What It's Like To Adopt a Child With Special Needs

One phone call from Boston changed our lives and introduced to my family a baby girl named Cara. Cara has Down syndrome. We were excited about the news of adopting a baby, yet we never thought this person would have such an impact on our family. Cara, as any child would, brought happiness, wisdom and even her own unique insight to our growing family.

The preparation for the adoption and adapting to Cara and her needs became a structured engagement of doctor visits, physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions, and adherence to a gluten-free diet. We learned sign language to communicate with Cara and sought new ways to include her in social events as a young child.

After some research, we discovered the Down Syndrome Association of the Hudson Valley (DSAHV), a volunteer-driven organization founded by a group of parents. The group was created for local families in the surrounding counties as a way to see children and adults live fulfilling lives. The association provides updated information and supports families and others interested in learning about and understanding Down syndrome.

One parent told me that our children are like anyone else. They just require a few extra steps to achieve their tasks. As a parent, that made a world of difference to me. As a father, I only want what’s best for my child, and to learn that Cara can achieve anything she wants with a few extra steps was a calming feeling.

jason and cara

My wife and I eventually both became board members and I am now the program coordinator. Originally unaware of the myriad networks that existed, interactions between new and existing parents became critical to our survival. We have shared experiences, stories, and failures all with the same endgame in sight: to become better parents for our children.

We often repeat the words of encouragement that helped us to the families that we meet: It only takes a few extra steps to achieve their goals. After seven years of extra steps and with her own determination, Cara is socially active, plays sports, attends a dance class, learns new things every day in school, is a Girl Scout, loves music and can rehearse her entire dance routine all by herself. Cara has a large family that offers her many different opportunities to grow and expand her horizons.

The Down syndrome population may be born with an extra chromosome but that doesn’t limit their potential or success. Many have gone on to own their own businesses, attend college, get married, have jobs, live on their own, play sports, and countless other meaningful and rewarding endeavors. We’ve come to realize it’s something to be celebrated, and we do.

Jason Gehlert '98 (Communication Media) is the Program Coordinator for the Down Syndrome Association of the Hudson Valley, and the author of “All Children Need Is Love,” an article detailing his family’s journey after adopting a baby with Down syndrome. That article ran in New York Lifestyles Magazine and its online edition at www.newyorklifestyles.com. Gehlert is a published author whose work in fiction has been well established for nearly two decades. His current short stories have focused on heroic Down syndrome characters. He lives in Poughkeepsie with his wife and children.