started medication to ease his anxiety and OCD tendencies. This is something that I feel sorry to have waited so long to try. We are working toward a 504 plan for school. Patrick is learning new ways to handle his meltdowns. Blankets are comforting to him when he feels overwhelmed. Most of all, we have realized that it is okay to not have all the answers. We will learn as we go along. Pete and I love all of our children. They bring us joy, they make us laugh, and they remind us why life is worth living. Labels are not important, but family is. There will be times when each of our children needs extra attention. This is Patrick’s time.
And we never know when our family will grow and change again…