A mum of five explains why she is so proud of the three children with Down’s syndrome that she adopted
Life with three disabled children has not been plain sailing, but fantastic support from within the education system has made it a little easier to deal with. Dorothy, the eldest, coped well in mainstream school with supported learning. At eleven, she transferred to a special school where she stayed until she was sixteen. Ian and John, though, did not manage as well. They both have behavioural difficulties, and we found that staff and children at our local school tended to mother them, rather than stimulate them; so, a special school was felt to be more appropriate.
It was after we had been married for a couple of years, and following many fertility tests, that my late husband, Roy, and I thought about adoption. The idea of adopting a disabled child came from my work at a residential hospital for people with special needs, but it wasn’t a decision taken lightly. We had to be sure we could cope, and that my daughter from a previous marriage, Sarah, would in no way suffer from our actions. After many discussions with family and friends, we decided to adopt a child with Down’s syndrome.
We first saw Dorothy in Be My Parent and adopted her in 1981. To us, she was perfect, and, while this baby turned our world upside down and inside out, we were happy.
It wasn’t long before we decided to adopt another child with Down’s syndrome, and soon we were looking after Ian. However, it was discovered that he had a very severe heart condition, and we were told it was unlikely he would live beyond another six months. We were devastated, but we had to make the decision to either go ahead with the adoption or give him up. Roy, Sarah and I spent many long, agonising hours trying to think through this cruel twist of fate. In the end, we decided that if he was going to die, he would do so being loved and cared for by people who desperately wanted him. Three months later, our adoption went ahead as planned.
We knew we wanted a third child with Down’s syndrome, but we had to make sure we could cope with three. This time, we decided to foster with a view to adoption and, in due course, John joined our family as a foster child; five years later our last adoption went through. Shortly after Roy died, I gave birth to a son, the result of our continued fertility treatment. Daniel, now eleven, and Sarah, who is married with her own children, are besotted with their sister and brothers. Dorothy, Ian and John can wind Sarah around their little fingers, and they all tend to mother Daniel, though now he’s older he doesn’t let them get away with it!
John, who is now 25, finds many things difficult to cope with. He has thyroid problems and very little energy most of the time, and he is quite happy to sleep if we let him. Life is a never-ending round of stimulation and demands, but I am just as proud of him as of any of my other children. At the moment, John is doing a further education course at college, and it is not yet decided what he will do once it is completed.
Ian is nearly 28 and is a real strap of a man, despite a serious heart condition. He has quite severe behavioural problems and these are kept under control with medication. Ian has always been difficult to cope with, but he is full of life and fun, and I would not, for one moment, have him any other way. After a further education course, Ian did a local communities course and an IT course. In addition, he has taken NVQ Level 1 in catering, computers, literacy and many other subjects. Ian also does a work placement in catering which he thoroughly enjoys.
As for Dorothy, her disability has meant she has had to work hard to achieve her goals, but she has taken it in her stride and I feel she is an inspiration to others in her situation. Dorothy has attended our local college for four years now, first as a further education student and now as a catering student. It was her choice to take a course in catering, and the college let her do the one-year course over two years, so as not to put too much pressure on her. She passed her NVQ Level 1 in catering with excellent grades, even doing work experience at a well known football club. Now, at age 30, she regularly attends day services and has various work placements. She has worked really hard to overcome all the obstacles in her way, and is the first student with Down’s syndrome to have completed and passed the course at the college.
My children have been, and still are, a constant joy to have around, and I feel their achievements have been made possible, not only by the love, time, energy and hard work that we lavished upon them, but also by the good education and support they have received. I know that Roy would have been just as proud of all of them as I am. When I don’t feel well, or something has gone wrong, they know, and they always manage to put things right with a simple cuddle, or a “I love you, Mum”. I would certainly challenge anyone to beat that!
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Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 43: November/December 2009.