Many of our friends here in Chiang Mai have asked how they can help once we’re home. I’ve really been touched by people’s eagerness to learn more about Down Syndrome, attachment, and how to support a newly adoptive family. I think a lot of times the world of special needs adoption can seem so foreign and so scary when you haven’t been exposed before. We totally get that and that’s why we have really appreciated when people have asked questions. To make it easier to know how to support us and maybe others who end up adopting in the future, we wanted to sum up in one post the things we’ve been sharing with people when they ask questions.
The biggest transition for our family when we get home will be the work of building a solid attachment and trust between our new daughter and us. She has lived almost three years without a family. Even though we have been very happy with the level of care she has received, it’s not the same as a family. If you have kids you know that any baby knows that when they cry, their parent will meet their need. However, for many children who were in an orphanage, this isn’t something they have experienced. They haven’t had their basic needs met by a consistent caregiver. They don’t know the same trust that most children are blessed with. And so we have to work hard to build that knowledge in our daughter’s heart and mind. Because of this, we will be implementing some parenting practices that are highly recommended by the experts to build attachment in adoption. When we get home to Chiang Mai we will be trying our best to keep our daughter home for the first few weeks. We want her to know that this new place isn’t just one in a string of new locations. It’s home, and a family. What this will look like is that for the first few weeks one of us will always be home with our daughter. Joey still has to work, and I still have to stay sane, so we will be trading off, but the goal is for me to be the main caregiver at first. We won’t be taking her to church, playgroups, the grocery store, restaurants, anything like that, until we can tell that she is adjusting well. That said, Ilyria and Cordelia still need out of the house, and they would love a play date if anyone is up for it! I’ll talk more about that later in the practical side of supporting us.
Another way to build attachment is for us to be the ones to always meet her needs at first. She is accustomed to having many different people caring for her, instead of just a mom and a dad. This means that we will be the only ones to hold her, feed her, comfort her and care for her. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore her if you happen to be over, but it means that we ask you to hold back all the hugs and cuddles that you will be tempted to dish out, because believe me, this kid is adorable! Maybe you can talk to her while she sits in mama’s lap, or you can smile while daddy is holding her. But if she reaches for you, please don’t pick her up. Please be part of teaching her that mommy and daddy are the ones to meet her needs. This is important for so many reasons, not least of which is safety. She is so friendly and outgoing, and although it’s endearing, it’s also dangerous to lack a healthy fear of strangers. Gradually, as she learns that we are mom and dad and we’re not going anywhere, then you can start to show all the love and affection we know you feel for her. For now, if she needs a snack, needs help with putting her shoes on, any of these things that seem like common sense to help out and give us a break, just remember that we’ve missed nearly three years of meeting the basic needs. It’s our job, our honor, and we’re excited to finally be doing it for her.
Every child is unique and we won’t know for awhile how she is doing with attachment and bonding. But we want to do everything we can to start off well with positive parenting to help her adjust well. As we all get to know each other we may make adjustments. Our time of cocooning may be shorter or longer than expected. We don’t know yet. But we know that God knows and that even now He is preparing all of our hearts to be a family, a family that He has created. If you’re not sure what our current rules are, please ask. We’re happy to help you know what is okay at this point, and what we still need to be cautious about.
You may now be wondering, well if I can’t help with her, how can I help? Lots of ways!
- Joey and I will need people to ask us how we’re doing, offer to pick up groceries, or maybe bring by dinner. Running errands is a great way to get an excuse to come see her too.
- Ilyria and Cordelia won’t be getting as many outings, since Joey will be at work pretty quickly, and I won’t be able to take all three kids out and about. Offering to pick them up for a playdate or a special outing with just one or both of them would be a huge blessing and be a way to remind them how special they are. Joey and I plan to focus a lot of one on one time with them too.
- Don’t stop inviting us to stuff! Maybe we can’t all attend the birthday party, cookout, zoo trip or
หมูกระทะ, but that doesn’t mean some of us can’t come! Remember to still ask, if only to remind us that we still have friends who love and miss us. In that same vein, try and remember to invite us to adult outings. We will both need time away and adult conversation.
- Most of all, give us time. I remember when my parents first adopted that many people disregarded the importance of attachment, or were to quick to judge that the child seemed adjusted and my parents must be dragging it out to suit themselves. Right now we need support and for people to trust that we’re trying our best to be mindful and careful in all of our decisions. And we will be the ones who know our daughter and see all aspects in order to make decisions. We appreciate you being understanding.
- Pray for us! This whole process has required much prayer, and the need won’t stop once the legal paperwork is done. Now is the time to make the adoption fully real in all of our hearts. It’s a process that takes time and prayer.
Now, I’ve covered a bit about attachment. But many of our friends have asked about Down Syndrome. They haven’t met someone with Down Syndrome before, or at least they haven’t had them in their life on a regular basis.
Well the first thing that I would tell you is that Down Syndrome is a small part of our daughter. First and foremost she is a little girl, created in God’s image, and fully loved by God and us. She’s just like any other child, who loves to play, be loved on, and cared for. I suspect she will love cuddles and dancing and singing and laughing. She might do things a little slower than her peers, and she may never quite catch up. We know she’s nonverbal right now, but she is already walking! Kids with Down Syndrome often have low muscle tone which means it’s harder to walk, talk and do other things involving your muscles. She will be in Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy as soon as we can get that all squared away, and once she has had some time to settle in. And she’s going to have two of the very best therapists she could ever ask for, Ilyria and Cordelia! As a typical sibling I know that there is nothing like a typical sibling to get a child with special needs to strive for success! She will be climbing out of her crib, sneaking into the fridge and coloring the walls with markers in no time, thanks to her sisters.
We will have to be mindful of certain things. She has a heart condition so we need to make sure she doesn’t get overheated (I know what you’re thinking… #thailand). She may become easily overstimulated, so sometimes we might need to go to a quieter area, take a break during an activity, or leave an event early. But you know what? That just means she is a lot like Joey because HE is always needing to take a break from social situations and he has to recharge every day from being overstimulated by people. So I guess introverts can relate!
There are lots of great resources out there about Down Syndrome. I’ve compiled some of my favorite videos below!
A great video that gives lots of information and practical insight into being friends with someone with Down Syndrome. It’s meant for kids, but I think adults will enjoy it too!
Dear Future Mom, a video to make you cry!
Dear Future Mom
And Father’s Day one to make all the dads cry too!
And just because it’s my hands down favorite video… a Down Syndrome Adoption Video!
A day at first grade for a girl with Down Syndrome
As the last video says, that little girl defines Down Syndrome, it doesn’t define her. The same is true of our daughter. Get to know her. I think you will be pretty enchanted with her.