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More People Adopt Kids With Down Syndrome

February 12, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Seven was not enough for Diane and David Petersohn, so they decided to adopt.

And since one of their seven children has Down syndrome, they decided they wanted another one with Down syndrome.

The Petersohns found that they had plenty of company. The couple from Liberty, Mo., placed their names on national lists of people seeking to adopt children with Down syndrome, and waited.

After waiting nearly three years they turned to a private agency that facilitates international adoptions. Today, they’re raising money and completing paperwork to adopt a 6-month-old boy from Ecuador who has the syndrome, a type of retardation caused by a genetic malfunction.

Most who seek to adopt Down syndrome children have had a family member, friend or acquaintance with the disorder, or work with them in medical or school professions.

``People think they are just great kids, people feel like they are very lovable,″ said Rachel Crews, a social worker with the Special Additions adoption agency in Stillwell, Kan.

Changing attitudes toward people with all disabilities and improved medical treatments also are helping unite these children with families, advocates say.

``Society as a whole is much more accepting,″ said David Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Atlanta. ``You are much more likely today to see people with disabilities in the media, places of worship, schools.

``Whereas in a prior generation, mothers were told when they had a baby with Down syndrome or another disability, put the child in an institution and forget about them.″

That’s what happened 34 years ago to a little girl named Martha, whose single mother gave her up for adoption. She was diagnosed with Down syndrome and placed in a group home in Cincinnati.

But when Martha turned 4, Robin Steele and her husband met her and fell in love immediately. With one son already, they adopted Martha and have gone on to adopt nine other children _ three of them with Down syndrome.

``We just knew we wanted to make Martha part of our family,″ Steele said.

Martha’s adoption also spurred the Steeles to help connect other families like theirs with families who felt they could not raise children with Down syndrome.

So, 23 years ago, they started the Adoption Awareness Program in conjunction with the Down Syndrome Association of Cincinnati. Steele connects people who want a child with Down syndrome with birth mothers or adoption agencies.

In the first year, she helped find homes for three children with Down syndrome. Now, Steele works with three to five situations a week, she said, and has a waiting list of 150. Waits average six months to a year.

``People with Down syndrome are pure in heart and spirit,″ said Amy Allison, executive director of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City. ``They keep you grounded.″

Allison said the organization does not monitor trends, but ``there are easily more people contacting us interested in adoption than we have ever seen before.″

Adoption advocates say they stress to prospective parents that all people with the syndrome are not the same.

Nearly half will have some heart defect and about one-third will develop thyroid problems. Roughly 1 percent develop leukemia, and nearly all will have some delay in motor and speech development. Other potential problems include intestinal or spine malformations and hearing difficulties.

Better medical treatments and earlier intervention have increased the life expectancy of people with the syndrome to the 50s and 60s.

Still, some of the Petersohns’ friends and family questioned their wisdom when they adopted Darcie, who is now 5. Darcie has had six minor operations on her eyes, ears and nose, but did not have heart problems.

Darcie is so outgoing ``she has made people smile who look like they don’t know how,″ Diane Petersohn said, but that is partly because her daughter has no sense of safe boundaries.

``She runs off quite a bit, and that is scary for a mother,″ she said. ``It is difficult sometimes. But the good far outweighs the difficult parts.″

That’s why they’re working to bring the boy home from Ecuador.

``I never thought (before Darcie) that I would be a mom of a child with special needs,″ she said. ``We prayed God had a baby girl out there for us. It seemed to be her, and it has been a true, true blessing.″


On the Net:

National Down Syndrome Society: http://www.ndss.org/

National Down Syndrome Congress: http://www.ndsccenter.org/

Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City: http://www.kcdsg.org/

Down Syndrome Association of Cincinnati: http://www.dsagc.com/

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