Believe in yourself
Single carer Karen has adopted three children affected by parental substance misuse.
"I had always wanted to adopt a child with physical disabilities, and Amy, my eldest, came to me at nine months old. Her birth mother was a drug addict, and Amy had mild cerebral palsy on one side, but she was otherwise OK." Amy could roll over and had about 20 words, and seemed to be doing well, until after she had her MMR jab. "She completely regressed," says Karen.
"She stopped speaking and couldn't play with toys. These autistic-style traits can happen with some children born of drug-using mothers, so I don't know if it was because of the MMR. Drug-affected children can have problems with speech acquisition, but the majority are usually fine though."
It took two years for Amy to recover, and happily she started speaking again. Now 13, she has severe learning difficulties and attends a special school. "Amy is a happy–go–lucky girl. She reads a lot and is very good with computers - much better than me!"
Karen decided she could adopt a second child, and Kathryn was placed with her at 21 months old. She has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and has a cleft palate, heart murmur, curling fingers and doesn't put on weight. She has an average IQ and attends mainstream school with extra support.
Connected to her FAS, Kathryn also had glue ear. Her hearing is permanently affected so she wears hearing aids. "With them she has normal hearing, but her concentration is affected by the FAS and she has problems taking things in," says Karen. "To help her in class, her teacher wears a radio aid connected to Kathryn's hearing aids. This gets rid of the background noise and helps her to focus on the teacher."
When Karen told her daughter about her FAS, Kathryn, now ten, was very happy, as before she just thought she was 'weird'. For example, she knew why her fingers are curly – and was so excited she went and told everyone! "It's good to let other parents know too, and not many people do know about FAS," Karen says. "Most are very supportive once you explain – one parent I talked to even went away and looked it up afterwards!"
Karen then became a respite carer, which enabled her to give up her nursing career, and went on to permanently foster eight-month-old Harry for two and a half years before she adopted him. Harry's birth mother was also addicted to drugs. He was born prematurely at 27 weeks, and this caused his problems – he had two bleeds in his brain, which resulted in cerebral palsy. It was originally thought that he would be quadriplegic. "When Harry first came to me, he didn't do anything – just lay there," remembers Karen. "However, what was hopeful was that his eyes were alert and followed me. He had physiotherapy and was a year old when he finally could roll over, and walked at two and a half, but walks on his toes because of his cerebral palsy."
Harry's speech is improving, though he lisps a lot, and he has speech therapy. "Harry is a very engaging five year old, and will get other people to do everything for him if he can get away with it!" smiles Karen. "His co-ordination is clumsy – when he tries to do a thumbs up sign, he ends up putting up his middle finger! But he's just starting to realise this is the wrong one, and really concentrates on putting up his thumb instead!"
Karen had good support from her agency, which sent a doctor to her to talk about the issues. "I was very impressed, considering that when I first adopted there was limited information available, but there's so much more now," she says. "Books and the internet provide so much. I've also used the Fantastic Antoine books, which are compendiums of adoption stories about children with FAS." Karen also feels her background of nursing and midwifery helped her as she understood the hospital system, and was not afraid to keep asking for the help her children needed until they got it. "But families do need to believe in themselves. They will know their children best, and will need the confidence to stand up for them."
All names have been changed.
Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in September 2005.
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Last updated: 04 June 15