An Interview: Parenting Children with Special Needs


In anticipation of Our Shining STAR Event, we are featuring a weekly blog series on Special Needs Adoption. On Wednesday January 29th, 2014, Adoption STAR will be hosting Our Annual Shining STAR Event to benefit special needs adoption. Adoption STAR has found many wonderful adoptive families for children with special needs. Adoption STAR helps adoptive families afford to make a commitment to adopt a child with special needs by waiving or greatly reducing fees. To learn more on how to donate, participate and/or volunteer to this great fundraising event, please visit our Shining STAR page.

Adoptive Parent Mentor, Sue Reardon interviews STAR Adoptive Mom, Jodie Gardner about parenting children with special needs and shares some family photos.

1. Tell me a little about your family/children.

We have three children. Our oldest is Tyler, age nine. Tyler has Down syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome, Hirschsprung’s disease requiring a colostomy and he is a leukemia survivor. He has major hearing loss in his right ear. At birth he had cataracts which required several surgeries and he also had fused fingers on his right hand which required surgery. Tyler is funny, charming, a bit naughty, adorable and a huge flirt! He loves music and he LOVES to make people laugh.

Our daughter Emmalee is eight. Emmalee was born between 6 – 8 weeks early. Her birth mom did not have prenatal care and Emmalee was born addicted to drugs and alcohol. She was very tiny at birth but she has grown into a beautiful young lady. Emmalee does not have special needs but she does have asthma. She is full of spunk! She is a great sister to her brothers and is a huge help to her parents. She is sometimes sassy and challenging, like most eight year old girls. But she is also a momma’s girl who still loves to snuggle.

Nathaniel is six. Nathaniel was born 15 weeks early and weighed less than two pounds at birth. He suffered from many complications due to his extreme prematurity. Nathaniel has severe autism, ADHD and FASD. He also has a colostomy due to chronic constipation. Nate is a very happy little guy. He loves music and loves to snuggle. He doesn’t communicate much but he is very intelligent and can read around 200 sight words.

2. What made you decide to specifically pursue adopting children with special needs?

We did not initially consider special needs adoption when we were first looking into adoption. At the time we lived in Utah. We were asked to work with young adults with special needs through our church and it was there that our hearts were changed. We met a young man named Willie who had Down syndrome. He told us that he was praying for us to have a baby and that we would have a baby who was just like him. We were startled, to say the least, but then we began praying about what God wanted in our lives. We quickly realized that we were meant to parent children with special needs. Once we made that decision, things moved rather quickly. Our initial home study was completed in April 2004 and we brought Tyler home in August 2004.

3. What are the most challenging aspects as the parents of children with special needs?

There are certainly many challenging aspects in parenting children with special needs. But honestly, there are challenges in parenting, period. It isn’t easy. Each child is so unique, regardless of their needs.

That said, I think one of the biggest challenges is making sure that our boys receive the same care, education, etc that typical children receive. We are blessed to live in a great area of the country where they get an amazing education. I know that isn’t the case for everyone and we feel so lucky to have that. Even so, there are times we have really had to fight for what we believe is best for them. Sometimes that isn’t easy.

Another major challenge is communication between us and the boys. Because of their special needs they aren’t always able to communicate their wants and needs to us. That often results in tantrums and frustration. We have had to learn to think outside the box and come up with new ways to communicate with them.

4. What has been the most rewarding aspect?

Oh my goodness…..there are so many rewards. How do I list them all? Our boys have taught us so much. So much more than we can ever hope to teach them. They have taught us about patience, perseverance and strength in the face of major trials. They have taught us what it means to love unconditionally. They have taught us to let go and have fun and that it is okay to be silly no matter how old you are. They have taught us to see things in a whole new way. They have taught us to be kind to others regardless of who they are or what they look like. They have taught us to be patient with people who may look at them and only see their disabilities.

I won’t lie. Parenting kids with special needs is hard. It’s hard in a totally different way than parenting a typical child is. But the rewards are so incredible. There’s nothing more special than hearing your child say momma or daddy for the first time. And it is the most amazing thing in the world when you’ve waited for YEARS to hear them say it. Each new milestone is such a triumph because they have had to fight so hard to get there. Those are the rewards we live for and they are so incredibly special to us.

5. What message would you like to share with other families considering special needs adoption?

I think that if you are seriously considering special needs adoption, one of the most important things you can do is research. Read about the different types of special needs and educate yourself. Talk to families who are parenting kids with special needs. Make sure you are going into it with your whole heart. Remember that this is a lifetime commitment. Many of these children may not leave home and go on to college, get married, etc. It isn’t easy. Parenting is hard, no matter what. But the rewards are incredible! The love and the joy far outweigh the struggle. And if you are truly willing to open your hearts and your family to these amazing children you will be blessed in ways you will never expect.

I’d also like to add that it is important to see these children as children first. It’s easy to look at the list of their disabilities and only see that. But Tyler is not Down syndrome any more than Emmalee is asthma or Nathaniel is autism. They are kids first. Parenting them is different, for sure, but they are still children and their basic needs are the same. They need love. They need the same things that typical children need. Yes, it’s different. But in many ways it is also the same.

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Read More by Adoption STAR’s Annual Shining STAR Event and Special Needs Adoption:

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