“After years of dating long-distance, we promised each other forever on June 16, 2013. We were excited to be married, to do life TOGETHER, and really nothing else seemed to matter. Among the many things we dreamed of doing together, we dreamed of one day starting a family but we never imagined our family would start the way it did.
Around the time of our wedding, my sister and brother-in-law were in the process of adopting through foster care. Years later, they were still working through that never-ending process. I turned to my husband on a cold January day in 2015 and told him we could ‘NEVER’ do what they are doing. Well, we all know why they say ‘never say never.’ Tim’s response was, ‘If that’s what God has for us, I think we could do it.’ I thought he was crazy, but I could not get that conversation out of my head.
I continued to think and pray about it for weeks until I told him ‘maybe’ he was right. (Because let’s be serious, we all know not to tell our husbands they are actually right too often!) Around that time, our niece and nephew’s adoption worker reached out to us, asking if we would consider adopting a child on her caseload who had a significant autism diagnosis. She said, ‘I have watched you interact with your special needs nephew and thought it could be a great fit.’ Tim and I had both worked for a school for kids with autism, but the idea of bringing that home full-time was a little scary to me. I knew what it was to do it at work when I had other staff to help me. I knew what it was to work lots of overtime on top of my 40 hours, but the weight of bringing a child home, making him ours, and being in it 24/7 was a lot to process.
Tim continually reminded me there were probably not a whole lot of couples out there with the training we had. In the meantime, God worked in my heart and helped me to realize with His help we could do this, and it was one of the best ‘yeses’ we ever gave! Unlike biological parents of children with special needs, we had the opportunity to process the diagnosis before giving our ‘yes’ to our son. However, this also meant our friends and family did as well. Many questioned, ‘Why not have ‘your own’ kids first?’ But we knew the reality was if we were to settle a kid with extra needs like his into our family, it would need to be done before having other kids in the home, and we knew he was going to be just as much ‘our own’ as any biological kid we would someday have join our family.
After a long time of waiting and attempting to prove to many social workers these young, first-time parents had what it takes to love a child like this through the good and the bad days, we met Donnie on April 2, 2016. Weighing 57 pounds, wearing a size 5/6 shirt, and a week away from his ninth birthday, there he was. Donnie may have been on the smaller side at the time, but his smile lit up the room. He had lived with his foster mom for 3-and-a-half years. She loved him like crazy and gave him the stability he needed after going through a pretty rough patch in his life. We learned all we could from her about how he likes to take his meds, what foods he likes to eat, what types of clothes he prefers to wear, how to help calm him when he becomes escalated, what makes him laugh, etc.
We spent 2 months visiting with him until he moved into our home Memorial Day weekend of 2016. We were warned of many things he may not be able to do, and as a result, may alter our lifestyle greatly. We were told he may never eat a fruit or vegetable, he may have a hard time traveling, he may not want to leave the house, he might not willingly stay with a babysitter, and he might never speak full sentences. With the help of a Vitamix, we pureed every vegetable possible and hid them in burgers and meatballs, and today, he eats a bowl of broccoli with dinner every night—to earn some Xbox time, of course!
6 weeks after he moved in with us, we took him on a 10-day trip to Buffalo and Philadelphia. He regularly travels to Buffalo to see family, he has traveled to San Antonio on a plane, and most recently, has traveled to Indiana for his uncle’s wedding. With plenty of preparation, he does a great job hanging out with a babysitter, and he mostly speaks in full sentences. He has completed a five-mile Turkey Trot (mostly walking, but finishing is what counts for this boy!) He has learned to try some new foods. Recently, he has started making his own breakfast and getting up with an alarm clock. (These two excite me the most because it means I can stay in bed a few minutes longer in the morning!)
In March of 2018, we welcomed our son, Owen, and couldn’t have been more thrilled for Donnie to be his big brother. Donnie was not entirely sure what to think when he met him in the hospital or when we brought him home, but God has given the two boys such an amazing bond. For that, we are so grateful! Although Donnie has made great strides, there are still days of heartache, days where the self-injury is more present than we’d like to admit, days when his aggressive behavior causes harm to others, days when things get broken in the midst of a meltdown. These days are hard. In the beginning, these days were ‘easy’ because we knew how to deal with this, as we had done with so many students at work. However, as we have grown more and more in love with our boy, these days bring so much heartache.
These days often leave me in tears, wondering, ‘Where do we go from here?’ We keep pushing to figure out how to help him be the best he can be, and he keeps proving to us over and over again that despite challenging behaviors, despite a tough diagnosis, despite a significant trauma history, he is going to give it his all. The hard days feel impossible sometimes, but those are the days we have to remind ourselves how far he has come and remember that same kid is going to continue to learn to do the impossible. IEP meetings, therapies, and doctors’ appointments all seem to be par for the course of a special needs family. In meetings and appointments, we are often asked our goals and concerns for Donnie. Most often, our response goes something like this, ‘Our goal is for Donnie to be as independent as possible by the time he turns 22 (when he would transition to adult services) and for the staff who work with him to understand the ‘whole child’ when they work with Donnie. On top of having autism, he has a significant history as well.’
Presently, he attends an amazing school for kids on the spectrum. We know that is not the case for every special needs child. We do not take that for granted and are very thankful to have him in such an amazing educational setting where the staff understands his diagnosis and his history, yet still, seeks to push him to be the absolute best he can be. He also has in-home services with staff who help him with skill development, yet also understand his history well. Having so many therapies and appointments can be hard, but at the end of the day, we are so thankful for those who work with Donnie and push him to be the most independent he possibly can be. People often tell us how ‘lucky’ he is to have us, but the truth is, we are so blessed to have him as the one who started our family. We are so thankful to God for bringing him to us. He has shown us perseverance when we would have given up, he keeps us laughing every day with his silly jokes, and crushes every ‘impossible’ goal that was set for him, and although there are days that are extremely hard, he keeps pushing.
We are so thankful to have amazing friends and family who have surrounded us through this journey and help remind us of the strides he has made on those hard days. Although this is not the way we dreamed we would start our family, we could not have dreamed it better than this!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Laura Martin of Massachusetts. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos. All professional photos are from Holding Life Still Photography
Read more powerful perspectives from special needs moms:
‘I can only do so much.’ It’s just the two of us. One day, I won’t be here. Who will tell her I’m gone? Who will make sure she’s safe?’: Autism mom shares daughter’s journey, ‘I’ll let her lead the way’
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