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.Would you get amniocentesis for the purpose of learning whether your child would have Down syndrome, so you could abort that child? Do you think ill of those who do? What would you do if you had tried to get pregnant and believed in the importance of loving whatever child you were blessed to bear and your husband revealed to you that he would reject a child with Down syndrome? Would you have amniocentesis and abort a child with Down syndrome so you could go forward with another pregnancy that, you hoped, would produce a less flawed child? Would knowing that there are long lists of would-be parents who especially hope to adopt a child with Down syndrome affect your decision? Would it make a difference if those waiting to become adoptive parents had put their names on the list to discourage abortion or if, on the other hand, they simply had a special love for persons with Down syndrome?
"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, Kansas.
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, Georgia. "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, Ohio.
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."
March 10, 2006
Did you know that there is an especially high demand to adopt children with Down syndrome? There are long waiting lists to get such a child. When I first saw this surprising fact, I thought it was part of the pro-life movement, an expression of opposition to the practice of aborting fetuses found to have Down syndrome, but that's not it: